Nothing to Grouse About

A week ago I shared a unique experience with five other naturalists, the majority of them in the six to eleven age range. For twenty minutes the six of us watched a Ruffed Grouse at it moved about, overturning leaves and foraging on buds. When we last saw it, the bird headed off in the opposite direction that we intended to journey, and so we moved on with wonder in our eyes and minds.

2

And then the next day I returned on a mission to study some twigs at the same property. No sooner had I stepped onto the trail when I heard the sound of leaves cracking a wee bit and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the same bird.

The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying about ten feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird.

And we began to chat. I talked quietly to him (I’m making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings.

It was then that I did the unthinkable–I named him: ArGee.

Again I started down the trail, and again ArGee followed about ten feet to my right. And then I thought I got ahead of him, but a few minutes later he caught up and foraged by my feet as I examined twigs and buds for their idiosyncrasies.

When I finally turned back, ArGee did the same. Eventually I ran because I didn’t want him to follow me to my truck. Would he have? I don’t know. Would he survive? I sure hoped so. Would I visit again? I knew the answer was yes. Would I see him again? Who knew?

The next day I dragged my guy along. But much to my dismay, no ArGee. I’d been blessed twice and had to accept the possibility that he’d either flown off or became part of the food chain. My hope was that if the latter was the case, it was a four-legged predator or larger bird and not a human bi-ped.

Since last week, about five or six inches of snow blanketed the area and this morning dawned frigid with the temperature at about 5˚. I dressed for it and headed to a nearby spot in hopes of meeting up with a group that was going to count salmon and redds. But, I missed the link-up and decided instead to wander in ArGee’s territory so I could reaffirm his disappearance and move on.

1-looking for food

As I looked up at something in a tree, I heard a slight noise by my feet and guess who? I greeted ArGee with a quietly grand hello and together we shared the space, mindful of each other. After about twenty minutes he headed under a stand of hemlocks that provided some cover.

2-hiding and feathers bloated

I snapped and crackled through the woods, bushwhacking over to his position, all the while wondering if I was getting too close and perhaps he didn’t want me to spend more time with him.

2a-hiding

But what I discovered was that he’d stopped foraging, stood still, though occasionally turned his head, and puffed up his dappled and barred plumage. While I had donned several layers to keep the brisk air at bay, ArGee needed to fluff up in order to trap air in his feathers. Cool fact (or cold!): A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird.

4-crown

While ArGee warmed up, I focused on some of his features, including the crest feathers on top of his head. Their formation brought to mind ocean waves cresting, but perhaps they were actually standing upright because he saw me not as friend, but rather a foe?

5-eye to eye

I knew I was overextending my stay, but I couldn’t leave. And he didn’t seem agitated, so I continued to look. There was that eye-ring to notice, rather bead-like in appearance.  And the contrasting orientation of the feathers above and below his dark eye, their comb-like tips spread out like miniature fans.

6-looking at me

For another fifteen to twenty minutes, he warmed up below the hemlock, while I stood nearby and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance.

7-beak

I had time to consider his robust down-turned beak and figured it must be adapted for the coarse vegetation it consumed. Ruffed Grouse are known to feed on buds or catkins of aspens, birches and cherries, and that was the habitat in which ArGee had made himself at home. They’ll also consume, seeds, fruits, leaves and twigs, insects, and maybe even salamanders, in season of course.

8-coming out of hiding

Finally, my friend seemed to have warmed up and so out from under the hemlock ArGee emerged.

9-dining on leaves

And immediately he found bramble leaves still green.

10-leaf in its mouth

Ripping one leaf off, he made quick work of it.

11-gobbling it up

And in a matter of seconds it disappeared into his mouth.

12-looking for more food

Then it was time to think about another.

12-those feet

Out in the open again, I had a chance to get a better look at ArGee’s feet. Though today’s snow was rather crusty, there’s potential for up to ten inches of fluff to fall tomorrow and then his feet will play a key role.

12a-combs on feet

Where the snow is deep and soft, grouse travel atop it with the help of their “snowshoes”—lateral extensions of their toes. Can you see the comb-like rows of bristles, aka pectinations? They began growing in September and reminded me of a centipede serving as each toe. It’s those bristles that act like snowshoes.

They also have stout legs for walking or running and those were also covered with insulating feathers that looked like an old pair of furry sweatpants.

12b-tail feathers

It’s difficult to tell a male from a female based on appearance, but typically the bird is a female if the color is faded or absent on the central tail feathers, thus I leaned toward ArGee being a male. No matter what the sex of this particular bird, the varied shades of black, gray, rusty red and buff all presented in a variety of patterns, including small hearts–what wasn’t to love?

13-I see you

For a while longer, ArGee and I played “I See You” and I continued to wonder about his behavior. Usually this species is quite elusive and difficult to approach. In fact, most often I am startled by the loud wing beat of a bird exploding, or so it sounds, from the ground or snow in front of me, and my heart responds with rapid beats for a second . . . and then I realize it was a Ruffed Grouse trying to avoid me.

13-so close

Today, and this past week, that has not been the case.

13b-are you looking at me?

ArGee has seemed as curious about me as I’ve been about him.

16-saying goodbye

Is he tame? Or has he been defending his territory? Perhaps it’s a hormone imbalance as the season changes, especially given that winter seems to have arrived early.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m grateful for the time I have had to get to know this bird of the Maine woods a wee bit better. As has happened in the past, we parted ways at the same point, so I’ve a better understanding of his actual territory.

I’ve experienced grouse being aggressive when protecting their young in the spring, and wonder if at some point a close encounter with ArGee could switch dramatically from fascinating to hostile as he defends his territory.

Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. For now, I have nothing to grouse about!

 

I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.

1

And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.

2

Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.

3

Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.

4

But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.

5

As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.

6

And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

7

For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!

8

It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.

9

As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.

10

Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.

11

Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.

12

It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.

13

Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.

14

And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?

15

We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.

16

Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.

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And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

18

The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.

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“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.

20

Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.

22

We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.

23

At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.

24

This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.

25

And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

To Pause and Focus

I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.

1-Conway Rec Path

But . . .  much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.

2-Saco River framed

For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.

3-clear view of the Saco River

Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.

5-witch hazel, understory

Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.

4-Witch Hazel

For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.

4a-witch hazel flowers

In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.

4b-witch hazel flowers, leaf:bundle scars

And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?

6-spotted wintergreen

And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.

7-spotted wintergreen patch

While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.

8-spotted wintergreen capsules

Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.

9-maple-leaf viburnum

Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.

10-red maple leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.

16-platter sized mushrooms

And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). 

11-Saco River with Moat Mountains in background

Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.

12-small pond stained glass window

And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.

13-reflection

And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.

14-turn around trespass

A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.

15-trail

Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.

9-rock carvings match the waves

Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.

17-old silver maple

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.

18-silver maple buds

As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!

19-white-throated sparrow

As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.

20-2 white-throated sparrows

And then moved on again.

21-Eagle over Moose Pond

At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.

22-immature Bald Eagle

And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.

One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.

The Gathering

I can’t remember when our yearly ritual began but it has become tradition for three college friends and me to meet somewhere for a fall weekend. And so this year found us staying at a borrowed house in York, Maine. I was late to the gathering but we spent last night catching up as we surrounded the kitchen island. It seems like a table or island is always the spot where we spend most of our time each year while we tell new stories and recall old ones.

1-duck pond

This morning found us dining at a local restaurant. Years ago, I’d spent many an hour in York, either eating at Rick’s, combing the beaches, or standing beside a duck pond. And after this morning’s breakfast, voila–the duck pond. I’m not sure it was the one I remembered for so much had changed in town since I’d last looked for it, but still . . . it was a pond . . . with ducks.

2-fall mallards

Dabbling Mallards to be exact, their iridescent colors as brilliant as the fall foliage.

3-Long Sands Beach

Our next stop was the beach–Long Sands Beach that is. With the tide rolling out, we were able to stroll along most of its mile and a half length.

5-herring gull-shadow and reflection

Our sights included a Herring Gull in triplicate, with both its shadow and reflection cast on the watery surface.

9-ripples in the sand

Equally impressive were the ripples in the sand that matched the water that had once flowed over it,

11-patterns

and those in a small stream bed (which we chose not to cross).

10-snail trails

Our sense of wonder was again aroused when we saw a message in the sand and realized it was not someone writing in script, but rather the trail of a snail.

8-half dollar

We also found a few broken sand dollars, the fifty cent piece being the largest.

6-three old friends

We walked and chatted and walked and chatted some more until our time together came to an end. Once more we gathered round the kitchen counter, then shared a group hug and said our goodbyes.

12-until we meet again

But we each left knowing that when the time comes to meet again, we’ll follow the signs and pick up where we left off.

13-Nubble Light

As I turned north out of the lane, I wasn’t quite ready to hop onto the highway and find my way home, so I detoured. My first stop was a Nubble Lighthouse, where “in 1874 President Rutherford B. Hayes appropriated money to build a lighthouse on this “Nub” of land.” All these years later, it’s getting a much needed facelift.

14-Barrier Beach Trail

A wee bit further up the road, I pulled into Wells Reserve at Laudholm , a 2,250-acre estuarine zone. Trails loop about the property and I followed a few.

15-bumblebee pollination

Beside the estuary, bees aplenty buzzed about some late asters in the warmth of the sunshine.

16-yellow rump hiding

And closer to the ocean, Yellow-rumped Warblers flew and landed among the shrubs.

17-beach rose

As I walked across a boardwalk toward the beach, a few beach roses showed off their brilliant blooms.

18-Drake's Island Beach

At last I reached Drake’s Island Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, one of my old haunts on daytrips long ago.

19-more squiggles in the sand

And there, another squiggly message in the sand, longer than the first but about half as wide in trail straddle (just getting back into my winter tracking frame of mind and terminology.)

21-Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve

On my return, I looped around on the Laird-Norton Trail, where a well-built boardwalk was decorated with so many shades of red speaking to the Acer rubra Maples that arched above.

23-garter snake

In one sunny spot, a garter snake sunned and I tried to warn a woman who was walking toward me, but she didn’t hear and the startled snake practically jumped off the boardwalk. The woman almost did as well!

24-apple tree

Snakes and apples and I began to wonder if I was in the Garden of Eden. But really, I wondered if a squirrel had wedged the apple into the nook of the tree to dry. I’ve seen the same with mushrooms and just last week watched a red squirrel snatch a dried mushroom in a movement so quick that it will remain in my mind’s eye only.

20-drone fly, looks like a European honey bee

Certainly, the bees and flies, such as this hover fly, were taking advantage of the nutrition offered at the reserve. Temperatures are forecast to dip this week, so I’ll be curious to see how long the flowers and pollinators last.

25-estuary

My final stop of the day was to walk a trail that connects to the reserve. The Carson Trail is named for Rachel Carson. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1966 to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migrating birds. My views today included heron, an egret, and a sandpiper.

27-selfie

Finally it was time to head for the hills. But like the ducks and pollinators and birds that foraged for nourishment, I was grateful for the opportunity once again to gather with friends and be sustained by each other’s company.  We’d pose for our traditional selfie before heading off in individual directions to our everyday lives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine,  and Vermont. Thanks Pammie, Bev, and Becky, and a special thanks to Lynn and Tim for letting us make ourselves at home in their York place.

Until we meet again . . .

 

Yo, Brooklyn!

Past visits to New York City have always included museums and shows, but this weekend we followed a bit of the familiar path and sometimes took the trail less touristy in an attempt to get to know the area better.

2-Manhattan in the fog

Saturday afternoon, following our arrival via a bus from Worcester, Mass., we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, which was a bit veiled in fog, thus softening  ordinarily crisp lines.

1-Brooklyn Bridge

Begun in 1869 and completed by 1883, the bridge spans the East River and connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

3-bridge like a spider's web

Among the throngs of people who walked or rode bicycles across, we all wove strands of thread that fit easily into the web long ago created. Some of us paused suddenly here and there, as the arachnid tried to take hold, while others tried to maneuver along the silken dragline writing messages with their feet much the way Charlotte may have within her web.

6-wildlife on the bridge

And a few got caught up by the constrictors waiting at the center.

7-onto the streets of Manhattan

At last we emerged on the other side, where our attention was diverted by the architecture and colors.

8-New York Stock Exchange

Often, it was the interaction of today and yesterday that drew our notice, joined together as they were with a global reference.

9a-entrance door to St. Patrick's

Eventually, we passed through the doorway of St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . .

9-St. Patrick's Cathedral

where many have gathered for centuries to light candles in memoriam of those who have passed from this layer of life to the next and prayed for the future.

11-view from Central Park

And then we slipped into Central Park, where we were again struck by the architecture, especially as juxtaposed against the artificially landscaped natural world.

13-goldfish

As we watched the Mallards and Canada Geese, one of our biggest moments of awe was for a goldfish–the largest we’d ever seen.

Eventually, we boarded a train and found our way back to Brooklyn, where a quiet evening awaited.

14-the bridges from below

Sunday morning found us passing below the Brooklyn Bridge, where we could glimpse  the more “modern” Manhattan Bridge in the distance.

15-skyline from the promenade

Again, the skyline was muffled, but its edges softened.

16-spider web again

And once more we looked with wonder at the web construction.

17-river boat NYC style

Ever so slowly, we moved away even as a paddlewheeler representing the south made its way north.

18-cormorants and gull

Despite our thrill at watching water taxis, tour boats, jet skis, sailboats, powerboats, and even a police boat move up and down the river, the local Cormorants and a Herring Gull took it all in stride.

19-cormorant preening

After all, they had feathers to preen.

20-Canada Goose

And the Canada Geese–a grassy park to foul. The irony was that no dogs were allowed, but the geese made themselves quite at home.

22-offices of many sorts

Above the Cormorant/Gull condos, Lower Manhattan gave way to the harbor, and we enjoyed the view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

26-Lady Liberty

Our perch included the sight of Lady Liberty as she greeted all.

24-Queen Mary 2

And another grand lady, the Queen Mary 2. The last time I saw the QM, it was a previous rendition and she’d anchored in New Haven Harbor (Connecticut) in the summer of 1979. My father, sister, and I drove into the city to catch a view and then we followed the route Queen Elizabeth, who had arrived in town for a very brief visit, would take before departing from Tweed New Haven Airport. Crowds lined the route and we practiced our best QE wave. Humoring us, some waved back. We did glimpse the queen as her motorcade eventually drove by and that was enough to fulfill our Anglophile envy.

27-water tank in Brooklyn Heights

But, this weekend we were in Brooklyn to admire New Yorkers, (and we knew the queen wasn’t on the boat), so we pulled our point of view back to the area around us, which included a mosaic structure worth noting. Watertower is actually a sculpture created by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin. He used plexiglass and steel in 2012 to represent one of the icons of our nation–a water tower.

29-playing fields on the piers

From pier to pier we followed the promenade beside the river, noting natural places and sports fields filled with athletes of many talents as they played games or worked out.

30-Brooklyn Heights

Eventually, we circled back and then climbed up into Brooklyn Heights, enjoying our meander through a beautiful neighborhood.

31-sycamore tree

And my guy, he became a pro at identifying Sycamore trees for so prolific do they grow in that neck of the woods.

33-pigeons

And then, and then we encountered a flock of happy pigeons. Yes, we were in New York City and all pigeons are happy there. It has something to do with peanut kiosks perhaps?

35a-pigeon

There were the typical blue-gray birds with two dark wingbars,

35-pigeon

rusty red version,

34-pigeon

those spotted or mottled,

36-pigeon

and even pale among the gang.

34a-piegon

But really, have you ever taken the time to look at those iridescent colors?

39-piegon

Or that sweet face?

40-maidenhair tree, ginko

At last we left our pigeon admiration behind and continued on, noting another tree not in our familiar category–the Maidenhair or Gingko Tree.

41-maidenhair leaf

Its fan-shaped leaves showed off the carotenoids that had been hidden all summer by the green pigment. Fall was slowly embracing the city, but it hadn’t arrived in full yet.

42-barber shop

As we moved from a more residential to commercial area, we were surprised to find a barber shop open on a Sunday morning. Given that I’d recently written about barber shops for Lake Living, it was fun to peek inside. And note how many men waited. But, in this city where many work late each day, it made sense that they’d make time on a Sunday morning for a hair cut.

43b-hardware

Eventually, our wanderings led us to a hardware store. And not just any kind of hardware store . . .

43-True Value

for it was an independently-owned True Value, much like my guy’s.

43a-entering the hardware store

And since one of our reason’s for visiting the city was to celebrate his 65th birthday, I followed him in.

45-fig in the garden

Lunch found us eating a slice of pizza from a local pizzeria. It was OK; better than what we find in Maine, but not quite what I remember from my childhood in Connecticut. We did eat in the “garden” where figs grew! I wasn’t quite sure how that related to pizza. But . . . we were in New York.

42-intential grafitti

New York . . . a city where graffiti is understood.

44-my guy.jpg

Our day ended with dinner at a small neighborhood Italian restaurant, Santa Panza, where we quietly celebrated my guy’s birthday with the most delicious dinner.

40-rotating statues of Miss Brooklyn and Miss Manhattan

As this morning dawned, it was time for us to look out the window of our hotel and say goodbye to the two ladies who’d waved us in and would wave us out. Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn rotated continuously at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street.

According to a Brooklyn Public Library’s website: “Miss Manhattan sits haughtily with her right foot atop a chest of money (or jewels?); in her right hand she holds a winged globe reminiscent of a cross-bearing orb, an ancient symbol of authority; a peacock, flashiness and luxury incarnate, is by her side. (The peacock, in the belief system of the Ancient Greeks, also represented immortality/eternity.) The bows of three ships hint at the status of Manhattan as an important port and an international trade hub. She is all dignity, privilege and hubris.

Miss Brooklyn’s demeanor could not be more different. Her expression is gracious, introspective and calm; she is surrounded by a church spire (Brooklyn to this day counts more houses of worship than any other borough); a lyre and a child with a book (a reference to the borough’s patronage of culture and education). The book on the child’s lap is massive. It must be a Bible, another reference to the borough’s spiritual thrust. Her head is adorned with a laurel wreath. In her hands she holds a tablet with the Dutch inscription “Ein Drach Mackt Maght” (“In Union there is strength”), a hint at the Dutch origins of Brooklyn and at the fairly recent New York City consolidation of 1898.

The granite maidens originated on the Manhattan Bridge, but these sculptures were installed on a pedestal at their current location about a year ago. For us, they were our home monuments much as Pleasant Mountain serves as our home mountain. Not only did they welcome us and send us on our way, but we knew where we’d lay our heads for the night as we approached.

43-Yo

At last, our brief city adventure came to an end, but we trust we’ll return.

Yo, Brooklyn! Yo Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn. Thanks for the welcome. Until we meet again . . .

 

 

 

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Postcards from Sweden

Sometimes I forget when traveling that I should share my surroundings with those back home. A photograph of a local scene and a quick note are enough to say that though I was away, you were on my mind.

1-splash cup

And so dear readers, these are for you. The weather is great, I wish you were here. For if you were, your jaw would drop as mine did at the sight of these little morsels that so look like candy wrappers. Of course, the right thing to do would be for me to purchase a few to share with you.

2-splash cup

But, looks can be deceiving, and really, these are a fungi called Cyathus striatus, or Fluted Bird’s Nest. While they remind me of marshmallows covered with burnt coconut, they are really the young fruit bodies of the species. The lids, known as epiphragms, cover the structure and prevent rain drops from entering until the eggs within are ripe, for it’s the drips of the drops that release the spores of this fungi.

3-splash cup fungi

More mature structures, those that look like chocolate cups also coated in coconut, contained the “eggs” or lens-shaped structures known as peridioles.

4-eggs in splash cup fungi

This fungi is difficult to spy because it is teeny and inconspicuous and prefers a dark, moist habitat, but my hostess had her eye on these for a while and couldn’t wait to share them with me. And now, I’m excited to share them with you. The flute darkens with age, and that pale lid falls away or collapses inside the structure which does resemble a bird’s nest. Within each nest there are typically four or five silvery flattened “eggs.”

5-turkey tail fungi

We moved along and our next destination made me think of home. Back home, it seems the wild turkeys are taking over the world as we spy them in the yard, field, forest, and beside many a road. In the forest my hostess knows best, it was a turkey of a different kind that she shared. Trametes versicolor or more commonly, turkey tail fungi, grow prolifically in her woods. And their tail feathers are just as colorful and neatly arranged as the ones I know so well.

10-slime mold

Our next stop on the tour found her sharing a parlor trick with me. She poked a fruiting body of Lycogala epidendrum, or Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, with a stick. Out oozed some goo, which had the fungi been mature would have been a more powdery spore mass.

10a-slime mold being slimy, parlor trick

You might say, “YUCK.” But it’s almost magical. The salmon-colored balls deflate instantly when poked and as the goo leaks we smile and think about sharing such a finding with others. When next I wander with you, we’ll have to look for slime molds.

11-Aleuria aurantia--orange peel funit

Because we’d been walking for a bit, you might think that my hostess offered a snack. The fun thing about exploring a place she knows so well is that sometimes there are surprises and such was the Aleuria aurantia or Orange Peel Fungi. We were looking at something else in the vicinity when suddenly we both spied the bright orange color and then realized there was a colony of it all about our feet.

14-earth tongue forest

In a different habitat, one where the sphagnum moss grows, we encounter a different fungi that I know, but had never seen in such an abundance: Trichoglossum farlowii is also known as Black Earth Tongue. I had never visited an Earth Tongue garden before but in a foreign land it apparently reigns.

15-singular tongue

Most of the structures are singular fruits, but . . .

15-forked earth tongue

we found one forked tongue.

16-green-headed jelly baby fungi

Nearby, on a rock covered in Bazzania, a liverwort, we found a small colony of Leotia viscosa or Green-headed Jelly Babies. Much like the Fluted Bird’s Nest, it looks like a another candy I should bring home to share, but I left the souvenirs behind and took only photographs.

17-green stain fungi fruiting

Our forest journey wasn’t over, but our fungi finds were complete when she showed me the fruiting bodies of Chlorosplenium aeruginascens, or Green Stain Fungi. Really, it should be called turquoise-stained, but I didn’t come up with the name. It’s difficult to photograph these beauties for so petite are they, and always a thrill to see.

18-Sweden forest

Many of our finds were located in the vicinity of a forest bog where cinnamon ferns grow tall and wild and add texture and color to the scene, making it look rather pre-historic.

6-beaver pond

Not only did my hostess share her woodland habitat, which is so different from my own, but she also took me to a beaver pond. Our intention was to say hello, but by the depth we noted that the beavers aren’t currently home. We’ll have to call on them another day during my stay.

8-green frog

What we did find were green frogs that squeaked as we approached and then leaped into the water to hide.

9-sundews, both round-leaved and spatula-leaved

As a gift for her hospitality, I was able to share something with my hostess–in the form of round-leaf and spatula-leaf sundews that grow at the water’s edge. Both are carnivorous and so she can now add another parlor trick to entertain her guests–feed insects to the plants.

7-solitary sandpiper

One final scene to share because she and I shared the same view: a Solitary Sandpiper on the hunt. We watched for a few minutes before it flew off.

And now it’s time for me to fly home. But the airmail has been stamped and if you have read this then you are on the receiving end of postcards from Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is.

Thank you to my hostess, J.M., for your kindness and willingness to share so many special scenes with me. I can’t wait to return to your neck of the woods.