A Bunch of Gobbledygook

Most people only hear “Gobble, gobble,” from a turkey. But listen carefully and you might hear something more. That’s what happened to one young boy.

You see, once, a long time ago, the boy and his father headed out for their annual turkey hunt. It was a raw and blustery November day with snow already on the ground as the two left home and traveled in different directions.

t1-turkey tracks

All morning, the boy followed turkey tracks in the snow. Exhausted, he sat to eat his sandwich on a rock sheltered by hemlock trees. Slowly his eyes drooped, but a sound suddenly startled him.

t2

“Gooble, gooble.”

Quietly, the boy reached for his musket.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked the turkey.

“Huh?” replied the boy.

“I asked, what do you think you are doing?” repeated the turkey.

t3

The boy shook his head. “Are you really talking to me? Or am I dreaming?”

“You decide,” said the turkey. “Oh, and I don’t think we’ve properly introduced ourselves. I’m Tom.”

“I’m Tim.”

“Well, Tim, what are you doing with that thing in your hands?” asked Tom.

“I’m hunting for, um, for . . . ”

“Yes?”

“I’m . . . I”m hunting for you,” said Tim.

t4

“Me? Well, you’ve found me. But . . . wait a second,” said Tom as he ruffled his feathers.  “You’re not going to shoot me, are you? Oh, I know–you are supposed to bring back a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, right? But did you know that the Pilgrims didn’t eat turkey at the first Thanksgiving feast? They didn’t have time to hunt. They were too busy harvesting vegetables, learning to fish, building houses and preparing for a harsh winter.  Massasoit and the others who introduced the feast brought venison. So . . . if you want to help put the tradition back into Thanksgiving, I suggest you turn your attention toward deer or fish or just eat vegetables. Besides, think about my surname: Meleagris gallopavo, the scientific nomenclature for wild turkey. Such an impressive name certainly proves my importance.”

t5

Just then, they heard Tim’s dad approach. Tom went into full display, gobbled quietly, and waddled back under the hemlocks.

“Tim, did I hear you talking to someone?” asked his dad.

“Uh, no Dad,” said Tim. “I wasn’t talking to anybody.”

“Oh, well, did you spy any turkeys? It looks like there are lots of tracks around here”

“No turkeys in sight right now,” said Tim. “But I was thinking–what if we eat fish instead of turkey this year?”

“Fish?” asked his dad.

“Yeah, fish,” Tim said as they walked home. “I don’t think the Pilgrims actually ate turkey. That’s a bunch of gobbledygook. We should have a traditional meal this year.”

They turned a corner in the trail and Tim glanced back for a second. Tom winked from his hiding place under the trees. Tim winked back.

And all lived happily ever after, always enjoying the Thanksgiving feast–with fish as the main course some years, and spaghetti other years.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers! And on behalf of the Meleagris gallopavo family, I seek your help to save them from being roasted yet again.

Nature’s Denouement

Due to today’s inclement weather, I postponed a Tracking expedition and thought it might be a good day to become a couch potato. But still, my feet itched to get outside as the raindrops fell.

And then a text message arrived: “Potential loon trapped in the ice; rescue happening on Lower Bay.” I was in my truck and on my way before I even knew the exact location.

As I drove, rain changed to big slushy balls that struck the windshield with noisy inkblot-shaped splats. I pulled into a parking area to check on the intended meet-up point and learned I was a bit early, so I went for a walk. All around me, the forest was alive with sounds–of wet snow striking marcescent leaves, and birds chirping as they flew from branch to branch. I’d hoped to meet an old friend, Argee, but he was nowhere in sight.

By the time I did join the rescue group, they were already loading an aluminum boat into the lake.

The Lower Bay of Kezar Lake had sealed over this past weekend and was coated with an inch or more of ice.

Thus the need for the rescue mission. An immature loon got caught by the sudden freeze. Thankfully for it, Susan Clout, a local resident, noticed its situation and put out a call for help.

Responders included Heinrich and Linda Wurm, Paul Buckley, Steve Lewis, and Jim Buck.

Donning life jackets, their only gear: paddles, a net and a box. It all seemed so simple. Paddle out, coo to the bird as it might talk to another, and either make open water for it to fly (loons need at least a quarter mile for take off, this one had a circle that maybe measured twenty feet–it was difficult to tell from the shore) or capture and release it on an open section of the lake. As one of the text messages stated about the plan: Evolving.

The task of breaking the ice was daunting and though it looked like they were crossing the Potomac, all they really wanted to do was maneuver part way across the bay.

Because it made sense for the person in the bow to stand and break ice as the sternman paddled, stability became an issue and within minutes the boat returned to shore and a third passenger climbed aboard.

Though you can see the circle of open water and it may appear close by, it was all a matter of perspective and they had a long path to create.

Meanwhile, back on shore, those of us who remained behind and felt like we might need to rescue the rescuers, were entertained by Susan as she sang the most delightful lines of a song she’d been writing about the loon’s dilemma.

Back on the water, or rather, ice, progress was slow.

And still the loon swam, occasionally calling out. We interrupted its voice to mean, “I see you. Keep coming my way.”

On board the SS Icebreaker, oarsmen shifted positions because it was tiring to chop continuously.

We kept assuming they were making headway given their position.

And they were. But they still had a long way to go. After 75 minutes, with probably two more hours separating them from the loon, and a cold rain falling, they decided to turn around and hope that higher temps and maybe a breeze in coming days will do the trick. All are hopeful.

I was invited to the scene because my friends’ thought it would make a good story. In the end, my story is nothing compared to the one Nature is writing. She, apparently, has Her own plans for the denouement. We can’t wait to read how She resolves this matter.

Update: November 21, 2019

And here is the rest of the story as Heinrich interpreted it for us: “The loon we were aiming our mission toward took off this morning! Just as the Game Warden showed up the loon started flapping its wings and headed east toward the Narrows. Amazing!

created by dji camera

Unfortunately these remnants were left near the other open space
where a loon had been sighted before.

I later learned that two Bald Eagles were spotted near the loons.

Nature’s Denouement: Find a balance.

Learning in the Forest

Today was field trip day. Well, actually, every day is field trip day. This week’s trips have included Kezar Lake and the Kezar River Reserve in Lovell, as well as Holt Pond in Bridgton. But today, it was further afield as I drove north to China, Maine, to introduce Erika Rowland, Executive Director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, and Alanna Doughty, Education Director of Lakes Environmental Association to a special person and a special place.

The special place is one that allows children young and old to use natural materials to build faerie houses. I’ve been entranced by such since my youth–thanks be to my father and his Scottish ancestry, and our “Aunt” Betsy, (she isn’t related, but she’s always been a wonderful aunt) who often took us on a picnic to the fairy table in her woods.

Faeries (fairies) love quiet places and their homes come in many forms. They’re best made from scavenged materials. Imagination rules and nature provides all the things needed for such creative architecture.

This particular village is identified by a sign that provides a list of materials both appropriate and inappropriate.

A wee bit further along the trail, we happened upon another spot that hasn’t been finalized yet, but it’s a collaborative effort between our hostess and last year’s fifth grade class.

The kiddos studied Maine mammals and then created a scavenger hunt. Erika, Alanna, and I continued to channel our inner kid and looked left, right, high, and low to spy the critters that share these woods. From coyotes to . . .

mama bear and her cubs, to . . .

a lynx chasing a snowshoe hare, to . . .

a moose, they were a pleasant surprise all along the way. If you have a smartphone available, you can learn more about them.

And if there are mammals, then there must be tracks.

We checked the gravely mammal “pit” and discovered pointed toenail prints leading us to think coyote. Had the silhouette come alive?

Continuing on, we came to an old log landing, where pine saplings happily inhabited the clearing. Our hostess, Anita, showed off the recent crazy growth years. Each year, a White Pine produces a whorl of branches, thus allowing one to age the tree by counting from one whorl to the next. And in between–well, the tree grows. Some years, the growth is extensive if conditions are right, such as this 18″ spurt one year and a similar one above the next.

A couple of trees, however, showed off the efforts of a White Pine Weevil. Brown, wilted main shoots (terminal leaders) featured tips curved into a shepherd’s crook. More on that later.

In the midst of all the pines, I was wowed by another tree with needles. It’s one that begs a handshake every time.

And really, that hand comes with the softest touch.

Even upon its trunk, the needles do splay . . . like an aster, but they won’t last long for a Tamarack (aka Larch, Hackmatack) is a deciduous conifer and already they are turning their golden autumnal color.

The Tamarack wasn’t the only star, for cedars also added a different texture to the woods.

And then . . . and then . . . we came upon the Treehouse. A handicap accessible treehouse.

It’s known as the Reading Tree, but it’s more than that, which the interpretive sign explains. Remember that White Pine Weevil damage we saw at the log landing? Well, the White Pine that the treehouse surrounds was a long-ago weeviled tree. When a pine is weeviled, the leader shoot dies and the whorl from the previous year take on the task of growing skyward.

The treehouse is built to accommodate its growth and let the sun in.

It also provides a fantastic place for all to blend in to its structure.

Of course, if you climb the tree, you might have to spend a bit of time in “Timeout.” But really, what a pleasure to do both.

We didn’t want to leave the treehouse behind and actually considered moving in, but onward our journey continued to a spot where the story transitions to mathematical computations. A cord of wood in the background, a chance to measure board feet in the foreground. It’s all a part of this special place, where classrooms abound . . . in the forest.

It didn’t stop there. A fence with cut-outs high and low let us peek at more local wildlife. Had we been with a class of twenty or more elementary school children, we surely would have scared the birds away. But . . .

our bird sightings were plentiful.

How many do you spy?

At the end of the wall, the interpretive sign offers clues of those one might see.

Leaving the wall, as we walked toward a wetland, movement at our feet led to the realization that we’d disturbed two garter snakes trying to grasp the rays of today’s limited sun.

Onto a bridge originally built by students twenty plus years ago in the man-made wetland, we paused to covet the outdoor classroom.

The possibilities for exploration were endless.

And they were all possible because of our incredible hostess, Anita Smith. Anita is a retired teacher, Maine Master Naturalist, and Project Learning Tree Advocate.

Her community close to home appreciates her, but so do the rest of us for as I’ve learned, Anita is alway happy to share what she and others have created to educate all ages.

Before we drove back to western Maine, we had one last wonder to fill our day–the woody capsules of Lady’s Slippers gone by that grow in clumps like we typically don’t see anywhere else.

Thanks to Anita and all her volunteers, we spent today wandering the China School’s Working Forest in China, Maine, and loved exploring the twenty or so learning stations set up on the fifty-plus acre forest. Neither Greater Lovell Lovell Land Trust or Lakes Environmental Association can replicate the China School Forest, but our take-away was immense and we loved the opportunities to learn in the forest.

Blame it on the Monarchs

Some days I head out the door with eyes as big as those of a fly and then I try to stand in one place and watch what might pass by.

Unfortunately, I’m not always as patient as a robberfly and soon find myself pacing in search of the next great sight.

Even when it turns out to be a Japanese Beetle munching on a leaf, I’m not totally disappointed. After all, it does have such an incredible sense of color and fashion.

But what I really hoped to see I suddenly became aware of as first one, then two, three, four and even more Monarchs fluttered in their butterfly way, seeming to glide for a bit and then make an almost apparent decision to land before a change of mind until at last . . . upon the Milkweed it did pause.

Curious thing. So did another Japanese Beetle. That led me to wonder: how will these two get along and negotiate the territory?

The Monarch poked its straw-like proboscis into the heavenly-scented flowers as it sought sweetness while the beetle continued to move toward it.

But the beetle was on a mission of its own and the two seemed to co-exist side by side.

In fact, they were practically oblivious of each other. Unlike when a Common Yellowthroat tried to land and the Monarch chased it away.

Finally the butterfly crossed over to another flower on the tall stem and left the beetle behind.

I moved on as well, in search of others to focus on like the female Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly. How can it be that it’s already Meadowhawk season, the late bloomers in my book of dragonflies?

And yet, the colors of summer today included not only the pinks of Steeplebush, but also the yellows of goldenrods beginning to blossom.

Mixed into those colors and because of their movement and then moments of pausing, the Monarchs kept tugging at the strings of my heart and pulling me back into the moment.

And in that real time moment, I had the pleasure of spying couples in their canoodling fashion, though they tended to be much more elusive than some insects. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the female was dead as the male flew along with her dangling below until he landed on a stem of choice. From what I’ve read, their mating can take up to sixteen hours. Oh my.

As it turned out, I soon discovered that at least one mating had resulted in at least one caterpillar. I suspect there will be more soon, but this one will have a head start on munching its way through the Milkweed kingdom.

All the while that I stalked the Monarchs, a Common Yellowthroat did its own stalking, constantly announcing its location with chirps. And then I realized it had a caterpillar in its mouth as it moved among the stems of the Spreading Dogbane. Oh dear. Fortunately it wasn’t a Monarch caterpillar, but will it be only a matter of time?

A few more steps and I noticed a Katydid on a Milkweed leaf. Oh yikes. So many visitors who like to munch.

For the moment all bets are placed on only one Monarch caterpillar to continue the life cycle.

Blame it on the Monarchs for calling me back to the same spot I’ve been stalking for a few weeks and giving me the opportunity to notice them mating and the results of such actions and other insects as well.

Want to learn more? The Greater Lovell Land Trust will offer these two programs:

July 31, 7:00 pm, Monarchs at Risk with Don Bennett 

Recent censuses show the smallest Monarch butterfly populations in Mexico and the west coast hibernacula in recorded history. Why is this happening? Is there anything we can do?  Are drastic declines in the Monarch populations a sign of something more insidious? Come listen to Naturalist Don Bennett, PhD, and discover why this is such an important message for all of us. 

Location: Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, Route 5, Lovell

August 1, 9:30 am – noon: Monarchs in the field: Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to survive — as caterpillars they only eat milkweed and Monarch moms lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. We’ll take a walk along a dirt road that abuts a farm field and river, where milkweed grows in abundance and search for Monarchs and other butterflies. 

Location: Meet behind the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library to carpool.

Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Spying Like an Eagle

Working in tandem, we paddled against the wind and despite its force gave thanks for the relief from the heat offered. Our intention was to explore the islands of Moose Pond, a place where the two of us can get lost in time.

It was movement above that caught our attention as we watched a large bird fly into a tree. And so we paddled even harder in hopes of getting a better look. About midway up a White Pine, an immature Bald Eagle sat upon a branch . . . and panted, feeling the heat like we did. Since birds can’t sweat, this was its way of dissipating the sweltering weather.

We watched the bird until it finally flew off and headed south.

Then we continued our journey north.

My guy jumped ship to wander an island or two and I stayed aboard to see what I might find, like the Spatterdock petals hiding within the petal-like sepals.

There were Buttonbush flowers with their funky orb shapes and spiky protrusions.

And I was delighted to see a Rose Pogonia, its fringed beard hiding among the grasses and reeds.

The damselflies wrote love notes on almost every stem, but this gathering I found most comical–as the guys each attempted to be her suitor. In the end the top Bluet gracefully acquiesced.

And then there was the Variable Darner Damsel to wonder about as she posed upon a Pickerel Weed of matching color. Were her wings so shiny because she’d just emerged? And though its difficult to see the left-hand wing, they appeared to be spread–perhaps another indication of her recent adventure from aquatic nymph to sky dancer.

Our discoveries were many, but I’ve shared just a few from this afternoon as my guy and I . . . we spied like an eagle.

Because of the Monarchs

There’s a place here in western Maine that I frequent on hot summer days. Oh heck, there are many places I frequent, but this one is extra special and it doesn’t involve a hike. In fact, from my perspective, there’s only a short distance of a road that consumes hour after hour of my time. But always, it’s time well spent.

The road is dirt and crosses through a hay field that has yet to be cut. Smack dab in the center stands a beautiful Elm and though I’m not sure the Bluebirds nest there, I do know that they at least rest upon its mighty branches for I watched them fly down and disappear into the wildflowers and grasses below and then zoom back up into the tree a few minutes later, their wings of iridescent blue mesmerizing me during flight.

As the Bluebirds flew back and forth to the tree, so I walked back and forth below it. And back and forth again. And again. I have no idea how many times I turned or how often I muttered, “One more time and then I’ll leave.”

But . . . because I stayed I had the good fortune to spend some time admiring a Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly. In true character, it paused for long periods of time, flew off for a moment or two, and then returned to the same perch. And I gave thanks.

The only other dragonfly I saw was also a skimmer, but about half the size of the Twelve-spotted. At about one inch in length, the female White-faced Meadowhawk also paused for long breaks. And I was equally grateful.

With each step, grasshoppers did what they do–scattered from the dirt road to nearby stems. By the dozens. Providing constant motion and sound.

But then . . . I found two who chose a different activity to entertain themselves and ensure that there will be future generations of grasshoppers in the field.

Aren’t they amazing? And I don’t mean in their canoodling, but rather their design.

My pacing included frequent stops to check out the visitors upon the flowers as well. The Steeplebush appeared to offer a feast to any who chose to stop by.

Because the grass was so high beyond the flowers at the edge of the road, I didn’t realize at first that I wasn’t alone. Twice I was startled because I’d startled another. Both times it was a deer that I didn’t see until they ran off. Do you see the white flag of the tail as one bounded toward the woods?

There was more movement in the grasses and among the flowers. It was accompanied by sound. Looking for stalks moving at odds with the slight breeze, I finally spied the creator of the “Cheap” that resounded almost constantly. A Common Yellowthroat Warbler hopped from one plant to another, possibly seeking a meal to share with youngsters relaxing in a distant tree.

Curiously, a different sound could be heard from the other side of the road, where a male and female frequently took flight before settling down for a bit.

The Bobolink’s song hit notes both low and high, offering a serenade that bubbled forth in a rather bouncy and most pleasant warble.

Every which way I looked, something different presented itself. Some I knew, but others I met for perhaps the first time, such as this large bee fly. I’ve since learned that they are also commonly known as humbleflies, and I found that curious given that with the banded abdomen and patterned wings and overall large size, it hardly seemed humble.

What I’d really gone to check on, however, were the Milkweed plants and their visitors. I wasn’t disappointed for there were both big and little Milkweed beetles.

And Tiger Swallowtails seeking nourishment. This one needed all the nourishment it could get to continue its flight and avoid the birds and other predators. Do you see its tattered wing?

Some, like the Fritillary, chose the road for nutrition and did what butterflies often do.

It puddled. To puddle means to extend your mouthparts and probe the dusty road in search of nutrients. There is no actual puddle involved, but there may be raindrops or in this case, morning dew that help the butterflies extract minerals to share with their gals.

What I’d really gone to see, however, were the Monarchs. And I wasn’t disappointed for a few fluttered about and occasionally landed, much to my delight.

At last, my “One more time and then I’ll leave” utterance became reality and I drove off. And then . . . there was one more sight to behold. I stopped the truck and watched as a fawn bounded in its awkward fawn manner.

Because of the Monarchs . . . I experienced a wonder-filled morning.

Rookery and Beyond

It’s a difficult sound to describe, rather primordial in nature. Maybe it’s a duck’s quack? Or a dog’s bark? Or some combination of the two. And yet, all is quiet and then the noise erupts suddenly from one nest as a parent flies in, a meal in the oven about to be regurgitated.

It’s a scene that plays out at individual nests for a while before all become quiet again as if lunch has ended and the kids should take time for a nap. But until such time, the neighbors in the high rise next door watch enviously as their playmates are fed.

Just down the block one of the tweens, for suddenly after about a month of life they are such, flexes his wings as he stands out on a branch. It’s a tradition as old as time–tweens and teens going out on a limb to show their capability to survive in the world. The question remains, however: when will he reach the right age to get a license?

As the tween to the right finishes flexing, the one in the center lets a shiver pass through his body. Is it a pre-flex motion? His other sibling watches and wonders what it’s all about. Perhaps he’s trying to prove something?

Meanwhile, because I stood beside a river with a friend so I could count Great Blue Heron nests, active nests, young, young in nests, fledglings, and adults, we also began to notice other life that surrounded us like a Kingbird who posed for moments on end.

Constantly, however, my eye was drawn to the tiptop of the White Pines, where I began to realize there were more and more birds than my first count because many were feeling their oats and testing their individuality.

Other birds added to the rhythm as we listened for and shared with each other the location of the song makers in our midst.

And then, and then . . . a male Belted Kingfisher pause smack dab in front of us, his tuft of head feathers earning him the “Wicked Cool Dad” award in the neighborhood.

He looked right at us and made dorky dad comments that left us exclaiming with delight.

Meanwhile, back at the rookery, some of the tweens continued to wait in the most patient manner. They muttered hardly a word. We did have to wonder how such big birds could fit in those nest of twigs. The nests were large in bird terms, but the birds were even larger. At last it was time for us to depart, and we left the young in their quiet mode.

My journey continued on the other side of the river. It was there that I spotted Robber Flies in that age-old act of mating.

And a moth I believe to be known as a Virginian Tiger Moth or Woolybear Moth clinging.

But perhaps my favorite of all, that I found because we chose today to check on the rookery, was the Sphinx moth holding onto a pine sapling. At first I thought it was a dead leaf caught on the twig.

Behold the wonder of the rookery and beyond.