I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother, but was blessed with two sons more than two decades ago.
When the boys were young, I soon discovered that each day there was something to rejoice about beginning with those early accomplishments like rolling over, blowing bubbles, learning to walk, loosing a tooth, tying a shoe, zippering a jacket, skipping down the road, whistling a tune, or riding a bike without training wheels.
Always, it was traditions that we shared which brought great delight. S and I had a secret hand code that meant “I love you.” P would say, “Ding, ding, snuggle time,” at the end of many meals and climb onto my lap to cuddle.
At bedtime, there was that sense of relief because these two dynamos were finally going to sleep, but special moments occurred each night as we shared important memories of the day with thanksgiving and snuggled some more while reading books.
For P’s first two years, I was convinced he and S were twins. It took me that long to accept that we had two individuals. By looks it was obvious with S’s coarse, curly hair and P’s much finer curls. But there was more.
At age six, S loved science, reading, writing, swimming, mazes, Winnie-the-Pooh, the computer and pretending to be a Private Eye. He constantly planned businesses and designed buildings. S was our organizer and enjoyed figuring out strategies. He was intense with a wonderful sense of humor.
Four-year-old P loved sports, knights in shining armor, super heroes, and dressing as a police officer, fireman, or postman. He loved to tell long, embellished stories. And P learned by observing and taught himself how to ski, skate, and ride a bike. He was quick to smile and loved to joke.
As teenagers, some things had changed. S’s passions included reading, theme parks, roller coasters, computers, Walt Disney, cinematography, geography, research, stocks, and business adventures. He was a member of the honor society, three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, S loved to volunteer for our local access cable station where he’d film events as well as work on audio and production. He had grown more intense than ever, but his humor provided a balance.
P’s interests included more sports, writing, drawing, fixing things, playing games, creating meals, playing percussion, yard work, hiking, any outdoor activities, and time spent with family and friends. He had developed a definite sense of justice and he was thoughtful. P participated on three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, he and three friends formed a rock band and played at school and community events. He continued to tell great stories and loved a good joke.
As I wandered today, I thought of how proud we are of our sons. After graduating from college with a degree in communications and thinking he was going to work in the newspaper industry, S decided instead to pursue a career dealing with hardware. And for those of you who know, that apple did not fall far from the tree as he has recently returned to town and is in the midst of taking the reins at My Guy’s store.
P also surprised us and chose to major in film, an avenue we thought his brother might have followed. And he has made waves in the film editing business in New York City, a location we never envisioned as being part of his future.
Going back to my story, while carrying S, I remember sharing concerns with other soon-to-be parents. I was most worried about what my child would be like as a teen because at that time I was teaching and knew the struggles teenagers faced daily. Eventually I learned not to focus on that, but rather to worry more about getting the boys safely to that point. A strange thing happened to me along the way. I stopped worrying about them becoming teenagers and adults because they taught me to live in the here and now.
My Guy and I worked hard to give them the right tools to deal with situations as their lives evolved. We nourished them and in return they nourished us.
I remember having a great need for my mother’s ongoing presence and love. I can only hope our boys will always have the same need for us. And that their lives will forever be colored by that love.
As it says in Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, My babies you’ll be.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all, even those who are not mother’s because I’m sure your acts have nourished others on more occasions than you realize.
I’ve spent the past few days shopping for gifts that make me think of you, and you know how I love to shop. But I think I found just the right selections to celebrate your day.
Of course, I needed to cast my broad wings and use my hawk eyes to survey the choices.
The first was as easy to make as it was difficult, for I knew that if I was purchasing one for you, I should also buy another for me since we’ve always had similar tastes for so many things.
But, there were a trillion Painted Trillium from which to choose and I can only hope these two will work for us.
Stinking Benjamin, aka Red Trillium, also demanded a look. I threw one into the cart because every room needs a dash of red and I thought you could perhaps find the perfect spot for it. Just don’t put it near your bed since the odor may not appeal to you, especially at night.
One of the biggest purchases occurred when My Guy and I stood near a body of water and a loon surfaced by our feet. Its velvety black texture reminded me of your baby doll with the china head and black velvet dress. If you recall, the dress had a lacy white collar. Of course, you remember, because if memory serves me right, she’s still a part of your life.
The next gift took me back to your college days. I’m getting old too, but didn’t you participate as a bell ringer in college? The Sessile-leaved Bellwort brought that memory to mind. I can see that performance in my mind’s eye. But, what you may not know is that I was in a bit of hot, soapy water at home when I asked at the dinner table, “Who the hell are the bell ringers?” I thought the rhyme was quite clever. That thought was not shared by all present.
On a more cheerful note, spring beauty is realized in Spring Beauty and when I espy such I know there is even more reason to celebrate spring ephemerals–YOU!
That special day always arrives when the beech leaves burst open and show off their fringed hemline. Being the seamstress and beach girl that you are, this should be your favorite tree, even if you don’t know it.
And My Guy found you another who had admired “your” tree repeatedly in the past. Bear claw marks are a favorite of ours and so they must be a favorite of yours as well.
As your day comes to a close, BS, I leave you with the subtle, ephemeral foliage color scheme to decorate your celebratory cake.
No cake is complete without sparkling candles, these in the form of Dwarf Ginseng.
At last, the gift giving must come to an end and so it does with the perfect choice–the floral display of a Hobblebush with its sterile flowers encircling tiny fertile flowers just beginning to open. Though these shrubs may make you hobble and trip as you make your way through the forest of life, they beg you in any season to stop and notice because they always have something to share. This is the gift that keeps on giving as you celebrate another 31,536,00 seconds of the year.
We are between rain storms and last night’s was a whopper and I’m willing to take the blame because like I wish for snow, so was I wishing for rain. After all, there are vernal pools to tend to and since the mamas and papas have all either hopped or crawled out and headed back to their upland habitat, someone has to watch over the young’uns.
I’ve accepted the responsibility, knowing full well that there will be heartbreak in a month or two, but with the hope that a few days of rain might fill the pools for now to give frog and salamander embryos a chance to grow and emerge and feed and grow some more.
And so as the sun shone in the midst of major flooding, I stood sentry and took note of my various wards.
My peeps include the larval and pupal forms of mosquitoes because they do, after all, play an important part in the food web, especially in the ephemeral pool where my kids need food. And later, my other young’uns who emerge as dragonflies and damselflies will also benefit from dining on such biting insects. Birds, too, will find nourishment with these tiny morsels. And so, when I go pond dipping with others, I always encourage them to return the mosquito-ridden water back to the pool rather than following their instinct to pour them onto the ground and let them dry out and die in an attempt to keep the population down.
With focused attention today, I watched as the bubble-butts also drew attention, for Predacious Diving Beetles, who head to the surface to trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, were chasing after each other, thus extending their need to stay below for some canoodling efforts.
At last I reached my babes, some of them still forming within their bubble-shaped egg sacs. Wood Frogs will these become. In time.
Older siblings hung out on the leaves that form the pool’s lining, their diminutive tadpole size contrasted by the background of a Northern Red Oak leaf.
As was to be expected, my Spotted Salamander tykes have yet to emerge as they grow stronger within their gelatinous matrix. It always strikes me as being impenetrable, but is it?
Right now, however, the most prolific members of the pool appear to be the half-inch Midges, who swim on the water’s surface, and skitter and fly about on leaves and any other vegetation.
Click on the arrow and watch these crazy little, non-biting flies. One of my favorite posts from last year was Midges I Have Known. And I’ve known a few. In case you are wondering, she still shares a room with us.
As I stood silently guarding my little friends of many, a surprising event occurred. The local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes its presence known each time I am out there. But today, today was bath day.
And I had the good fortune to be standing on a rock across the way, hidden by branches that create the blurry effect, serving as a bit of a bird blind, while the woodpecker splashed about.
I could not believe my good fortune to spend time with this male making himself more handsome by the moment.
His splashes, mixed with today’s breeze, created ripples that sometimes distorted my view of Wood Frog egg masses, but at the same time created a work of art I can only imagine my friend Jessie painting.
It is my job to keep an eye on the nursery and it’s a job I am honored to hold.
Spring is a time for reflection, growth, and processing, yet it seems to fly by before we even have time to reflect, grow, or process.
Where it seemed only yesterday, buds were swollen, Red Maple leaves unfurled and show off various hues of color caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays. And thus, spring reflects autumn, just with a much more subtle color palette.
Paper Birch leaves also had burst through their buds and I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to their accordion shape in this early stage. On such a sunshiny day, I also couldn’t help but admire the hairy twigs that glistened in the light.
But the star of the show, the one who exhibits the most colorful apparel, is the Striped Maple.
It’s not just tree buds to which one should pay attention, for Coltsfoot, a spring ephemeral whose composite yellow flowerhead resembles dandelions, blooms briefly. Of interest to me is that this plant grows in dry or wet lands we consider to be waste and thus brightens many a roadside soon after the snow melts. Plus, the flower stands atop a stem covered with reddish bracts and whitish hairs, but its green leaves won’t appear until after the golden flowers have withered. And notice the flower fly taking advantage of some nectar, as it unwittingly brushes against pollen before moving onto another to sip and unwittingly making a deposit.
Exploring in a moist location meant occasionally finding flowers who like wet feet, such as this Kidney-leaf Violet with a runway of purple veins on its lowermost petal. Though I didn’t spot any fliers taking advantage of the runway lights, I’m sure there were some who liked the approach.
And it wouldn’t be almost May without Mayflowers, aka Trailing Arbutus, already in bloom, some of it white, and others this pale pink. If you do nothing else, stop and smell this delightful scent of spring. And if you can, observe it closely to see if the pink deepens with age.
If you move slowly and with intention through the woods, as I tried to do today, you may just get to spot an Eastern Comma Butterfly flitting about and occasionally pausing. This is one of three who overwinter as adults, finding a safe place behind bark in which to wait out the dormant season, and then flying on early spring days when the sun shines. How do they do this with nectar not necessarily available at the start of their season? They search out tree sap.
Amidst my journey, I approached one body of water as quietly as possible, and was surprised to spot these Canada Geese. Many of them overwintered on open water in places like Saco River’s Old Course, but it seems they’ve been quite chatty everywhere I I go lately and I hear them before I see them. These two were as quiet as could be. They served as a reminder that we, too, should be quiet once in a while.
The air was filled with bird song and flight, though I couldn’t always spot the creators or identify them by sound, but this one I do know for it’s a frequent flyer (pun intended): Song Sparrow.
What it was up in wings about, I’m not sure, but a moment later it walked into the greenery, and like so many others of its kind, I lost track of it.
The most special of all sights that I spotted today were the developing Wood Frog tadpoles at my favorite vernal pool. It’s all happening so fast.
Too fast. I wish for incremental levels of greenery and blooming and growing. I wish for a slow unfolding. I don’t want to miss the nuances of the changing hues.
Some see spring as an in-between waiting season, but I want to draw it out and savor each moment. Don’t you?
Though not the extravagance of Fifth Avenue, this Easter Parade is much more to our liking. Simple, yet eloquent in nature.
The white carpet was rolled out making us feel most welcome and we easily strolled upon it.
There were several occasions when the parade route appeared to be smooth as glass, but each step had a rippling effect.
It was such fun to watch cheerleaders along the sidelines perform their routines with pompoms created by flowering Silver Maples.
Competition for the best Easter Bonnet included tassels of Speckled Alder, and . . .
Pussy Willow plumes.
Ring-necked Ducks peaked their heads as they watched the marchers progress.
And Wood Ducks performed their “oo-eek, oo-eek” while swishing into the air for a flyover.
Accompanying them was a Hairy Woodpecker on percussion and . . .
Red-winged Blackbird offering a “conk-la-ree” trill.
A couple of fluttery marchers donned their mourning cloaks before flying off to another viewing spot.
We thought the butterflies were enough to make us happy about attending this parade, but then we heard a certain ephemeral wruck and knew that like antique cars, which always slow the show down, we’d have to wait a few minutes for the Wood Frogs to turn the corner. (Look carefully and you might spy two canoodlers under a leaf.)
There was so much to see including a lodge-like float that passed by us and included an advertisement for mud insulation.
Oh, and those geese and crows, how much they must have practiced to get their marching routine synchronized.
As it should, this Easter Parade finally drew to a close at the mighty oak, but left hope and awe and wonder hovering in the air.
The longer one lives in a particular place, the more one gets to know its ins and outs and everything betweens. And that’s how it felt as My Guy and I wandered some trails at Bridgton Historical Society’s Narramissic Farm and Loon Echo Land Trust’s Peabody Fitch Woods this afternoon.
He, of course, took a coyote for a walk, trying to stay on top of the snow without post-holing, for such are the conditions. I’m not one hundred percent sure he knew he was walking beside a coyote, but together we did note snowshoe hare, fox, bobcat, and mink tracks. Oh, and a few deer as well.
We had passed by the house, this photo from 2018 when the beautiful Witch Hazel still graced the corner. It looked the same today, except that someone thought it would be wise to chop down that shrub. Drats.
The Temperance Barn that wasn’t really a temperance barn also looked the same, except that again, the shrubs on the right have disappeared. You can read about the embellished name here: Stories from the Eye of the Barn.
And the Blacksmith Shop now sports an update, including a new back wall. But the buildings weren’t the central focus of my train of thoughts as we wandered. Instead, I let my mind wander as well. Back to days of yore.
This is a place where I know not only the history, but also to search for Pussy Willows breaking bud along the long driveway,
Black Walnut’s monkey-faced leaf scar,
which provides a contrast to Shagbark Hickory’s heart-shaped leaf scar . . .
and bulbous, hairy Shagbark Hickory buds.
And once in a blue moon, on a bluebird kind of day, I get to meet . . . a Bluebird!
As spring turns toward summer, I’ll look along the driveway for another feathered friend, a House Wren.
And then it will be through the field that I’ll move as I make my way toward the Quarry Loop, and it is here that I’ll spot Purple Milkwort showing off its tiny, intricate flowers.
Upon the fence post at a trail intersection, I’ll spy something equally intricate, or at least I will if my luck holds true . . . this being a Sedge Darner Dragonfly.
And as I return to the field, I might just be surprised by a Katydid katydiddying.
As summer turns to autumn, I’ll be on the lookout for a growing Porcupette headed toward an oak tree in search of acorns.
And where the Thistle grows, just maybe the bumbler and I will meet again.
Looking for grasshopper molts will also be part of my mission.
And no fern fronds of what I believe to be Appalachian Polypody rather than Common, will go unturned, for one never knows when the sori (clusters of spore cases or sporangia) will be present. I don’t know why, but they always bring a smile to my face.
It is this place. Narramissic Farm, that draws me throughout the year and each visit I know to look for the familiar, but expect to be greeted by the unexpected as well. Knowing my place, this place, through the seasons. Traveling to exotic places is fun, but staying local is even more exciting
After three snowstorms this past week, the latest dumping over a foot of white stuff in western Maine, winter has finally arrived. Or, as a friend calls it, “Second Winter.”
In fact, there is finally so much snow, that my wee studio, the spot where I used to escape to write and sketch many moons ago, looks as if it’s being gobbled up and about to disappear into the landscape.
I love winter and so I’m thrilled to know that it’s not ready to give up on us yet. I also love how winter likes to play, creating tree boas that defy gravity.
In spite of all that, I do need a touch of color now and then and so I headed to a local brook where I know the Mallards gather.
And tread water as they wait for what, I don’t know. Perhaps for me to admire them: those shiny green heads, the sharp white necklaces, and cute little curly tail feathers. They tolerate our cold winters and as long as there is food and open water, such as this spot, I know where to find them.
I finally left the ducks behind and continued walking beside a second brook, pausing occasionally to reflect on the changes I’ve observed in this spot over the years, including one late November afternoon when I heard the water flowing as if over a fall and then spotted beavers hard a work, building a dam. Today, it was the spring ice that caught my attention and I know that as much as I want winter to last, spring is just around the corner and soon I’ll be peering into vernal pools.
And then, something quite small captured my attention. A Winter Stonefly! Scurrying across the snow.
Suddenly, what began as one sighting turned into two and then . . . hundreds as my eyes focused. In winter, crazy as it may seem, the aquatic immature stage of a Winter Stonefly, aka naiad, crawls from the rocky bottom home of the brook where it has spent the last year or more maturing (going through as many as thirty molts)and shredding falling leaves, climbs up through crevices in the snow that covers the brook, finds a plant or some other spot to emerge as an adult, and leaves behind its shed skin, much like a dragonfly or damselfly.
My attention in tune, I began to notice several things. First, there were large Winter Stoneflies . . .
and some much smaller, known as Small Winter Stoneflies in common terms. Their wings are non-functional, thus they crawl. But herein was the curious thing, at least to me. They all were headed west.
It didn’t seem to matter if I found them where the brook was to the east, or to the north, all of the Stoneflies walked in a westerly direction. Why?
I began to wonder where they were headed, so . . . I followed them. To tree trunks. I’d say any tree trunk, for the species didn’t seem to matter, but maturity did and they all headed to older trees. At least, the insects I observed.
This Small Winter Stonefly had obstacles of ice crystals to work around, but it was on a mission to reach that tree.
Once there, the insects crawled down under the snow beside the trunk and I had to wonder if a party was in the making. The bark is warmest in that spot, so it was a good place to get out of the weather.
Stoneflies have hammer-like structures on their abdomen that make noise when thumped against a surface, like a tree trunk or a twig or even the ground. This is a mating call. The males drum, and the females drum back, and voila, they find each other and canoodle.
It’s not the same drumming sound as we hear daily from our resident Pileated Woodpecker. In fact, it’s made for Stonefly ears only and it’s not a party for which we receive an invitation.
Seeing so many Stoneflies made me want to celebrate anyway for they, like Mayflies, and Caddisflies, are particularly sensitive to pollution and serve as bioindicators of water quality. That means the brooks beside which I walked have excellent water quality.
And though I couldn’t hear the percussion instruments at the base of the trees, I am grateful to have spent some time with those who march to the beat of a different drummer.
Field Trip! It was actually planned for yesterday, when more would have joined us, but Greater Lovell Land Trust’s docent Joe knew that it was best to postpone given yesterday’s weather–a blustery rainy day. Today, however, dawned sunny and bright and so five of us drove over an hour to reach the coast.
By 9:00am, we had scopes and binoculars in play, each looking in a different direction until one among the group made a discovery and then all focused on the same. Behind the scopes, Dawn, Joe — our leader, Lisa — Joe’s co-leader, and Izzy.
We came in search of Common Loons because we spend summers listening to their musical tremolo laughter and blood-curdling yodels, the latter being the most primordial of calls that echo across the lakes and ponds of western Maine. We watch them fish and preen and raise their young. Occasionally, they surface beside our kayaks as we paddle. And then, in late summer/fall, they gather socially in what’s known as a raft, as they prepare for migration. By the time ice forms, they’ve flown the coop, or rather our freshwater bodies. But where do they go? That was the question we wanted to answer.
And did so within minutes of arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. Our loons actually don’t have far to go, That said, the loons that winter here may also be from points North and West. What surprised our leaders today was that the birds we spotted were already molting from their drab winter plumage to the dapper summer attire.
But there were so many more to spy through our lenses, including these Brant Geese. This was a new species for me, and one of the clues I need to remember for future ID is the white necklace it donned, plus the pale belly as compared the dark back and neck.
Another first, and I never would have seen these birds if Joe and Lisa hadn’t spotted them, Purple Sandpipers roosting on a rock, which apparently was a gift to us, for we were told they are often quite active as they search for mussels and crustaceans. I have never actually heard of a Purple Sandpiper before, so named for a violet-colored sheen of some feathers.
Common Eiders were . . . rather common on today’s quest, given that in the four spots we visited over the course of 5 hours, 97 were counted. I was not one of the counters as I spent the time trying to get my bird eyes on and just plain recognize what made an eider an eider and not a loon. Long beak–yes, but not as long or pointed from my point of view. Head shape a bit different, much more mottled head, and a completely different pattern of feathers. Just for starters.
In one of the locations we visited, there were Scoters, and Harlequins, and some of those 97 Common Eiders. It was here that we learned to watch the surf rise and fall closer to the rocks and the Harlequins dive and pop up over and over again. Pop. Pop. Goes the Weasel. I mean Harlequin.
In a third spot, another Common Loon, this one preening.
Our eyes were at once drawn skyward where we watched in wonder as a Broad-winged Hawk soared and then back to the brackish estuary water where a female Common Goldeneye with its brilliant amber eye glistening in the midday sun. Like so many of today’s birds, we had to keep looking to spot this one for it did what its species does and dove for food before resurfacing nearby.
Seals were also part of the scenery, but I do apologize for the photo not being clear. If you care to look, they are the light-colored blobs atop the rocks.
At 2:00pm, our time together came to an end, but we gave great thanks that we’d had a chance to do what the loons do and go for a deep dive into the winter lives of so many feathered friends.
Joe reported on eBird that we spotted 26 species in all.
I’ve been wanting to take My Guy to a certain place in North Chatham, New Hampshire, for the last few years and today was the day that the stars lined up.
Though it appeared we were the second and third humans to head out on the trails this morning, for at the start we spotted only one set of snowshoe tracks, it was obvious that so many others had followed or crossed before us–such as this vole, who tunneled through the fresh inch or two of snow that fell yesterday and then changed its gait.
And then I spotted a sign that always brings me to my knees–fox prints and a dash of urine, probably that of a male in search of a date. Confirmation that it was a fox, and a red one at that, came in the form of the urine’s scent–rather skunk-like. I asked My Guy if he wanted to take a sniff, but he passed on the opportunity.
A wee bit farther and we came upon a smattering of activity, where two foxes had left their dancing cards and I think at least announced their intentions for each other as a date.
These classified ads could be that of the male stating his desire, while the vixen left her own marks of estrus blood as she perhaps investigated his intentions and decided to say yes. The scat? It came from one of them. Another advertisement of health and age and vitality.
While I suspected a meal was not on their minds as she’s only ready to mate for about a week or less, by the amount of snowshoe hare tracks we spotted, we knew that there was plenty of food available. Other offerings on the pantry shelf included ruffed grouse and red squirrel.
Most of the trails at this place are well-groomed by the owners, but we also tried one or two that weren’t.
For the first time in the four or five years that I’ve traveled this way, I finally found the Old Sap House. The owners still tap trees, but obviously this is not where they boil the sap to make maple syrup.
So . . . this was my first journey on the network of trails with My Guy as I mentioned. And I had no idea that it is possible to circle Moose Alley in under an hour. In the past, when I’ve gone with a couple of friends, it has taken us hours and hours because we stop to look at every little thing. And go off trail to follow tracks. And make all kinds of discoveries. But today was different, and that was fine.
I’d also never been on the Sugarbush Trail, which brought us back to the Route 113 and an intersection with Snowmobile Corridor 19. It was here that we heard Chickadees and Red Crossbills singing and I finally located one of the latter in a maple tree.
Crossbills are finches with specialized bills that let them break into unopened cones. Can you see how the top of the bill cross over the bottom?
My intention was that we would eat lunch at one of the benches along the trail system, but we’d hiked most of the system before I knew it and so we sat on the back of my truck and ate. And then we headed back out on Corridor 19, a super highway through Evans Notch.
Only about a quarter mile from the farm boundary, we spotted moose tracks showing two had passed this way recently. We knew they’d been seen on the farm and hoped we might get to spy them, but just seeing their tracks and knowing they were still in the area was enough.
Can you imagine sinking two feet down with each step? Well, actually I can, because I’ve post-holed through snow many a time, but moose and deer must do this daily. For them, it’s routine.
Our reason for continuing on the snowmobile trail was that we had a destination we wanted to reach, that we hadn’t even thought about before reaching the intersection of Corridor 19 just prior to lunch. Eventually, we had to break trail again, and this time it was all uphill, and rather steep at that.
But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.
Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.
From the top of the cavern, where life on a rock was evident as the trees continued to grow up there, the water flowed and froze and formed stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.
StalacTites grow down from the ceiling of the cavern–think T for Top.
StalaGmites, on the other hand, grow up from the floor–Think G for ground.
In this case, they looked like little fingers reaching up.
This was definitely a Mondate with a view, including Evans Notch from the mine . . .
Norwegian Fjord horses Kristoff and Marta at the farm . . .
and a window that caught my fancy at the sap house.
Our many, many thanks to Becky and Jim for sharing Notch View Farm with all of us. And thank you to Jim for chatting with us twice today. I’m still chuckling about the story of the women from Lovell who visit several times a year and spend hours upon hours on the trail. And then one of them writes long prose and includes pictures of every little thing spotted along the way. Yes, that would be Pam, and Pam, and me! Once, Becky even came looking for us on the snowmobile because we’d been out there for so many hours.
Today, with My Guy, it was a different adventure, but still a fun one and we appreciate that both of you work so hard to share your land with the rest of us.
Winter finally arrived in western Maine this past week in the form of three snowstorms, the last ending with a coating of ice. Between storms, I’ve been teaching others the art of tracking mammals and birds through my work at Greater Lovell Land Trust, as well as a two-day class I taught for a local Senior College, and a day-long class for Maine Master Naturalists.
I love, love, love watching others experience joy as they begin to notice the nuances of print and patterns and scat and sign.
This being the work of a White-tail Deer who scraped its lower incisors up the bark of a tree to get at the cambium layer where the sugars and starches flow. The tags at the top of the scrape are a tell-tale sign because ungulates like deer and moose do not have upper incisors or canines, but rather a hard palate, and yank at the wood as they press their lower incisors against the palate to pull the bark off a tree–mostly Eastern Hemlock or Red Maple.
It wasn’t long after the Senior College outing on Wednesday that snowflakes announcing the third storm began to fly and one of our resident Red Squirrels stopped by to check out the offerings at the bird feeders.
This hearty sole is Ed and as you can see, he’s lost an eye–probably in a disagreement with a sibling, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s perfectly capable of finding food, seeking cover when necessary, and fighting off his brothers.
Ed wasn’t the only one out in the snow, for a male Downy Woodpecker made frequent trips to the suet feeder.
And then, just before twilight the Deer began to appear. The first walked to a Squirrel feeder I was gifted recently, with some peanut butter added to the corn as an enticement. She didn’t seem impressed. I thought that was weird because if you’ve ever made a bird feeder out of pinecones smothered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, you might notice that the Deer lick everything off within hours of hanging the cones from a branch.
Following the arrival of the first Deer, a sibling came in with mom, but they too, were not impressed.
So the thing about watching the Deer, was that they provided a photographic lesson–beginning with the two cloven toes that form the heart-shape of the impression they leave in the snow–with the pointed end of the heart always indicating the direction of travel. And further up the foot are the dew claws, which sometimes show in a print. If you look at the two hind legs, you can see the dew claws just above the snow. I’ve been told that if the dew claws appear, then it is a buck. I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think it has more to do with snow conditions.
And sunflower seed is not their only form of nutrition, for one of the Hemlocks by the stonewall between our yard and woodlot offered some delectable needles full of vitamin C. Do the Deer know that?
Following the storm, a coat of ice covered the tree branches and even the corn, but that didn’t stop Ed’s brother, Fred, from grabbing a kernel. Actually, the corn had originally been placed about two feet off the ground in an area we’d shoveled, but the snow had piled up again, making the meal easy to reach.
I spent yesterday shoveling what felt like cement. The first two storms offered a much fluffier take on snow consistency. Periodically, like Ted, another brother of Ed, I’d duck into the house. His home is a network of tunnels near the feeders, and so far it has provided good protection.
This morning dawned brighter, and a bit frosty to start. While Fred, Ted, and Ed, ate birdseed and chased each other round and round, a Gray Squirrel stopped by to get a handle on things.
The perfect meal was garnered.
As it turned out, today was a super busy day at the feeders, which Black-cap Chickadees and Nuthatches making frequent visits.
And the puffed up feathers of a male Downy bespoke the temp in the teens. Birds fluff up in the cold to trap as much air in their feathers as possible. The more trapped air, the warmer the bird.
A couple of American Goldfinches were early morning visitors as well, and I love that unlike the Chickadees, Finches are much calmer and stay in one spot for a bit.
Probably my favorite visitor was a surprise for as I was watching the Hairy Woodpeckers, in flew a Red-bellied who worked at a chunk of suet and finally flew off with it.
When I finally headed outside this afternoon, donning my snowshoes to stay atop the 2.5+ feet of snow, I couldn’t believe that for the most part I could stay on top of it, for such was the crusty coating from yesterday’s rain finale. And with each step I took, I heard the crunch below–sounding much like breaking glass.
Much to my surprise, I found the track of a Ruffed Grouse, who did break through the snow.
Of course, it was no surprise to find the figure eight of a deer print, with the foot impression about two feet down. This is a difficult time of travel for them. And I suspect mine will be back by the feeders during the night looking for an easy meal.
And then I discovered a disturbance that I had to investigate. A deep hole had been excavated.
A look at the size and X between the toe and metacarpal pads and I knew who had done the job: an Eastern Coyote.
What it consumed I could not say, but there were some drops and I wonder if they were blood that had darkened a bit as they aged. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d come upon a Ruffed Grouse’s snow cave and totally expected to see the bird’s scat in the hole. That was not the case at all, but I don’t know who the victim was that provided the Coyote with a meal. Or at least a snack.
Back in our woods, I met an old friend who has graced these woods for years–or at least members of his family have done so.
He, too, was looking for food. And so intent upon his job was he, that I stood only about fifteen feet away while he worked.
I didn’t step under to check the scat because I didn’t want to scare him off, so I’m not sure if the Pileated Woodpecker’s needs were fulfilled, but given that he had worked on the tree for a while and some of the holes were quite deep, I suspect he had dined on his favorite meal of Carpenter Ants.
Finding food is the name of the game, though it’s hardly a game at all–especially when it’s cold, the snow is deep, and there’s a crust of ice atop it. And that’s just for the critters. Never mind people who have to deal with the elements on a daily and nightly basis.
I’ll let you in on a tad bit of a secret . . . eventually.
But first, today was a tracking day and so five of us did just that. When we arrived at the intended location, due to snow conditions, I think we had low expectations. I know I did.
We had just stepped off trail to begin our bushwhack excursion when we spotted this Ruffed Grouse scat. So the curious thing about this is that there are two kinds of grouse scat, the typical cylindrical packets coated with white uric acid, but also a juicier, brown dropping. And I regret that I didn’t take a photo of the juicier, yet slightly frozen stuff we saw dripping from some twigs above. At the time, I knew the brown stuff was significant because I’ve looked it up before, but couldn’t bring it to mind. Thanks to Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks, I found an explanation in Bird Tracks and Sign: “Interestingly, after producing these lower-gut-generated solid evacuations, some game birds, such as a grouse, often then evacuate a semi-liquid brownish mass from the upper gut, or cecum, with the two types of droppings coming out sequentially; the more liquid, almost liver-colored scat comes out second and is spread on top of the solid matter. In Ruffed Grouse, it is common to find the hard, fibrous scats at one roost and the soft, brown cecal droppings at another.”
But not uncommon to find them together!
We stood for a long time discussing the grouse scat and when we finally moved on, it wasn’t too far that we discovered bobcat prints. Given that the prints were not super fresh because there was some debris in them, we decided to follow the track forward. Had they been fresh, we would have backtracked so as not to put pressure on the animal. Though secretly, we all love it when we do actually get to spot a mammal. Or a grouse, for that matter.
Eventually, we lost track of the bobcat, because as you can see, there were spots with no snow. But then we stumbled across a sighting that confused us. White-tail Deer scat on the edge of a boulder. Dawn has some new tools she was gifted for Christmas, and so she was excited to pull them out. Our confusion, despite the fact that it looked exactly like deer scat, was caused by the location. On top of a boulder. On the edge of said rock. We came up with a few stories, but will let you try to interpret this on your own.
Back in the snow, we found canine rather than the feline prints we’d been looking for and so out came the tape measure to determine species. Based on the fact that the print measured less than two inches at the widest point and that the stride, or space between where two feet touched the snow (toe to toe), we determined it was a Red Fox.
Everywhere, we spotted Red Squirrel holes and middens, indicating the squirrel had cached a bunch of hemlock cones in numerous pantries and returned since the snow fell to dig them up and dine, leaving behind the cone cobs and scales in trash piles. What struck us was that for all the middens we saw, we never heard or caught sight of any squirrels. In fact, we didn’t see any animals . . . until we did. Huh? You’ll have to read on.
Our next great find close to the pond we walked beside, was more scat! Of course, it was. This being the works of a River Otter and filled with fish scales, all those whitish ovals embedded in it. Like a small pile of Raccoon scat we’d spotted earlier, but again, I forgot to photograph (the sign that we were having fun making all these discoveries), otters tend to defecate in latrines, using the same places over and over again.
Our movement was slow, and every once in a while we’d spread out until someone made a discovery and then we’d all gather again.
Which was exactly what happened when this Snowshoe Hare scat was discovered. Three little malt balls.
After the hare find, we followed a couple of canine trails that took us back to the water. Domestic dog or Coyote? We kept questioning this, but never saw human prints. And the animals did seem to be moving in a direct line on a mission. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing may have been enough to make their prints look larger than they typically would so I think I’m leaning toward Coyote.
But in following those, we discovered a sign from another critter by the water’s edge: Mink scat!
When our time was nearing an end and we bushwhacked back to a road near the trailhead, we were all exclaiming about our cool finds. And then a little birdie we encountered asked, “Do you want to see a bear?”
We don’t need to be asked that question twice, though now that I think back, I’m pretty sure we asked the birdie to repeat the question. YES! She gave us directions and we decided we needed to take an immediate field trip. We each hopped into our vehicles, drove almost to the destination, parked, and walked as quietly as we could toward the den site.
We got us a bear! A Black Bear! The birdie said it has been there since sometime in December.
Now that I’ve shared it with you, I’ll say no more for the five of us are sworn to secrecy about its location.
Really? Can birds count? It’s a curious thought and we impose so many of our attributes onto wildlife that we come to believe it all true and that they have feelings and abilities that match ours. And so on this day of the Sweden Circle Christmas Bird Count in western Maine, I set out with Dawn to seek numbers and answers.
The territories assigned to us are marked in red within the circle for we had the opportunity to explore Pondicherry Park in downtown Bridgton and LEA’s Highland Research Forest on foot, rather than driving along a bunch of roads.
Mere steps from where we’d parked we heard and then spotted Northern Cardinals. Not one, but two, then three, then four. Three being a male such as this one, with one female in the mix.
Below the cardinals were other birds that we heard first and shared a simultaneous thought, “I hear Wood Frogs.” Oops, that would be ducks. But the thing is that when we approach a vernal pool in the spring, and the frogs croak before they sense our trespass into their territory, they sound like ducks quacking.
We counted 45 Mallards who quacked and swam and preened and paused and dabbled and quacked some more. Her markings soon became important to us.
As did his. Notice the differences between the two from coloration of heads and bills and feathers. It’s been said that the male is much more handsome than the female. Maybe he is, but she offers her own sense of beauty and design. Again, pay attention to his markings.
Why? Because we noted this one hanging out for a while under some shrubs. And immediately, we realized that it was somehow different. Look at the color of its head–muted green and a hint of purple or mauve crowning its head. Like the female Mallard, there was an eyeline, but much more subtle in presence. We thought it might be a female, but like the male, the bill was bright yellow with a dark spot at the tip. Plus the overall plumage was different from either the female or male Mallard. And yet, it looked so similar.
The curled tail led me leaning more toward a male, but if you have information to clear up this identification, please don’t hesitate to share. We were just thrilled to be able to state definitively that this particular duck was a hybrid. And I’m still jazzed by the color hues of its head.
The point of it being a hybrid was driven home when the male Mallard and this other specimen shared the focal point of my camera. The hybrid even had a neck ring like the Mallard, though a bit creamier in color.
The Mallard collection in the brook below kept changing and what spooked them (other than us), I do not know, but fly they would and then land a wee bit further down the river before flying upstream again a few minutes later.
We eventually moved farther from the parking lot (maybe an hour later) and just after we’d made a turn on the trail, we saw a bird take flight. And a dog and its person move along the trail (not part of the dog trail, mind you, but people don’t seem to see the dog trail/no dog trail signs anymore). As it turned out, we gave a quiet thanks to the dog for it flushed out this bird and we were gifted the opportunity to get quite close to it. That opportunity made us realize that we probably often are in the presence of this owl, but its ability to not only fly in silence, but also perch in absolute silence, meant that it could hide from us–camouflaged as it was upon a tree limb. We felt like our day was done with that sighting, but we continued in the name of science for we were participating in an annual bird count for Maine Audubon.
A few hours and a few bird species later, we made our way back to the park entrance where this Mallard’s head color, accented by the sun as it was, captured my awe. But what was the duck doing? Quite possibly, it had tucked its bill into its feathers to retain heat. Bills obviously have no feathers, so they can loose a lot of heat. Think of it like warming your hands with hand warmers inside your mittens.
His Mrs. was doing the same nearby. Dawn asked if Mallards are monogamous. What I’ve learned in the hours since is that generally speaking they are. BUT . . . paired males are known to pursue females other than their mates.
Mixing it up, after lunch we moved on to Highland Research Forest where our first bird sighting was in the shape of . . . a Red Squirrel. Yes, a squirrel hide. Since it sat at our eye level, we knew the predator wasn’t a coyote, raccoon, or weasel, but rather an eagle, hawk, or owl. We really wanted to spy the perpetrator, and searched high and low with our binoculars, but came up empty handed.
Sadly, and much to our misunderstanding, as we moved along the trails, we spotted and/or heard few birds calling. But, much to our delight, we did find some sign, such as this, the excavating works of a Pileated Woodpecker.
In. the mix of wood chips below the tree, for the woodpecker consumes only a wee bit of bark in the process of seeking Carpenter Ants from the innermost paradise of a tree trunk, scat happens. And this offered a great opportunity for Dawn to make her first P.W. scat discoveries. Bingo, She found at least three displays upon the wood chips.
Pileated Woodpecker scat is most often coated in uric acid and contains the undigestible parts of the consumed ants. Of all the possible finds in the natural world–this is one of my favorite discoveries on any given day.
All that said, did I mention that much of our journey was beside water, my favorite place to be? And that over and over again we noted not only water levels from a few days ago when brooks and rivers overflowed in our region, and since have been enhanced by ice formations given frostier temperature? This sculpture brought to mind another with whom we shared today’s trails.
Do you see the match between the ice formation and tail feathers?
Our overall sums were low compared to years past, but the learnings we gained of this hybrid outnumbered what we tallied.
That said, when we heard an American Crow caw, our response was rather bland. Until . . . we looked at each other and Dawn said, “Crows count,” because of course they do as any bird does.
We departed ways about 3:30pm, leaving with questions about why numbers were so low. Oh, we counted chickadees, and nuthatches, and robins, and others, but overall, not so many species and not so many of said species.
Taking all of that into consideration and awaiting thoughts from others about the state of our winter birds in Maine, we were equally overjoyed that during today’s Christmas Bird Count we got us a Barred Owl. Can birds count? Certainly!
I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.
Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.
Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.
And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.
We stepped out onto ledges,
rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,
walked beside water racing around boulders,
stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,
paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,
strolled across an airstrip,
followed more ledges,
took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,
spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,
danced with hang clouds,
looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,
considered taking a chilly bath,
and always found lunch rock with a view.
Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,
and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.
During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.
On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,
a Field Sparrow,
a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,
and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,
And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?
Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.
And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,
a Giant Leopard Moth,
and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.
Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.
And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.
There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.
Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.
One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.
Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.
And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.
We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),
and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.
My guy posed as a lobster,
and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,
and across a mountain ridge.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.
And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”
She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.
Our time for a road trip was long overdue. But where to go? We knew we’d begin the week by driving to Lubec, Maine, where we’d enjoyed two days last year, but left knowing there was so much more to explore. And so we booked a room for the first four nights of vacation. After that? The question loomed. The answer eventually presented itself, but first, here’s to Lubec.
We’d barely landed in town after a five hour drive, when a walk down the road found my guy posing before entering Lubec Hardware. Curiously, because the owner had been to Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, not far from our hometown, he knew of my guy’s store and they enjoyed a chat. From there we sipped a beer at Lubec Brewery before heading off for our first adventure of the week, along a beach trail within reach from town.
After skipping some stones, we turned around and headed back toward our room, enjoying the cast of our shadows upon sand . . .
and cobbled beaches.
Back in the harbor of Johnson Bay, the setting sun upon moored boats captured our fancy.
And we got our bearings with a view of Mulholland Light on Canada’s Campobello Island located exactly across the Lubec Narrows from our room.
Morning and evening, whenever we were by the Narrows, we watched as the Cormorants preened and flew and swam against the current and preened some more.
On the windiest day, we took to the woods rather than the coast, knowing it would be calmer. And quieter. We weren’t disappointed.
Especially since we found a display of bear scat, this being only one chunk. Berry seeds pass through a bear’s digestive system and exit intact and viable, making bears an important part of nature’s seed distribution system.
We also spotted the largest burl either of us could remember seeing, this at the base of an old Yellow Birch turned silver in age like the rest of us.
We circled through a beaver’s territory, hoping that if we couldn’t catch sight of the bear, we might at least see the beaver, but both alluded us. Fred, the Red Squirrel, however, scolded us at every opportunity.
The next day dawned brisk and chilly, as most did, and found us first finding our way to Reversing Falls, where the incoming tide hit some rocks that splashed the water “backwards.”
Click on the link to catch a brief glimpse of the action.
Over the course of the day, we explored a few trails of Cobscook Shores, including enjoying lunch on a bluff overlooking sandbars at low tide.
Boot Head Preserve along the coast offered a variety of terrains and natural communities, including upland forests, bogs, coastal wetlands, and steep rocky shoreline.
My mom would have loved this–the rocky coast of Maine spoke to her.
We also appreciated all the bog bridging and benches placed to take in the vistas and gave thanks to those who had hustled to create such infrastructure, including my colleague Rhyan, a former intern at Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The chicken wire along the bridges sang as we trudged, boot tread hitting wire, wire strumming against wood, and song echoing with each step as the wire bounded back off the wood. There was that to be thankful for, as well as the facts that it kept us from slipping, and from stepping upon the fragile environment at our feet.
Despite the daily chill, flower flies such as this bee mimic continued to pollinate asters in a manner hectic as the days grow shorter and temps lower.
Behind the asters we saw plenty of juicy Rose Hips and I thought of my dad who loved to eat these on our beach walks in Connecticut.
Because we followed a smattering of trails, the berry choices changed from Cranberries to . . .
Withe-rod or Wild Raisin,
and Mountain Ash in the shape of a heart.
Those berries fit right in with our daily cobbled beach quest for hearts and we found many, a few which followed us home. But this one, not exactly perfect, as no heart really is, my guy gave a pulse. A pulse with a smile. And then he left it behind.
Our favorite heart selection we did not disturb because it appeared in the midst of a fairy ring created by the tide.
Our adventures found us exploring different areas of the Bold Coast than we’d visited a year ago, but it seemed imperative that we make a quick stop at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the end of one day. It’s the easternmost point in the United States, thus bragging rights.
The cool news is that as of our first day of vaca, the border between the USA and Canada opened for travel without pandemic protocol and so we drove across the road bridge located about two minutes from our room, showed our passports, and within two minutes entered one of our favorite countries, this time to a place we’d never been before: Campobello Island. Once there, we drove east to the companion light of West Quoddy–and then climbed up and down two steep sets of stairs and across this wooden bridge, with lots of slippery seaweed in the mix to reach . . .
East Head Quoddy Lighthouse.
Driving back toward trails we wanted to hike, we paused to take in the scene of Head Harbour Public Wharf where lobster boats were docked in the moment.
It struck us as a safe harbor for the effects of the business.
Our next destination was Friar’s Head, where according to interpretive signs, “While occupying Eastport, the British navy was said to have used the stone pillar for target practice, altering its outline to that of a hooded monk or Friar in deep contemplation.
Native American Passamaquoddy legend referred to this rock as the Stone Maiden. “The legend speaks of a young brave leaving on a long journey, telling his lover to sit and wait for his return. Many months passed and the brave did not return. The young maiden was terribly upset and sat on the beach below the head and waited. When the brave finally returned to the village, he found his young maiden turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.”
Finally, it was time for a tour of the cottage of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. It has 34 rooms of which 18 are bedrooms and six bathrooms. Until he was afflicted with polio in 1921, Franklin spent every summer on the island, his parents having owned a property next door. As a belated wedding present, FDR’s mother, Sara, gave the young couple this summer home, which they filled with five children, servants, and guests.
One of my favorite rooms was the site of Eleanor’s desk, where she wrote at least 500 words/day five days a week.
In the backyard stands a reminder that the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park is a US Government Agency and a Canadian Government Corporation, established in 1964.
Next door is the Hubbard Cottage, where the rusticators were known to party–men smoking their cigars as they played pool and women gathering around the grand piano, but . . . it’s the oval window that offers a breathtaking frame on the world beyond, ever changing as the seasons.. Mr. Hubbard was a very successful real estate developer from Chicago and his cottage was the envy of many. The oval window in the main room apparently was imported from France.
Not ready to be done with our Canadian journey, we visited Eagle Hill Bog and then from Raccoon Beach we hiked along a loop path through bogs and fields and forest and along the coast, where we spotted a natural sculpture of faces and wondered if they represented people lost at sea or those looking for loved ones or perhaps those who came to wonder and wander like we did.
At Ragged Point, we followed a short spur to SunSweep, one of three sculptures carved from a slab of Canadian black granite and located strategically at this location in New Brunswick, a second in Minnesota, and a third in Washington. All are aligned to follow the sun’s path from daybreak to nightfall. We were there as evening approached and still had some hiking to do, so onward we journeyed.
But first, we made a quick stop at Sugar Loaf Rock, which reminded me of an iguana, and from this site had the good fortune to watch Minke whales feeding in the distance.
Before leaving Canada, we had one final stop to make–a visit to Mulholland Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the country. It’s a wooden octagonal structure that was erected in 1883 and decommissioned in 1963. During its heyday, it guided ships through the Lubec Narrows, where even FDR, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, once made an inspection trip along the Maine coast aboard the U.S.S. Flusser. On a plaque it states: Taking the helm, the future President captained the vessel through the narrow channel between Lubec and Campobello Island, earning the respect of an initially concerned Lieutenant (later Admiral) William F. “Bull” Halsey. Admiral Halsey later wrote, “As Mr. Roosevelt made his first turn, I saw him look aft and check the swing of our stern. My worries were over; he knew his business.”
Our fascination with the lighthouse was that from our room at Cohill’s Inn we looked straight across to the lighthouse–the room being the double window just above the white door as we took in the opposite view.
But even more fun was spotting Harbor Seals who came snuffuluffing along with the incoming tide. It was a great way to end our Campobello/Lubec leg of the journey.
A few hours drive the next day and we began an exploration of Millinocket. I think in the back of both our minds we expected to end up there, but the plan didn’t fall into place until almost midweek. Thankfully, we found a place to stay and headed off on a trail soon after we pulled into town.
Whereas the colors along the coast were a bit muted, it was peak fall foliage in this neck of the woods, where Mount Katahdin dominates the landscape.
One hike found us making our way to Rainbow Lake, home of Eastern Brook Trout and Blueback Char. Though we didn’t see any fish actually jump there, we saw lots of activity while eating lunch beside Clifford Pond–ask us how high the fish jumped and you’ll get a different answer. Mine is maybe six inches, but according to my guy: two feet. That’s a fish tale if I ever heard one.
At the urging of an article by Carey Kish in the Portland Press Herald published on Oct 2 entitled Hiking in Maine: A hidden gem in the midst of Baxter State Park, we decided to check out the River Pond Nature Trail–and we’re glad we did. If you go from the Golden Road, we suggest following the trail counterclockwise. There are lots of blow downs that are easy to maneuver around or over or under if you begin from the opposite direction, but those might have dissuaded us at the start.
Instead, we enjoyed beautiful vistas before encountering the blowdowns. And always looked forward to the interpretive signs along the way.
I’m pretty sure that just as the moon follows us when we drive at night, so does the mountain when you hike this trail.
We were dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colors no matter where we looked.
It was pure magic enhanced by reflections along the way.
Of course, there were other things to see, like Stairstep Moss, one of my favorites known for producing a new level of growth each year. (And one that will always remind me of my dear friend, Jinnie Mae, RIP, for we discovered this species on a rock on her land.)
We added to our red berry collection when we spotted several Bunchberrys in fruit form.
A Jack Pine was also a welcome surprise, known for its bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.
And then we headed into the land of the Bad Hair Day Giants, for so the Polypody fern covered erratics did seem.
Our destination–ice caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area! The cool environment in a deep hole under a jumble of boulders can retain ice sometimes as late as August (though I doubt that happened this year given how hot it was over the course of the summer). While we didn’t need nature’s air conditioning on this day, it was still a cool opportunity to explore.
One more stop on this day was a visit to The Crib along Penobscot River’s West Branch, where we recalled memories of dining above during a rafting expedition about 35 years ago and then how I ducked into the boat when we later passed this spot. Really though, when we rafted, they’d opened the dam above and there was much more water, but still . . . it was fast and furious. Oh, and do you see that mountain in the background? The Mighty K once again.
Our wildlife sightings on this part of the journey included a couple of startled Ruffed Grouse, a Fred the Red Squirrel who followed us, I swear, for we endured his scolding on every trail in both locations (and we hiked over 70 miles all told) and this Garter Snake. But then, the creme de la creme presented itself across from River Pond where we’d first stopped on the Golden Road to photograph Mount K and actually spotted its tracks in the morning.
Yep. We got us a moose! A male yearling I think.
On the way home a day later, we decided we hadn’t bumped across the Golden Road enough, and so headed west on it toward Greenville. Approaching Greenville, we spotted a sign for the B52 Memorial and made a sudden decision to follow the seven-mile road to the site.
The story is a somber one of a United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on a low level navigation training mission during the Cold War that went awry. After the aircraft encountered turbulence on an extremely cold and windy January 24, 1963, a vertical stabilizer came off and the plane went into a nose dive on Elephant Mountain.
Only the pilot and a navigator survived. Signage explains the experience: “The pilot landed in a tree 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching almost −30 °F (−34 °C), in his survival-kit sleeping bag atop his life raft. The navigator’s parachute did not deploy upon ejection. He impacted the snow-covered ground before separating from his ejection seat about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the wreckage with an impact estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. He suffered a fractured skull and three broken ribs. The force bent his ejection seat and he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself in his parachute.”
Fortunately an operator on a road grater saw the plane turn and the black smoke that followed the crash. Rescuers looked in the wrong area that day. The next day, after plowing ten miles of fifteen foot snowdrifts and snowshoeing the final mile, they reached the site.
Today, pathways lead to the strewn pieces and viewers are asked to remain silent out of reverence. Visiting the site gave us pause and we offered thanks for those who protect us and those who complete rescue missions.
We’re glad we stopped there, just as we’re glad we revisited the two locales we enjoyed last year. Except for this one spot and West Quoddy Lighthouse, it was an entirely different adventure. Oh, and we celebrated my guy’s birthday, while also celebrating our beautiful Maine and Canada.
I know. I know. I should have taken the bird feeders down two months ago. But I blame it on My Guy because he keeps bringing damaged bags of bird seed home. And because of that, we’ve actually had a delightful time watching all the action at the feeders and below where I scatter plenty of seed on the ground so others can partake.
A pair of Northern Cardinals are the most frequent visitors, and lately he’s taken to making sure she’s well fed. Often she sits and waits rather than helping herself, taking notes on the kind of parent he will be to their offspring.
Chipping Sparrows have also participated in courtship feeding, and just maybe this behavior also strengthens the bond between the two genders.
He did look at me as if to say, “Hey, this is between the two of us. Skedaddle.” And I eventually did disappear.
But when I looked again, I spotted an Eastern Chipmunk filling its cheeks. While this is common behavior, what wasn’t quite so common is that fact that most of its tail was missing. Had a fight occurred or did it narrowly escape becoming a meal?
I’ll never know. Among the most frequent mammal visitors are the Gray Squirrels. And they, along with the Red Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks have learned where we store the seed in the barn and no matter how many times we think we’ve outfoxed them, we soon discover that they’ve been chewing again. We’re now using small metal trash cans, but knowing the prowess of these critters, I doubt we’ve won this battle. And keeping them out of the barn is impossible because it’s an old barn with lots of secret passageways, some that I’m sure we’re not aware of . . . yet.
Some days there are five or six Gray Squirrels foraging for seeds and looking as if they own the place. I suppose they do. We’re merely itinerate tenants and we give thanks that they let us live here.
Oh, and then there’s the neighborhood fox. We haven’t discovered the den yet, but every morning we can expect two or three visits. If it isn’t successful at sneaking up on one of the other critters, and squirrels and chipmunks can outrun a fox, it, too, dines on some seeds.
And then pauses to lick its chops.
But what the fox really wants is a more substantial meal and I suspect it has kits nearby that need feeding.
Unfortunately for the fox, sometimes the American Crows announce its presence and all the little critters run up trees or fly away.
Soon, however, they return. And begin to forage again.
And from high positions, they’ll take a break, and actually pull seeds out of those puffed-up cheeks in order to dine.
And so this morning dawned with a light rain, and just as our Red Fox walked in front of the stones by the garden, I saw a flash of brown run across the flatter rock. R.F. jumped up, looked around, jumped down and gave chase. The fox was unsuccessful.
But that didn’t stop it from returning and though the crows didn’t alert us, the squeal of a Gray Squirrel made us raise our heads and look out the back door.
Breakfast had been secured and the last we saw of the fox, it was trotting away with a meal in its mouth.
Every day this week found me wandering a different trail, or even sometimes the same trail on multiple days.
To that end, on May 24th, I celebrated a full-fledged dragonfly emergence.
Though I wasn’t there at the time of eclosure, many of the dragonflies I spotted, and there were hundreds, were either still pumping hemolymph from their wings back into their bodies, gaining their color patterns, or letting their shiny wings dry in the breeze as they slowly began to expand them. A few had wings that seemed stuck together, but then in an unexpected moment they flew and I whispered farewell in hopes that we might meet again.
On May 25th, there were other species to behold.
It was that day that I knew the Highbush Blueberry crop will be significant this year for so many were the robust Bumble Bees that worked the pollen route. I even managed to capture one doing a happy dance with pollen on its feet. And this is canoodling season, after all, so it was fun to find a pair of flower bugs enjoying a tender moment upon Chokeberry flowers. The Mayfly did not have such a happy ending for before maturing to its adult form, it landed in a sticky web, but . . . alas, the spider must eat, so it was a good day after all.
On May 26th, my travels were more varied, as were the sightings.
For a few moments, I watched as ants, both winged and not, farmed aphids upon the stem of a Maple-leaf Viburnum. Along a trail or two that day, a melodious Song Sparrow serenaded me with its happy tune. And a quick trip to the vernal pool out back found me looking into the eyes of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Wood Frog tadpoles. But the best find of all, a fairy ring along a trail.
On May 27th, I was one of a bunch who arrived at a certain locale to bird at 6:30am.
Though I couldn’t stay for the entire trip, which yielded 38 species, I did have the joy of watching a small flock of Cedar Waxwings land and fly, land and fly. And then there was the Indigo Bunting. It’s blue coloration reminded me of Clintonia’s Blue Bead fruits we’ll spot in the summer if the birds don’t eat them all first. And I’m never sure why I’m surprised to find a House Wren on these journeys, but perhaps its because for so many years I didn’t see them (or didn’t realize I was seeing them) and thought of them more as a childhood bird from my beginnings in southern New England. The best find of all, on this day, however, was an Eastern Phoebe sitting on her nest.
On May 28th, I met some old friends, though for the first three I had to jog my memory for their names.
The first was a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly. It’s her guy who has the whitish “tail,” and I believe that she received the better strokes of nature’s paintbrush. Then there were the Hudsonian Whiteface Skimmers, she with yellow marks and his defined in red. Soon, the Calico Pennants will emerge, and we’ll see she also dons a yellow coat while he sports red. But as much as you know I love dragonflies, a fresh moose track also makes my heart sing.
On May 29th, I wondered how I could possibly top all of that.
And yet I did. First there were more ants farming aphids, this time Wooly Alder Aphids on Speckled Alders. After that, a Bluet Damselfly that didn’t seem to mind that I rustled around in some shrubs trying to get better photos of other species. For its patience, I thought I should honor it in this post. One of those other species, a small Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer dragonfly, drew my attention to a Pitcher Plant Flower preparing to open. I was surprised by its presence because though I knew I was in the land where Pitcher Plants are abundant, I couldn’t recall spying one in this particular spot before. But the best find of the day, an Assassin Bug, Pselliopus cinctus, finishing a meal. I had never met this species of Assassin Bug before as usually it is the slender green Zelus luridus that I encounter. The black and white legs were to be admired, by me, not its poor victim who had just had the juices sucked out of it.
It certainly has been a week to celebrate my daily wonders as I wander. And though the Assassin Bug was the best of today, the actual best I did not capture a photo of this afternoon. A River Otter popped up and stared at me briefly, chirped, and before I could reach for the camera, disappeared. But I will remember that moment and that spot in my mind’s eye.
No need to read on. You know it will be photos of today’s finds. Ho hum.
Our day began as it always does, with a shared piece of CraftonMain Lemon Meringue Pie topped with a raspberry, while we sat and watched this pair enjoy a meal of their own. Wait. We don’t always begin with the pie–but sure wish we could. Cardinals, however, have been blessing us with their appearance for years.
And then there was the sighting of the neighborhood fox in the field beyond our stonewall; it had its eyes on the neighbor’s dogs while we had our eyes on it. Don’t worry, the dogs didn’t become breakfast. In fact, as their mistress began to walk toward the fox (we don’t think she spied it, nor did the dogs or they would have given chase), the fox turned and dashed across the field, over another stonewall and into our woodlot.
At last, it was time to begin our hike along a trail we haven’t visited since August 2019. Our intention had been to climb it in 2020, but during the first year of the pandemic, it was closed and then we never considered it . . . until this morning. And as we started up, I remembered . . . this is the mountain where the Early Saxifrage grows.
It’s also known as rockbreaker for its habit of cleaving to the rocks, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break.
A funny name for such a diminutive and delicate display.
Round-leaved Violet with its scalloped-rimmed leaves more heart shaped than its name suggests also grew along the trail. Spying these tiny offerings of yellow with those incredible magenta runways meant to attract pollinators always brings a smile as if they were meant to brighten the day of all who hike this way.
Our journey found us enjoying the sound of the water’s rhythm as we climbed higher . . .
and contemplating each step once we turned away from the brook.
At the summit, the view from lunch rock included a look to the southeast where the sky predicted the forecast of a front moving in.
Meanwhile, our hometown mountain stood out in the sun.
But the grand lady, Mount Washington, was starting to disappear into the clouds.
It was windy and a bit chilly at the summit, but that didn’t stop the Brown Elfin butterfly from flirting with a few others where the blueberries grow.
I also spotted one Spring Azure. Both are rather small butterflies and if you look closely, you might spot that their antennae are patterned white and black.
On the way down, we did what we often do–looked for bear claw trees because we know they exist here. And because I know such an activity will slow my guy down. 😉 Bingo. He spotted one that was new to us.
I went in for a closer look and couldn’t believe all the marks on display.
And so I began to circle around the trunk.
One can only imagine the crop of Beech Nuts this tree must have offered.
But enough is enough. It’s just another bear claw tree, after all. Nothing to write home about. Or is it? Think about the bear and the blueberries the Brown Elfin Butterfly will help pollinate and the Beech Nuts the trees will produce and all the connections that will be made, which will include the Cardinals and the Red Fox and the flowers and all that is part of the forest. And be wowed like us. It was hardly just another boring mountain mondate on Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine.
If you’ve been following wondermyway for a few years, you know that each spring I make a bee-line for vernal pools, those shallow, short-lived ponds that fill with snowmelt or spring rain for at least several weeks most years, have no major inlet or outlet, and most importantly, no fish. Without fish, reproductive success is more likely for some amphibians, crustaceans, and insects who depend upon these ephemeral water bodies for breeding.
There are four indicator species in Maine that define a vernal pool as significant. Since 2007, significant vernal pool habitat has been protected by law under Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA): “Significant Vernal Pool (SVP) habitat consists of a vernal pool depression and a portion of the critical terrestrial habitat within a 250-foot radius of the spring or fall high water mark of the depression. Any activity in, on, or over the SVP or the 250-foot critical terrestrial habitat zone must avoid unreasonable impacts to the significant vernal pool habitat and obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, either through Permit by Rule (a streamlined permitting process) or full individual NRPA permit.”
Those four indicator species that define such significance: Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Blue Spotted Salamanders, and Fairy Shrimp. The pool must contain 40 Wood Frog egg masses, or 20 Spotted Salamander Egg masses, or 10 Blue Spotted Salamander egg masses, or one Fairy Shrimp. I’ve yet to see a Blue Spotted Salamander or its eggs.
Some may see these ponds as oversized puddles, but let your eyes focus and suddenly you’ll realize that they are places teeming with life.
As you do, it might surprise you to spot lots of flying activity just above the pool’s surface. It’s actually Midges on the move, trying to get a date so that there will be even more Midges on the move. They look rather like mosquitoes, but don’t bite, so not to worry.
Male Midges have a longer, more slender body that the females, and they like to posture in attempts to interest one of the opposite gender. They’re actually fun to watch.
Of course, equally, ahem, fun to watch are the larval forms of Mosquitoes as they wriggle and wraggle through the water column, some even forming dense clusters.
If you do some container dipping at a vernal pool near you in order to take a closer look, I trust you won’t dump these onto the leaf litter rather than back into the water. As much as the females annoy us once they morph into that annoying flying insect that needs to suck mammal blood to gain proteins and nutrients for their eggs, they play an important part in the food web.
Especially for warblers such as this Yellow-rumped that was part of a flock that arrived in western Maine this week–just as it should have, being the end of April. It was spotted quite near one of the pools, so I suspect Mosquito Mash will soon be on the menu.
Back to those four indicator species for a significant vernal pool . . . it was this week that while looking close up at some Wood Frog eggs, I realized we had babies in the form of tadpoles.
I saw “we” because mom and dad Wood Frog do not hang around. Once they’ve canoodled and eggs have been fertilized and deposited, they exit the pool and return to their upland habitat, where they spend the next fifty weeks, so it’s up to us to watch over their young ones. Their metamorphosis, or change to adult form, will be completed by late June or earlier should temperatures rise and the pool begin to dry out.
I encourage you , dear readers, to do what I do and stare intently into the leaf litter to see if you can spot some tadpoles. And who knows what else you might discover.
While looking into another section of the pool, you might notice another type of egg mass, this one coated with a gelatinous mass that encompasses all of the eggs. Spotted Salamanders made their Big Night return to the pools about a week or so later than the Wood Frogs, so the embryos are still developing.
I find it fascinating to see the little forms take shape. It’s like looking into a mother’s womb without medical devices.
Okay, it’s time for you to peer into the pool again. This time you are looking for Fairy Shrimp, those tiny crustaceans that are about a half inch long, swim on their backs, and move eleven pairs of legs like a crew team in a rowing shell. Remember, I said one Fairy Shrimp makes a pool significant according to the State of Maine. How many do you see in this photo?
Those in the first Fairy Shrimp photo are males, but females are present as well. The way to identify a female is to look for her two brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch. One of the pools I’ve been frequenting lately I’d only discovered last year and it had no Fairy Shrimp. The other day when I approached with some volunteer docents from Greater Lovell Land Trust, one exclaimed within seconds of our arrival, “Fairy Shrimp.”
That got me thinking: how is it that we didn’t spot any last year, and this year we started seeing them everywhere. Also, in another pool where we’ve often spied a few, we’ve noticed they are in abundance. Previous to this week, I knew that the eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, but assumed that if the pool flooded each year, they all hatched. It didn’t make sense though that one pool suddenly has shrimp and the other has so many more than normal. It was time to do a little research, and what I learned from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies , is that only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching. So I thought about winter 2021 and how we didn’t have a lot of snow and the temperature was on the mild side. This past winter was much snowier (though not enough still in my book) and much chillier. My unscientific conclusion, based only on limited knowledge and observation, is that conditions weren’t conducive in 2021 at that one pool and so no shrimp hatched. I’m already looking forward to next year.
For your enjoyment I’ve included a video of a Fairy Shrimp moving through a pool this past week. Fairy Shrimp indicate unpolluted water, so finding one is significant. Finding so many . . . bliss.
When you are peering into the water for such a long time, other life forms make themselves known, such as Predacious Diving Beetle larvae, aka Water Tiger. Just like the adult this insect will morph into, it eats everything including tadpoles and insects, and even its siblings sometimes.
It wasn’t just the docents and I who had fun at the pools, but also a group of middle school students I have the immense honor to work with each Friday and yesterday they enjoyed documenting life at the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year. Quiz yourself on ID of the species one student scooped up in this bug box. And rest assured that these critters were released back into the pool after being studied for a few minutes.
As I said, I’ve done a lot of scanning this week, including on a couple of solo trips, and it was on one of these that I made one of my favorite discoveries: a Caddisfly larvae. In larval form, Caddisflies are resourceful architects who repurpose their surroundings to create their homes. Sometimes I find them constructed of hemlock needles topped with a maple flowers, and a friend sent a photo today of one she found who had built its house of grains of sand. My find . . . in the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year: a mobile home built of leaves. It was so well camouflaged that only the movement made me realize what was before my eyes.
Larval Caddisflies eat various types of detritus, including bits of leaves, algae, and miscellaneous organic matter so they, too, are important as they break down what is in the pool.
If it wasn’t that I need to eventually find my way home and make dinner, I’d probably still be out there. But yikes, it’s 7:00pm, and I haven’t even started dinner, and my guy will be home from work soon, so I’d better get going.
If you are looking for me in the next few weeks, however, I’ll be the one with hands on bent knees as I hunch over the pool. Join me and we can peer in together.
It took us a while to get out the door today, but perhaps that was because we knew we weren’t traveling far and we’d have plenty of daylight in which to explore.
Today’s destination: Sebago Lake State Park, a locale whose existence we take for granted and seldom make time to actually visit. But when we do . . . ah. We hiked over five miles today, with a few false starts, but never really getting lost.
It was a blustery but beautiful day and conditions switched from snow to ice to puddles to ice under water to bare ground. And somehow, at exactly noon we reached the summit of the Lookout Trail, where a picnic table painted brown from my guy’s hardware store awaited. Looks like maintenance will need to return to the store for some touchups this spring.
After lunch, we found our way down to the water, which in this neck of the woods looks like the ocean. That said, the Atlantic Ocean is only about thirty minutes away. Sebago Lake State Park, at 1,400 acres, opened in 1938. The lake itself, at 45-square miles, is Maine’s second largest. It’s a place with diverse natural communities, which makes it a jewel.
All of that is fine and well, but my favorite habitat of all we saved until the end. Horseshoe Bog on the park’s west side always has something to offer. It’s called Horseshoe Bog because of its shape. The question was: what would today’s offerings be?
It soon became evident when we began to notice lodges.
And chew sticks floating in a raft-like manner in a wee bit of open water. Because beavers don’t hibernate, they cache or stockpile sticks underwater so they can nibble on them once the pond freezes over in winter.
As pure herbivores, beavers subsist solely on woody and aquatic vegetation.
As we continued along the path, we paused frequently to admire their previous works, some of which hadn’t been successful in terms of felling the trees. Yet.
Others seemed like attempts to perhaps consider on some future date.
And still others made us feel as if we were walking through an art gallery for so unique were their forms.
Though a beaver will chew on any tree, its preferred species include alder, aspen, birch, maple, poplar and willow.
I’m always in awe when I think about how beavers obtain their food by toppling large trees with no other tools than those specially adapted incisors and powerful lower jaw muscles. Even after years of chewing wood, their teeth don’t become too warn and never stop growing. The four incisors (two top; two bottom) are self-sharpening due to hard orange enamel on the front and a softer dentin on the back. That means the softer backside wears faster, creating a chisel-like cutting surface. And chisel they do.
Moving rather slowly, for I’d asked my guy to change his pace when we began to circle the bog, we counted five lodges, and figured that at least two of them were active. The two bookmarking this photo we weren’t sure about.
Suddenly we spotted some action in the water and my guy caught a glimpse of a critter that swam under the ice and out of our sight. All I saw were the ripples on the water. But . . . that meant that we stopped. For a while. And in flew a small flock of Pine Siskins.
And so they garnered my attention for a few moments.
When I wasn’t searching for more beaver action, that is.
At last we reached another lodge and both of us chose trees on either side of it to hide beside and remain quiet. I have to say that I’m so impressed with how still my guy can be . . . thank goodness for that earlier half-second sighting because he was as eager as I was to spy more activity.
Unfortunately, it was in that moment that my guy finally walked toward me that the beaver did show. He missed the sighting, but for me, it was well worth the wait on this first Mondate of spring.
You must be logged in to post a comment.