Bear to Beer: Fogg Hill, Center Harbor, NH

Today’s adventure meant a bit of a drive to Center Harbor, New Hampshire, but it was a journey down memory lane for me as I recalled my time spent teaching and living in the Lakes Region of NH. My guy endured the stories, many of which I’m sure he’s heard before, so I suspect he was grateful when we finally arrived at our destination.

We’d never been to the Fogg Hill Conservation Area before, but prior to Christmas when I was creating the Bear to Beer Possibilities gift, I found Bear Pond on the property and thought it had potential. Besides, we love to explore new areas . . . then there’s always that challenge of looking for a bear sign.

The sign was easy to find for it’s nailed to a tree at the trail head, but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. It did, however, give us hope. Perhaps we would find a tree with signature bear claw marks left behind.

Our choice of footwear was questionable from the get go as we passed between two canoes onto the trail blazed with yellow. We chose hiking boots and for me, spikes. He tossed his spikes into the pocket of his sweatshirt. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll jump ahead and tell you it was the right choice. We walked on bare ground, ice, and snow sometimes a foot deep, but it was constantly changing. And he never did wear his spikes. I, on the other hand, was glad to don them.

Sometimes our path also included stream crossings.

Not long into our journey, we followed the blue blazes to Bear Pond. Our hopes of finding what we were looking for there were soon dashed. But . . .

we saw beaver works of past years that now supported a variety of other growth.

A lodge stood tall in the wetland, but by its grayed sticks we knew it hadn’t been used recently. Maybe rather than Bear Pond it should have been named Beaver Pond, but then again, maybe not.

Back on the yellow trail, we continued on, but paused again beside another beaver pond. You’ll have to squint to see the lodge, but it’s there, beside a boulder that mimics its shape. As we stood there, my brain fast-forwarded to summer and I could imagine not only the vegetation in full bloom, but also the insects and especially the dragonflies providing a display.

Back to reality–I did spy a Mallard on the far side of the pond.

Onward and upward we climbed, our eyes scanning the trees for any bear sign. Sometimes the bark of the Beech was all blocky as a result of beech scale disease.

Others were as smooth as could be and we both thought, “If I were a bear in the woods, this would be my tree.” But none had claimed it.

We were almost fooled when we looked up at one of the old trees–until we realized we were looking at sapwells created by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. And I realized I hadn’t associated them with American Beech previously. A lesson learned from the bark I thought I knew so well.

Mind you, we weren’t always looking up because we did have to choose the next spot to place each foot much of the time and we were often surprised when what appeared to be firm wasn’t. But because we were looking down so much, we saw several scats left behind by the locals including Coyote and Bobcat. The above is Coyote scat–filled with hair and chunks of bone.

We also spotted another Winter Firefly–this one cross a boulder in the trail.

And a treat to top them all–Striped Maple breaking bud! Suddenly spring feels rushed and I want to slow it all down and savor every sweet moment. 😉

Just beyond the Striped Maple, we chuckled when we found the first cairn. Maybe its structure was a homage to the summit ahead.

At the summit a split glacial erratic was as interesting as the view, covered as it was with two umbilicate lichens, Rock Tripe and Toadstool.

I asked my guy to stand beside it for perspective, but he chose instead to go behind and peek at me through the division.

And on the way down, he found the perfect frame for his peace sign.

As for bear sign, we found one tree with some potential, but wondered if instead it was scratch marks created by near branches.

At last we left the conservation area a wee bit disappointed but promised ourselves we’ll return. Perhaps we didn’t find more than the bear sign at the very start due to the fact that we really spent a lot of time looking at our feet. And never went far off trail.

We also want to check out the orange trail to the Kettle Bog, which we passed by today. A few years ago, Dr. Rick Van de Poll completed an ecological survey of the area and discovered rare plants on the land. Having spent a couple of days working with Rick at a Lakes Environmental Association site in Bridgton, Maine, I can’t wait to figure out what he discovered on the Fogg Hill property.

Today’s adventure was topped off with a late lunch at Canoe overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in Center Harbor. For me an Allagash White and a burger. For my guy: Jack’s Abby Lager and a reuben.

Bear to beer possibilities: Fogg Hill, Center Harbor, NH.

My Eagle Eyes

From my first sighting this morning I had a feeling that today’s views were going to be amazing. I just didn’t know at the time how amazing.

It all began when this Bald Eagle gave me a backward glance as I drove west. He posed as usual on his favorite hangout and I knew that he was patiently awaiting his turn to dine on some recent roadkill. In the meantime, the crows had a feast.

What I didn’t expect was to see a second Hermit Thrush this week, but so it was as I snowshoed through a land trust property with a couple of other people. I have them to thank for they spied the bird first.

And then we stood silent and watched. And dreamed of its enchanting song to come.

Finding my way beside water a few hours later, it was a pair of Common Goldeneye ducks, his eyes even reflected below, that made me pause next.

Despite a couple of branches slightly obstructing my view, her eye of gold stood out vividly as well. What exactly is it that’s common about them? Their presence I suppose, but still I’m thrilled each time we meet.

Nearby, I almost missed Donald and Daffy, but he hollered for attention, while she stood by on one leg.

Why do birds stand on one leg? And how do they do it? The why I think I can answer–to keep the other leg warm. Unlike some avian species, ducks don’t have hairy sweatpants and so by tucking one leg up under a wing, they can retain some heat. That was important for today while the temperature was in the 40˚s, with a breeze, it was overcast and felt rather raw.

As for my second question, how do they do it? Stand still on one leg without toppling over, that is. I don’t know, but do wonder if it has to do with the feet located toward the center of the body so its weight can be evenly distributed–maybe it turns the one foot a wee bit to insure stability. And perhaps the splayed foot also helps assist what for me would be an awkward position.

Perhaps. And perhaps she looked at me as if to say I was daffy.

And he smiled in agreement.

The next great sight was not a bird, nor was it caged in. And it wasn’t an original find for me because some friends met me at a location where they’d spied it yesterday. But in yesterday’s warm sun, the Red Fox let her four kits frolic about. We watched for a while today, but apparently she’d told the kits to stay in. Her choice for a den sight was remarkable and we learned she’d chosen the same fair spot last year.

At last I began my journey homeward, but first I had to stop by a spot I’ve been frequenting often of late, for it’s where the Sandhill Cranes have been dining. At the moment there are only two, but by last fall they numbered at least eighteen. Will the same come true this year? Only time will tell.

And then, another bird called out and when I realized what it was all I could think of is “Here Comes the Judge” for so its feathers and stance reminded me of a robed magistrate.

This scavenging creature has no feathers on its head in order to keep bits of carrion (dead meat) from adhering to the skin as they would to feathers.

Yes, these were Turkey Vultures. Where there was one, I soon realized there were two. Actually, on a tree behind these two were two more. I wonder if I missed any.

If I had eyes as big and bright as the Wood Ducks that swam quickly through a brook nearby, I’m sure I wouldn’t miss anything, including food in the water below as well as those above who might think of me as food.

Like this guy! As with so many of my finds today, I’m not sure how I happened upon him, but I did. I guess it was that I tried to look for the anomaly in nature. What shape or color stands out from the surroundings?

As I watched, the Bald Eagle changed its orientation. And then it flew and I was sure that that would be the end of our time spent together.

But it landed on a branch above and continued to look about. I swear it even looked at me and I gave thanks for the opportunity to begin and end the day with such a noble bird in two different locations.

I knew I’d been honored to share a few moments with friends as well as notice those things that deviated from the norm. My eagle eyes certainly felt keen today.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

Duck, Duck, Porky Bear!

Our mission today, which we chose to accept, was to revisit a Porcupine den and check on the activity there and if time allowed, find a certain Red Pine tree in the forest. We knew the location of the den for we’ve visited it several times in the past three or four months, but had only a vague idea of where the Red Pine grew tall.

The Porcupine’s entry hole was just as we’d remembered it, but it was the scene about that had changed since our last visit. Hemlock boughs decorated the still snow-covered forest floor in great quantity.

And so we looked up–at two trees now mere skeletons of their former selves. All that was left–backbones and ribs. The meat and flesh had been almost completely nipped off. But, it still made us smile for the Porcupine had done what Porcupines do. And except for our occasional visits, it seemed they’d not been interrupted by human interference.

The other thing Porcupines do is scat. Prolifically. Below their tree of choice. And by their dens. Of course, I needed to document such. This presentation offered a delightful contrast, subtle though it may have been, of the prickly rodent’s scat and a Hemlock cone. Sometimes the color is so similar, and as you can see the size is as well, that it’s difficult to tell them apart. But, if we are what we eat, then their similarities make perfect sense.

After admiring the Hemlocks, we returned to the hole and noticed a few quills. You may need your detective eyes to locate them. I’ll leave it at that (Faith and Sara–good luck).

And then we moved out to the edge of the brook to check on another entrance to the same den. It didn’t appear to have been used recently, but that got us wondering about the melting snow. Having said that, we could see the pathway created to the upper right of the tunnel was worn, but any scats we found there were quite dried out and deteriorated to the point of being almost unrecognizable.

Just above the tunnel, however, a new discovery–another Porcupine tree. This one a Beech sapling–most of it denuded of bark and even a few twigs. Our questions continued. Was the upper part of this seven or eight foot tree dined upon when the snow was deep? And the lower part as the snow melted? Or had the Porcupine recently climbed up? How in the world can such a large animal climb such a small tree without snapping the trunk in half? I could practically wrap my thumb and pointer finger around it. Ah, but they do. Another amazing feat by one with grippers for feet.

Leaving the Porcupine area behind, we moved along beside the brook and paid our respects to the Itt family. Cousin Itt and his cousins stood clustered together eagerly awaiting the sun that was to come.

Our slow motion then found us beside a stump upon which Pixie Cup lichens grew. Pixie Cups or Goblet lichens are members of the Cladonia group. This find made us realize that as the snow pack dwindles we have so much to learn or relearn. Thank goodness it’s a slow melt and we have time. 😉

Our time today next involved a magic trick. One of us poked the blisters on the trunk of a Balsam Fir.

With a glob of resin attached to the broken twig, she tossed it into the water. Then we stood and watched . . . as the oil dispersed, changed shape and colors, and the tiny piece of twig moved about like a water fairy’s motorboat.

The essential oil within the sticky tree goo propelled the twig and created a map that could have been the United States.

As we watched, some of the oil broke away and feathered out in the movement of the water . . . but in a fashion we didn’t understand for it seemed to only float so far and then circled back.

As I said, we watched for a while, and where the little twig settled, we began to notice another shape emerging . . . a duck. Some people look at clouds, but we were fascinated by a substance that has antiseptic properties to seal cuts and protect them from infection, lessens the pain of burns if smeared gently onto skin, and serves as nature’s gasoline when one wants to start a fire. Oh, and reacts in water by creating fascinating rainbows while propelling objects.

At last we pulled away for I had a time crunch, but we still wanted to reach the Red Pine. To get there, we passed a Turkey kill site we’d discovered in January. The feathers remained and reminded us of the day we’d spent trying to solve the mystery of the Turkey’s demise. If nothing else, we came up with a good story that day.

From the feathers, we journeyed on, reaching the edge of a wetland that stretched away from the brook. My time was running out, but we gave ourselves six more minutes (why not five, you ask? Why not?) and scanned the tree tops in search of one Red Pine. And then . . . we spied it.

We weren’t the first, for a Winter Firefly moved out from under the bark as we admired its colors and jigsaw presentation–of the bark that is. We admired the insect as well, but that bark. Oh my.

And then our real “Oh my!” exclamations began for we had found what we sought. Bear claw marks on the bark! They are much more subtle on Red Pines than American Beech, but as we circled the tree we kept seeing them.

The thing about the Red Pine is that the flaky bark must make it difficult to climb, but then again, we couldn’t tell how high Ursus americanus had gone. Mind you, we didn’t look at any other trees in the forest, and as I sit and think about this one now, I can’t wait to return (I’ve a feeling my guy will want to be in tow for the next expedition) because this morning I’d forgotten that Black Bears use lone Red Pines as communication poles–turning their heads and biting into the tree while rubbing their backs against it to leave a scent (Think date night invitation). Usually, some hair is left behind in the sap. We did located old Pileated Woodpecker holes filled with sap, but no hair. Yet.

Our journey out was more of a bee-line because our six minutes took longer and I was a wee bit late to an interview, but my hostess was gracious when I explained that a Red Pine had held me up! And then on my way home I stopped by some more open water and much to my delight, a pair of Wood Ducks struck just the right pose.

And now I’m torn. Which duck do I prefer? The Balsam Fir Duck or the male Wood Duck? Such decisions to have to make at the end of the day.

Duck, duck, porky bear! They were each special in their own way.

Beaver Caper

Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.

Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.

Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .

But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.

Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉

We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.

First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.

And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.

Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .

I saw mini ice discs in their final form.

And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.

Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.

The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.

Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.

The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.

First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.

Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.

Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.

We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?

We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.

As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.

But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.

The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?

Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.

And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.

And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.

Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?

For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.

We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.

Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.

Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.

Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.

At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.

From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.

In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.

A Buck for Two Hearts Mondate

Our journey today found us along the coast of Maine once again despite the small craft warning. It’s just wind, we figured, though we did make sure to bring along extra layers, hats, and gloves.

Biddeford Pool was our overall destination, but really the tide was out and wind so strong by the pool, that we decided to check out a few other locations in the area.

We actually drove by the pathway to the next location twice before a small sign caught our attention. To reach Maine Audubon’s East Point Sanctuary one must follow the narrow path.

Being a bird sanctuary, we weren’t surprised to be greeted by one–but really, an American Robin? We chuckled at the offering.

And then moved on to admire the view–the rocky coast of Maine.

And upon the rocks, bursts of sunshine in the form of lichen.

And in the water, waves crashing over the rocks.

Likely, it was waves of a similar or even more forceful nature that dislodged a couple of lobster pots and dropped them upon the pathway. At least, we wanted to believe their presence was of a natural cause.

The sanctuary is located at the mouth of the Saco River, and we realized we’d never actually viewed it from this vantage point before.

Nor were we familiar with Wood Island lighthouse, which was built in 1806 and manned until 1986 to guide mariners into Winter Harbor and the Saco River.

Nearby, a bell cast in England in 1872 that tolled for at the lighthouse for many years as part of the navigation system, was on display in a park.

But our eyes cued in to what was more in our range and we began to notice the birds on the rocks, in the water and air.

And suddenly, like magic, for perhaps that’s what binoculars do, my guy became a birder-in-the-making. Oh, don’t tell him because I know he’ll deny it. But he did notice subtle details of the diving ducks.

The Common Eiders were the most abundant in our view.

The breeding males stood out with their white and black featheration. (Is that a word?) It was the sloping forehead and beak of this diving duck that caught my guy’s notice.

For me, it was the greenish sides of the neck that I found most intriguing.

And then there was the she–rather drab in contrast to her he, but also featuring that sloping forehead and some black barring among the brown feathers.

In today’s wind, her feathers were aflutter, but I’m sure her he found the sight all the more alluring.

Swimming beside or among the Eiders were several White-winged Scoters, whose name stymied us for the white on the wings was barely visible as they swam. Note also the comma-shaped patch by its eye, known as a Viking horn.

It wasn’t quite as easy to move about for those who took to the air and most often it seemed like the gulls flew backwards in the wind.

Occasionally, they landed on the rocks below us so we could take a closer look.

The majority that we spied today were Herring Gulls, their suits of white and gray adorned by those black and white wingtips. (I really wanted this to be a Yellow-legged Gull, but what I want and reality don’t always match.)

At last we reached the turn-around point where we stood for a bit and admired the view.

And then we followed the pathway back along the edge–of the land and the sea.

It was as we headed out that we saw a wooly bear caterpillar and knew winter must be near. Based on the Farmer’s Almanac: “According to folklore, if the caterpillar’s orange band is narrow, the winter will be snowy; conversely, a wide band means a mild winter. And fuzzier-than-normal woolly bear caterpillars are said to mean that winter will be very cold.”

Wait, it’s spring. Here’s the scoop: The larva emerged from the egg last fall and overwintered in its caterpillar form, when it literally froze solid. To do that, first its heart stopped beating and then its guts, blood and entire body froze by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. And yes, despite today’s cold wind, it is spring and this one had thawed.

As we left, the Robins were there to say goodbye and we did wonder if the Wooly Bear would be on the menu.

In the meantime, however, a worm met its unexpected demise.

We had one more place to explore before heading northwest–to Fortune Rocks Beach, which was just down the road from the sanctuary and on the other side of the road from Biddeford Pool.

Maybe we should have noted the lack of people as a foreshadowing of the wind’s strength.

And certainly, the backspray of each wave should have spoken to us.

But . . . we ignored all the clues and tramped on. As usual, I followed my guy’s tracks. Can you interpret them? What’s that little loop-de-loop all about in the midst?

The further we walked, the more intense the wind became and eventually we felt as if we were walking in a sandstorm on a desert–a rather frozen desert.

And so we headed toward the shore in hopes that the retention walls and houses would block the brisker than brisk gusts. Truth be told, they nearly knocked us off our feet.

The beauty of walking closer to the shore–a few pieces of seaglass like this one that found its way into my pocket.

And then I found a fifty cent piece–tails up.

Right after that, I spied a heart-shaped stone, and that also ended up you know where.

And then . . . and then, my guy found a fifty cent piece, his heads up.

And he found a heart as well, which I also snatched.

So, a few birds, a caterpillar and a worm, lots of wind, Biddeford Pool, sand and waves on the fly, Fortune Rocks, and $.50 + $.50 = $1.00. I’ll give you a buck for a couple of hearts on this Mondate.

Happy April Fools Day!

Birds of a Feather

My intention was to check the condition of several vernal pools as I tramped into the woods today. Only a few years ago I was taking photographs of wood frogs on this very date, but I knew that would not be today’s focus.

As I approached the first and saw that it was still snow covered, though the northeast side displayed the pastel bluish hue of slushy ice, I began to wonder what would draw my attention.

And then I looked down by my snowshoes and suspected I’d found the answer. That answer, however, brought other questions to mind. To whom did the feathers belong? What had happened? Were there others? How did they get there? And when?

Beside the pool and just below a hemlock, I found another. The hemlock’s needles provided perspective for they were only about a half inch in length.

As I moved onto the pool, my eyes cued in to a feather here and a feather there and occasionally a cluster in the mix.

While most were slate gray, I began to note some with tints of brown on the outer fringe.

There were even a few that I thought might be tail feathers, but really my bird knowledge needs to increase greatly. Again, however, with their orientation beside the beech leaf, it was obvious that the bird of choice was not big.

With so many feathers on display, as minute as they were, I wondered who had dined. Or rather, who had snacked for it hardly seemed like a full-fledged meal (pun alert) had been consumed. I found the tracks and then scat of one of the neighborhood deer and knew it was intent on the hemlocks beside the pool and small birds were not on its menu.

In the melted water by the scat were a a couple of feathers of lighter colors. And then it occurred to me. All had been plucked.

Finding no other evidence of tracks other than deer and turkeys, my mind began to gaze skyward for I considered a bird of prey as the predator. The pool is surrounded by a mixed forest of beech, maples, oaks, hemlocks and pines. Several would have been fine candidates for a feeding tree.

And so I began to wonder if there was more evidence somewhere near the pool. With that in mind, I climbed out of it, and still here and there tiny clumps or individual presentations caught my attention.

With that knowledge, I made a plan. I began on the northern edge looking south and then turned around and walked out, scanning the ground and trees, both at eye level and above, looking for evidence.

I’d walk out as far from the pool as I found evidence, also checking every tree well on the way. Do you see the bits of gray?

Any feathers were more scattered the further from the pool I went, but still they were present. And if you’ve noticed, all were atop any other ground debris. That was significant.

At the point where I saw the last of the feathers, I’d turn around and approach the pool again at an angle, thus zigzagging in and out as I circled it. The furthest away that I got was about 15 snowshoe lengths.

By the time I reached the southerly shore I realized that there were no feathers. That also proved to be significant.

While I was searching, or perhaps because, I found other things of interest like the jelly ear fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae.

It’s one of my favorites this time of year and I love its rubbery and gelatinous feel.

But I digress. And so back to my bird. I didn’t encounter feathers again until about half way back on the westerly side. That lead me to make some conclusions that may be totally wrong, but I’ll put myself out on limb (oh geesh, another one) with my findings: 1. The perpetrator had dined from high up in one of the trees on the north side and I suspected a pine or oak. 2. And if it had dined from above, then the predator was a larger bird 3. The meal was rather recent for all of the feathers were on top of the surface, rather than having sunk into the snow or appearing from under any other debris. 4. I suspected the victim was a Dark-eyed Junco. While the Juncos were everywhere in the fall, once the snow fell in early November, we didn’t see them for a couple of months. And then in mid-January a few found our feeders. This week, the flock has increased substantially as they migrate north and I counted twenty on the ground and in the trees by our home, which isn’t far from the pool.

I never did make it to the other vernal pools today, for so taken was I with trying to figure out the mystery of the feathers. Another thing about Juncos is that though many we see are slate gray, females may be a bit buffy on top of their head, back, and wings.

The other thing about Juncos is their countershadowing coloration.

Looking at the bird from the ground, it tends to blend in with the sky, especially on this gray day. And if you were to look down on the bird from above, it would blend in with the ground. That is, unless of course, you have snow on the ground as we have had for quite a while. It’s beginning to melt, especially in this afternoon’s rain and fog, but it does make the wee birds an easy target for the bigger ones.

Yesterday I saw a big one, but not in my backyard. Well, in a way I guess it was for I saw it near our camp. And I should have recognized it for I spent all last summer watching an immature and adult in the very location but it’s coloration threw me off.

When I first spied it, I thought it was an eagle or an owl. But the closer I got (mind you, I wasn’t as close as this may seem given that it’s a telephoto lens on a Canon Powershot), the more the white spots on those wings confused me. So, I settled for a hawk–either an immature Broad-winged, Red-shouldered or Red-tailed. But . . . . for once I did what I should always do–and reached out to those who know more than me.

Thank you to Alan and Linda Seamans and the Stanton Bird Club for they all agreed that it was a sub-adult Bald Eagle. Notice the mask. According to the Cornell allaboutbirds site, which I visited at least a hundred times yesterday: “Third year birds [Bald Eagles] have a mostly white belly, with some brown mottling, a brown chest, and a broad brown mask on the face.” Said my friend Alan, who is also a Maine Master Naturalist, “The huge schnozz is being noted by all, much too big in proportion for a red-tailed.”

Thank you also to the birds who continue to teach me about their life stories every day. I don’t always interpret what I see correctly and I admit I may be wrong about thinking the feathers belonged to a Junco, but I do enjoy the journey. Birds of a feather, they keep me wondering.