Transitioning with my neighbors

From sun to rain to sleet and even snow, it’s been a weekend of weather events. And like so many across the globe, I’m spending lots of time outdoors, in the midst of warm rays and raw mists.

I’m fortunate in that I live in a spot where the great beyond is just that–great . . . and beyond most people’s reach. By the same token, it’s the most crowded place on Earth right now.

On sunny days, water scavenger beetles swim about in search of a meal to suit their omnivorous appetite.

Preferring decaying plant and other organic matter as the ideal dinner menu are the mayfly larvae. Some call them nymphs, others know them as naiads.

To spot them, one must really focus for they are quite small and blend in well with the bottom debris, but suddenly, they are everywhere.

And then, another enters the scene, this possibly one of the flat-headed mayflies. If you look closely, you may see three naiads, two smaller to the upper far left and lower on the stick to the right. In between is the larger, its paired gills and three tails or caudal filaments easier to spy because of its size.

Switching to a different locale, a winter stonefly, its clear wings handsomely veined, ascends fallen vegetation on its tippy toes and my heart dances for this is probably my last chance to see one of these aquatic insects until next year. Then again, none of us can predict the future.

In the mix, green insects move and I surmise by their minute size, shape and coloration that they are leafhoppers all set to suck sap from grasses, shrubs, and trees.

Who else might live here? Why a caddisfly larva in its DIY case.

Of course, no aquatic exploration is complete without sighting mosquito larvae somersaulting through the water.

And a wee bit away from the watery spots, the pupal stage of a ladybug, a form that has perplexed me for months. It is my understanding that motion stops and so does feeding, the insect scrunches up its body and color changes . . . but the transition should last five to seven days–not since last fall. Or perhaps this species has a lot to teach me about waiting and what is to come.

Another one for the books is a translucent green caterpillar not much more than inch-worm size that I discover clinging to a red maple twig only hours before snow descends upon the setting.

Mind you, I also spotted three crescent or checkerspot butterflies, their small orange and black wings adding a quick flash of color as they flutter across my path.

And then my mind shifts, as it has a lot in the last few weeks, and between patches of snow and a fresh snow fall, I welcome the opportunity to remember others who share this space, including an opossum amidst the turkeys and deer.

Following a Tom turkey who seemed to walk with determined speed, I get to meet another neighbor and note by Tom’s toe print that his path intersected with that of a coyote after the predator had passed by. Phew for the Tom.

After all, he has a job to do. Suddenly, I note a change in his pace, which slows down considerably based on the closeness of his feet. And then I spy wing marks on the outer sides of the prints and know that he is in display mode. The curious thing: on average, he takes ten steps, then displays, takes ten steps, then displays. I know this because I counted, over and over again. But then . . . he must hear his lady friends for he makes an about turn.

And struts his stuff.

I’m not sure they are impressed for they move on and head in the direction of other neighbors, specifically a squirrel and porcupine. Others presenting tracks include chipmunks, snow lobsters, I mean snowshoe hares, moose, and a bobcat.

This is my little space on the Earth and I love spending time trying to understand it and find out more about my neighbors.

Watching over all of this action is a Fox Sparrow, whom I greet as a welcome visitor, knowing he’s on his way north to the boreal forest.

Like him, we’re all in transition, my neighbors and me. What the future holds, we know not. The best we can do is hope we come out on the other side–changed by the experience, of course.

One Drip At A Time

This two-destination day found a friend and me pausing for birds (frequently) before driving north. I should mention that she was enjoying watching the Sandhill Cranes in a cornfield before I arrived and scared them off. Such is my nature.

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, New Hampshire, where the mine is located. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.

Today, its man-carved chambers were enhanced by icy sculptures.

A view toward the top revealed that life on the rock somehow continued despite the cavern below.

And from there, the water flowed and froze and formed . . .

stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.

Fluid in nature, it was ever changing and we could hear the action of the water within providing a sustenance to its structure.

As we stood there, we honored how every little seepage created a massive outpouring.

And marveled at the displays that began as simple lines and developed into enormous works of art.

After admiring the possibilities within, we looked outward toward Blueberry and Speckled Mountains before descending.

It was upon the return to Route 113 that we spied examples of Black Knot Fungus that gave rise to a discussion about our last adventure to the area a month ago when we’d discovered an aphid poop-eating fungus. How did they differ? We’d have to return to the original discovery to figure that out and so to Notch View Farm we journeyed next.

After circling the Loop Trail and noting tons of apple-filled coyote scat plus coyote, bobcat, red fox, and turkey tracks, we followed the Moose Loop aptly named for the moose that journeyed that way frequently, but also featured coyote and fox tracks. At Moose Bog, we again met the aphid poop-eating fungus and so the comparison began. Black Knot encircles the twig, while the Poop-eating fungus doesn’t. And Black Knot features a beady construction, while the Poop-Eaters are much lacier in looks, rather like the wooly aphids who offer their poop for consumption. The Black is much firmer, and Poop-Eater much more crumbly when touched. Either is interesting and . . . both offer opportunities to wonder.

Despite all the tracks and scat we found along the trails, I was a bit amazed that we saw few insects. And then, moments later, not an insect, but an orbweaver spider crossed our path–quickly at first . . . until it posed.

After it scurried again, we watched as it tried to hide in the snow–and played peek-a-boo with us.

At last we approached the sugarbush, where Sugar Maples were tapped and sap flowed . . .

Droplets formed . . .

And perched . . .

then fell. Mind you, a close-up it may seem, but we kept our social distance as is the new norm.

And spent time watching Norwegian Fjord Kristoff blankety, blank, blank paw for food under the snow.

At last we headed south, but had each barely driven down the road a few hundred yards when a couple of birds called our attention. Turns out they were White-winged Crossbills and thanks to local birder Joe Scott’s response when I asked if they are uncommon in our area, “Some years we get them, some we don’t, depending on food sources up north in the boreal forest and food sources down here. This is about as far south as they come.” Joe added that while other birds are arriving, our sighting was a good one because these crossbills are leaving.

Many thanks to friend Pam Marshall for joining me today for a journey to the mine and farm where one drip at a time bookmarked our day. And for providing perspective.

Lemonade By Shell Pond Mondate

As is the custom right now, today’s journey took us over bumpy roads and found us turning right directly across from Notch View Farm where I ventured with friends a few weeks ago. We couldn’t drive in too far, and so parked, donned our Micro-spikes for the walk in and grabbed snowshoes just in case.

I love the winter trek because it forces us to notice offerings beside the dirt road (hidden as it was beneath the snow) that we overlook when we drive in during other seasons. There’s a certain yellow house that has always intrigued us and today was no different because the snow and ice created an awning for the porch.

As I snapped photos of the overhang, my guy redirected my attention to the eaves where bald-faced hornets had created their own abode.

On more than one occasion.

That was all fine, but the real reason I love the journey is because of the telephone poles along the way. At the tip of each arrow I added is a nail. By the top one you should see a wee bit of metal, which once represented that pole’s number. Not any more.

When the metal numbers are a bit astray or downright missing, it can mean only one thing. Time to check for hair. Black bear hair.

Wads of hair greeted us today. Usually we only find a few strands. Bleached out by the sun, I had to wonder if it still told the message originally intended.

Down the entire length we saw more of it and envisioned the bear rubbing its back against the pole as a means of communication.

Sometimes they scratch and other times they turn their heads as they rub, and then bite the pole with their upper and lower incisors, thus leaving the dash and dot horizontal lines. My question remains: did the one for whom this message was intended receive it? We’ll never know, but we are always thrilled to know that Ursus americanus still roams these woods.

What woods exactly are they? We’d walked in from Route 113 to the Stone House Property, where the gate may be closed, but hikers are welcome.

Our plan was to circle around Shell Pond via the trails maintained by the US Forest Service and Chatham Trail Association.

Six hundred acres of the Stone House property is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust thanks to the foresight of the owners.

A few steps beyond the trailhead, we decided it was packed enough that we could stash our snowshoes and pray we’d made the right decision. While doing so, some artist’s conks showed off their beautiful display.

A few more steps and my guy did some trail work. If we can move downed trees and branches, we do. And we did several times. But all in all, the trail was in great shape.

Occasionally, seasonal streams offered mini-challenges.

We didn’t mind for they mostly required a hop or giant step. And provided us with the most pleasing of sounds–running water being such a life-giving force.

They also offered icy sculptures.

And given the fact that today’s temp eventually climbed into the 60˚s, we knew that we won’t get to enjoy them much longer.

As Shell Pond came into view, so did the cliffs where peregrine falcons will construct eyries and breed. This is perfect habitat for them, given the cliffs for nesting and perching and keeping them safe from predators, and open water below creating habitat for delicious morsels (think small birds) worth foraging.

And then a rare moment arrived, where I agreed to pose beside a bust of T-Rex, for so did my guy think the burl resembled.

And then another rare moment, when we discovered bear scat upon an icy spot in the trail. It was full of apple chunks and we knew eventually we’d reach the orchard where our friend had dined.

At long last, well, after a few miles anyway, we stopped at lunch bench, which was still rather buried. My guy cleared a spot as best he could and then he sat while I stood and we enjoyed our PB&J sandwiches. Oranges and Thin Mints rounded out the meal. (We did stop at the Stow Corner Store later in the day for an ice cream, but Moe told us she was all out for the rest of the season. We should have grabbed some other goodie but left with ice cream on our minds–a desire we never did fulfill.)

Our lunch view–the spectacular Shell Pond with the Bald Faces forming the background and a bluebird sky topped of with an almost lenticular cloud. Or was that a UFO?

Off to the right-hand side, we needed to check on the beaver lodge to see if anyone was in residence.

From our vantage point, it appeared that someone or two had come calling and there was a lot of activity between a hole in the ice and the upper part of the lodge. But, conditions didn’t allow for a closer look and as warm as it was, we didn’t feel like swimming. Well, we did. But . . .

A wee bit further and we reached Rattlesnake Brook, which feeds the pond.

It’s another of my favorite reasons for hiking the trails in the area, for I love pausing beside it to notice the many gifts it provides, which change with the seasons. Today, those gifts included the feathery winter form of an ostrich fern’s fertile fronds.

And squiggly shadows intercepted by linear reflections.

It was near there that we found rotten apples and the muted tracks of many visitors, one of whom we suspected we knew based on the scat we’d seen.

At last we reached the military airstrip built in the 1940s for training exercises during WWII. As always it was a moment when we were thrilled by the views, but also sad that our journey was coming to an end.

After remembering to snag our snowshoes from behind the tree where we’d stashed them (and gave thanks that we’d made the right decision on footwear), we followed the road back out.

Our only other wish would have been the opportunity to purchase some lemonade on this Mondate around Shell Pond that felt like a summer day. We might have even bought cookies and fish flies, given the opportunity.

Province of Chat-HAM

Our journey began with a couple of detours this morning as a friend and I made our way to a particular trailhead in New Hampshire.

First there were the birds along the old course of the Saco River to listen to and welcome home including Red-winged Blackbirds and Canada Geese.

Then there were some friends in New Hampshire to surprise with a quick visit.

Finally, however, we parked on the side of the road knowing that because we couldn’t drive to the trailhead, we’d have to walk along the snowmobile trail all the way in. That was fine with us for as the sign instructed, we took it slow. (And saw only two snowmobiles during the entire journey even though it was a super highway of sorts–apparently that particular season is also slowing down.)

There were artist’s conk fungi to admire for the white pore surface that invites those who sketch to do so.

After that find, we followed raccoon prints until they literally disappeared into midair. Well, maybe up a tree.

In the brook beyond, we found spring whispering her sweet songs as she enticed us with reflections of a season to come.

And then it was more artist’s conks that garnered our attention for their juxtaposition within a hemlock’s hollow center.

They numbered many on the trunk’s outside as well and presented themselves as stepping stones . . . perhaps for a squirrel.

And at least one small rodent had dined, probably on more than one occasion.

We took advantage of the feast as well as we focused our cameras on every possible angle.

Further along, we spent time following bobcat and moose tracks, but each time eventually finding our way back to the trail, where a fungus of another kind begged our attention.

By its youthful presentation, the common name doesn’t always make sense.

But its mature structure certainly does: Red-Belted for the upper surface.

And Polypore for the lower, so named for the many pores on the underside.

Bobcat and moose tracks soon led us to another site where bark had been scaled off a hemlock by either a woodpecker or nuthatch. Their search was for insect larvae. My search was for scat, but I found none and hoped they were more successful.

The cool thing about this if I’m interpreting it correctly, is that I could see lines where the bird’s beak had worked hard to remove each bark scale.

Behind the tree, those moose tracks I spoke of again captured our focus.

And we noted where it had browsed upon the buds of a maple. It appeared that the large mammal’s spit had frozen after it used its lower incisors to rip the buds off the tip of a twig and even left a “flag,” but really, it was probably a bit of sap. Still, I love the thought of the animal’s spit left behind.

Three hours later, and more than four miles for so wandering was our manner, we reached the trailhead we sought.

Because we’d gone slow as the sign early on had encouraged us, we tried to beeline to reach a certain pond before the sun set. Thankfully, as we approached the pond at last, another sign again encouraged us to go forth slowly. And so we did.

And we were rewarded–with a bluebird sky and view of Mount Shaw and the pond. For a few moments we stood still and took in the scene and wondered. And wanted to cross, but knew conditions might not be as pristine as they looked. It would be a long way out with wet feet.

Beside us was the dam and outlet.

It formed the headwaters for a brook bearing the pond’s name, which flows beside our friends’ home.

As we hiked back down the trail, we again beelined, but occasionally gave ourselves permission to pause. Sometimes it was to enjoy the little things such as Hobblebush flower and leaf buds readying for a future display.

Other times it was to listen: to the birds; but also to the million wild animals we swore we heard, and sometimes even sniffed, but never actually spied. They were there. We were certain of that.

As long shadows cast across our path, we made our way back, and then deviated a bit from our journey in, heading out to the paved road in a more direct line than we’d started. Pam suggested we might see other things.

She was correct. Back on the pavement, we had to walk a wee bit up South Chatham Road to my truck for we’d gone in via Week’s Brook Trail and then crossed over to Peaked Hill Road via the snowmobile trail and totally missed this sign.

Chat-HAM as it’s pronounced for H-A-M spells ham, is the site of Province Brook and Pond, and the Province Brook Trail. It’s also a mighty proud town–with a population of 300.

The sign made us smile and we gave great thanks for taking the time to read it and for the opportunity to travel over nine miles in this wee province of New Hampshire.

It was a dark and dreary day . . .

I’m working on a challenging article and can’t quite figure out how to introduce the topic. After a bunch of attempts, I suddenly had an inspired idea . . . drop the pen, walk away from the legal pad and head out the door.

And so I did despite the freezing rain that was falling atop this morning’s snow. Heading down a trail I haven’t had a chance to step upon in months, I realized that I was among old friends who had passed by prior to the storm.

In fact, every where I went for the next two plus hours, they had been there before me.

Their tree of choice also gave away their presence and I fear that there won’t be too many red maple leaves in bloom come spring. Imagine this: a moose needs to consume fifty to sixty pounds of vegetation daily–that’s a lot of buds, twigs, and bark.

With their lower incisors and hard toothless upper palate, they grabbed the twigs and yanked to pull the buds off for consumption. Left behind were their calling cards–long dangling tags. Some were at least three feet above my head.

Also think about that moose face–homely and ungainly as it may be with a large upper lip that can wrap around the twig in order to dine, and the bell or dewlap dangling below its mouth.

With utter glee I found some hair stuck to one twig and it wasn’t the hollow shafts of its dense coat, so I wondered if in the process of browsing, hair had come off its face or dewlap.

As I said, the moose had traveled throughout the woods and I began to follow their tracks exclusively, for they always lead to coppiced red maples that are trying to make a comeback in these woods that were logged within the last five to ten years.

It was on one of the trees that I did find the hollow hair shafts, and I’ve used black arrows to try to point them out to you. There were three which seemed to intersect at the point where the twig had been swiped. Notice how straight they are, especially in contrast to the slender, curly hair.

The more I looked, the more soft, curly hairs I found. Hmmm, I have a feeling any of my hunter friends can enlighten me, for now I’m considering belly hair? Is it softer? Or am I correct in thinking about the chin hairs?

It doesn’t matter. Well, it does because I’d like to know.

And maybe the chickadees were trying to tell me as they flew in and landed on maples while singing their “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song. But what mattered most was that I got outside and cleared my brain and came up with an introduction to the challenging article: It was a dark and dreary day . . . oh drats, I can’t use that–especially since despite the snow and rain, I hardly found it dark or dreary.

I think instead, I’ll begin in the middle and see where the article takes me from there. In the meantime, though I didn’t see them, I’m tickled to know that there are still several moose in the woods behind our house.

Wondermyway meets the Bangor Daily News

At the nudging from one of the founders of the Maine Master Naturalist Program, Dorcas Miller, I submitted an article to the “Act Out” section of the Bangor Daily News.

To my pleasant surprise, it was accepted. (And they’ve asked for another–yippee!)

Here’s the link: https://bangordailynews.com/2019/12/10/act-out/maine-naturalist-befriends-a-ruffed-grouse/

Many, many thanks to Aislinn Sarnacki of the Bangor Daily News and “Act Out with Aislinn” for making it all happen.

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.