Intrepid Travelers

When we gathered at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Fairburn parking lot on Slab City Road at 9:30 this morning, the thermometer registered 4˚. But the good news–no wind. And . . . the six Tuesday Trackers who decided to join me and brave the elements were dressed for the occasion.

First though, it seemed I wanted to test their endurance so we circled up for a few minutes and they used mirrors to see how a deer might see (and I should have taken a photo, but didn’t) and then I shared some casts I’d made of track prints. This one was a red fox and not only was the hair a bit visible, but so was the shape of a chevron, which some see as a boomerang in the heel pad of the front foot. I should note that this particular cast was made from a road kill specimen, so the toes and nails aren’t exactly as close together as they typically would be, especially on a cold morning in January.

The next cast to view–a coyote in mud. I love this one because it demonstrates the direct registration of a back foot stepping into the impression made by the front foot. And the X we always associate with the canines, including Eastern coyotes, red and gray foxes, was visible. Notice the parallel toes close together and nails that point inward–all for the sake of retaining heat.

And finally in this morning’s demonstration, a bobcat cast with more of a C shape between the toes and heel pad.

At last we walked down the road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

I chose this trail for today’s adventure because I had a feeling we might see what we saw–an otter slide! It’s a rare winter day when such activity isn’t visible there.

I was thrilled to note that a few people had beat us to the sight and observed the same. As we stood above the dam, we spied where the otter had come up out of the water, made its way around several trees . . .

then slide down into Mill Brook below. By the tracks and impressions in the trail we could envision his motion. And if folks had wanted to quit then, it would have been okay because we’d been so honored already.

But they are a hardy group and right near the otter slide, prints of another were noted and based on their wee size and the diagonal angle of their presentation we knew we were looking at the track of either an ermine or long-tailed weasel. It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two by the print size. But the cool thing was that though they appear light in the photograph, the prints that we saw were a mirror image of what David Brown drew on his Trackards. (I think I should get a commission for promoting his cards, but really, they are the best.)

Following the weasel prints, Tom found a hole by a tree and got down to check on any activity within. His report came with a grin: “It’s deep.” Was the weasel successful in finding a meal? We don’t know. But we do know that it’s typical of them to check out every little hole and make some of their own.

Continuing our journey, we’d hardly gone far from the dam when we happened upon another creator of fine tracks. Bingo! A red fox by its shape, size, and chevron.

And then. And then we found prints left behind by a mink, their size a bit larger than the weasel. By now, we were in seventh heaven. Or so we thought. For there was more.

I’d just said to one of the group that we’d seen otter, weasel and mink–all members of the Mustelid family. It was due time for a fisher . . . and what to our wondering eyes should appear?

Tell-tale prints left behind by a fisher that had loped through the woods. Do you see the five tear-drop shaped toes?

Being good trackers, we decided to back track it, for one shouldn’t follow an animal and put stress on it. And so we headed toward the pond.

One in our group had gone ahead and under a hemlock Heinrich discovered a meal partially eaten. The fisher prints led directly to and from it. A mushroom? That was my first thought until I took off my mitten and played with it. A roll? Whole wheat? Had the fisher stopped at Burger King or raided someone’s ice fishing party? Did he eat the meat and discard the roll? Not into whole wheat? Certainly he prefers a gluten-free diet.

Behind the hemlock, we followed his tracks and noted a spot where he’d sat and fussed about for a bit. Was this his lunch site? If so, he’d at least not left any wrappers behind.

As the morning went on, one set of tracks led us to those made by another and near the fisher we found more red fox impressions.

Astute eyes for we’re all so trained, also noted a dash of pee by a broken branch. Typical red fox behavior, especially given that this is mating season. But . . . in the air we couldn’t smell that delightfully skunky scent we associate with fox pee.

That is . . . until Pam got down. It was not as strong as we sometimes notice so we wondered if it was because of the cold air.

Despite that, Tuesday Tracker initiation involves getting down on all fours like Bob did. . .

and sniffing just like Paula. Come on–you know you want to join us and gain some bragging rights.

We decided to follow the fox for a while doing what we shouldn’t have done as we followed its forward motion rather than back, but suspected it was long out of range. We weren’t sure if it was one or a pair. At a tree, rather than pee, it or they seemed to dance around and possibly poke a nose into the snow. By now, the cold could have been getting to us and we were making up the story we read on the powdery page.

Eventually we did come to two sets of fox tracks and split our group in half, each following one set to see if they’d intersect again.

Well, the fox tracks led us back to the fisher and suddenly to the snowmobile trail. We saw that the fisher had headed up hill and thought we might spy it again if we followed the trail that leads toward Whiting Hill, so up we did climb. In no time at all, we found a pattern left behind by a little brown thing (LBT by tracking standards) and knew it was either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse out on a risky mission in search of seeds.

Next, a snowshoe hare had crossed the trail and we recognized it by its snow lobster shape. If you look at the second set of prints in this photograph, you’ll note that the animal was moving toward me and the two larger prints in the front were of its hind feet which had wrapped around and landed as the two smaller front feet leaped forward. Thus the overall impression looks like a lobster–at least in our minds.

Just beyond the hare, we met what we’d been looking for, the fisher. And then on a stone wall, Paula discovered two holes where it must have dug down looking for a meal. Was it successful? We so wanted a kill site to know what the critters had been eating, but saw no signs of blood or hair or bones or carcasses.

What we did see–a dribble of fisher pee that Pam checked out.

In the midst of fisher tracking, we came upon intersections, including one of a coyote and red fox. What kept us guessing was the apparent foot drag of the coyote. Was some of it tail drag? The snow under the powder was quite crusty so most of the fresh prints we found today didn’t require the mammals to break through the snow. But . . . had this coyote injured a foot on a previous journey when it was breaking through?

As the morning went on, the Trackers had to leave one by one and two by two until it was only Pam and me still on the prowl. We followed the fisher for a long way, and noted where it paused momentarily upon humps, but never discovered any sign of eating.

Eventually, we too, had to find our way out of the woods. It was rather easy for we followed the tracks the others had left behind. And chuckled at the patterns we all left in the snow. Not exactly discernible. What will the mammals say when they pause and study our prints?

Crazy humans! Ah, but I think they’ll also call us intrepid travelers, for like them, we prowled about on a frigid winter day.

We all left thrilled for we’d seen the tracks of so many in this mammal corridor. And curiously we noted those we hadn’t seen: deer and squirrel in particular, as well as moose and bobcat. Another day perhaps.

Today’s Tuesday Trackers included Pam, Heinrich, Nancy, Paula, Bob, Tom, and yours truly. Intrepid indeed.

Babe in the Woods

This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.

Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.

On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.

Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)

As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe

It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.

Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.

And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.

Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.

At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.

Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.

Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.

Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.

Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.

The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.

And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.

Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.

But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.

Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.

Book of December: Rewilding Our Hearts

It all started with an email message from my long-time mentor and former education director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, Kevin Harding.

Wrote Kevin, “I rarely find a book that I’m willing to recommend to friends and colleagues. I rarely read books on saving the environment because I find them too depressing. I am guilty of feeling totally overwhelmed by the chaos and daily news of political disfunction that makes any kind of progress toward “saving the environment” seem impossible. Despite these feelings, I would like you to consider reading Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff. No doubt many of you know this author and you may have already read some of his work. Bekoff can help us understand that the work we do in Lovell is in fact meaningful and productive.

Book of December

And so I added Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff to my Christmas list and a few days ago my guy handed me this copy, which he’d ordered from Bridgton Books.

A professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the University of Colorado, Boulder, (our youngest son’s alma mater), Bekoff is the author or editor of twenty-five books.

Since receiving the book, I’ve turned up the bottom corner of pages in the foreword and introduction that I want to reread and taken copious pages of notes.

In this book, Bekoff’s intention is to use the big picture challenges of “climate change, population explosion and constant damage to Earth’s ecosystems and loss of diversity” as the backdrop to encourage us all to change how we think and act–especially as it pertains to nonhuman animals.

“Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism,” writes Bekoff.

In the first chapter, he states, “Our effects on other species are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and we most likely understate the extent of our destructive ways. As with climate change, we often don’t know or fully understand what we’ve done or the extent of our negative impacts. Even worse, we have no idea how to fix the ecological problems confronting us, whether we are at fault for them or not.”

A live and dead spider within a pitcher plant leaf.

He encourages us to open our hearts and form a compassionate connection with nature–even in those moments when we don’t understand. For instance, in November a friend and I discovered two spiders in the water-filled “urn” of a pitcher plant on a land trust property. The larger spider was alive, while it seemed to play with the smaller dead spider that it kept moving with its hind legs. Was it trying to revive the youngster? Would the two or even the one be able to escape the carnivorous pitcher plant?

Great Blue Heron youngsters waiting for a meal

Watching something as small as the spiders or as large as young great blue herons is something some of us could easily take for granted, for we are fortunate to spend many hours as observers. Thankfully, we are constantly filled with awe and wonder.

ArGee as last seen a few weeks ago. A ruffed grouse startled me in the same area yesterday. Was it him? Or another? I’m not sure, but I am grateful that it behaved as a ruffed grouse should by flying off.

As I read Bekoff’s book, numerous visions flashed through my mind and I thought of the corridors that our local land trusts have worked diligently to create. And with that came the memory of an article I wrote for Lake Living magazine in 2015 entitled “Land That We Trust”:

My happy moments are spent wandering and wondering in the woods of the lakes region. And photographing and sketching what I see. And writing about the experience. And trying to find out the answers. Honestly though, I don’t want to know all of the answers. For the most part, I just like the wandering and wondering.

Passing through a stonewall, I’m suddenly embraced by the fragrance of white pines that form the canopy over what was once an agricultural field. Beech and hemlock trees grow in the understory. Lowbush blueberries, Canada mayflowers, bracken ferns, Indian pipe, partridgeberry, sessile-leaf bellwort, Indian cucumber root and a variety of mosses and lichens add to the picture.

I follow a former cowpath that opens to the power line. At the edge, taller hemlocks and northern red oaks stand high, with a few beech trees in the mix. But my eye is drawn to the ground cover, varied in color and texture. Sphagnum moss, several species of reindeer lichen, British soldier lichen, wintergreen, bunchberries, junipers and sheep laurel appreciate the bogginess and sunshine of this space.

To the right of another opening in the wall, the neighborhood changes. This time it’s gray and paper birch that grow side by side. Nearby, a vernal pool teems with life.

In each space, I encounter evidence of animals, amphibians, birds and insects. Sometimes I even get to see these neighbors with whom I share the land. Gray squirrels build their dreys up high in the hardwood trees, while red squirrels prefer the white pine forest. Deer bed under the hemlocks. Snowshoe hare browse among the birch grove and its vegetative undergrowth. Yellow-spotted salamanders and wood frogs lay egg masses in the vernal pool. Snakes slither nearby. Frequent visitors to each area include porcupines, raccoons, skunks, turkeys, gray and red foxes, deer, woodpeckers, thrushes, chickadees, nuthatches and warblers. Occasionally, I’m treated to moose and bear evidence and sitings.

People, too, are part of this habitat. They recreate along the snowmobile trail that follows the power line. The stonewalls, dug wells and rusty equipment speak to the area’s history.

It’s land like this that our local land trusts work diligently to preserve.

A wee disclaimer: I’ve been a volunteer docent for about eight years and am now education director for the Greater Lovell Land Trust. My involvement stems from my desire to learn about what makes up the landscape that surrounds me.

Sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband or friends, I hike all of the GLLT properties on a regular basis. Trekking along trails with like-minded people who pause frequently to identify and appreciate what they see in any season puts a smile on my face. Something stops us in our tracks every time we explore and we gain a better understanding of ourselves and this place we inhabit.

This past winter, I started recording my outdoor adventures, wonders and questions in a blog entitled wondermyway.com. Sometimes those hikes on land trust properties became the subject for a post.

Bear print and deer print in a kettle bog in Lovell

February 23, 2015: Bishop’s Cardinal Reserve, I’m fascinated by bear sign and love to find claw marks on beech trees. Oh, they climb other trees, but beech show off the scars with dignity for years to come. While bark on most trees changes as it ages, beech bark is known for retaining the same characteristics throughout its life . . . Seeing all the animal tracks and sign, some decipherable, others not so, makes me thankful for those who have worked hard to preserve this land and create corridors for the animals to move through.

March 31, 2015: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge, It’s one of those places that I could spend hours upon hours exploring and still only see a smidgeon of what is there. I’m overwhelmed when I walk into a store filled with stuff, but completely at home in a place like this where life and death happen and the “merchandise” changes daily.

April 15, 2015: Otter Rocks, A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.

Middle school students from Molly Ockett’s MESA program picking cranberries in the GLLT fen

May 3, 2015: Chip Stockford Reserve, There’s something about the Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell that keeps pulling me back. I think it’s the history associated with this property that fascinates me. And the questions it raises. From the start, there is a cellar hole and barn foundation. Eldridge Gerry Kimball had purchased 200 acres on January 31, 1880 from Abraham E. Gray. Various journals from that time period include entries about driving cattle over to the Ladies Delight pasture, picking cranberries over by The Pond, as they called Kezar Lake, picking apples, driving sheep to pasture, picking pears, mowing oats and trimming pines. Today, it’s the huge pasture pines, stonewalls and a couple of foundations that tell part of the story. I’ve also heard that this area was used as a cattle infirmary. According to local lore, diseased cattle were brought to Ladies Delight to roam and die, thus preventing disease from spreading to healthy cattle. . . Another story about Ladies Delight hill is that this is the place where people would come to picnic in the 1800s. Did the women get dressed up to enjoy a day out, a break from their farming duties? I have visions of them wearing long dresses and bonnets and carrying picnic baskets. But could they really afford a day away from their chores?

May 10, 2015: Bald Pate Mountain, The “bald” mountain top is the reason I am who I have become. Being outside and hiking have always been part of my makeup, but when our oldest was in fifth grade, I chaperoned a field trip up this mountain that changed everything. The focus was the soils. And along the way, Bridie McGreavy, who at the time was the watershed educator for Lakes Environmental Association, sat on the granite surrounded by a group of kids and me, and told us about the age of the lichens and their relationship to the granite and I wanted to know more. I needed to know more.

June 16, 2015: Bishop Cardinal Reserve, Though we never plan it that way, our journey lasted three hours. Suddenly, we emerged from the wet woodland onto Horseshoe Pond Road–all the richer for having spent time in the land of the slugs, bears and caterpillar clubs. Oh my!

We are fortunate to live in an area where five trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth: Greater Lovell, Loon Echo, Western Maine Foothills, Mahoosuc and Upper Saco Valley. This strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live.

Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.

Conserving the land doesn’t mean it can’t be touched. The organizations develop management plans and steward the land. Timber harvesting, farming, residency and recreation continue, while specific wildlife habitat, wetlands, unique natural resources and endangered or rare species are protected. And in the process, they strengthen our towns. Ultimately, they give us a better sense of our place in Maine and opportunities to interact with the wild.

The service area of each of the local trusts include watersheds and wildlife corridors. Greater Lovell Land Trust is committed to the protection of the Kezar Lake, Kezar River and Cold River and adjacent watersheds located in Lovell, Stow and Stoneham.

Loon Echo Land Trust serves seven towns: Bridgton, Casco, Denmark, Naples, Harrison, Sebago and Raymond, and their efforts actually reach beyond to the 200,000 residents of Greater Portland for whom Sebago Lake is the public drinking water source.

Western Foothills Land Trust serves the Greater Oxford Hills towns of Buckfield, Harrison, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Sumner, Waterford and West Paris. The watersheds they protect include Lake Pennesseewassee, Thompson Lake, Crooked River and Little Androscoggin River.

The Mahoosuc Land Trust works in central Oxford County, Maine, and eastern Coos County, New Hampshire. It strives to protect the watersheds and natural communities of Albany Township, Andover, Bethel, Gilead, Greenwood, Hanover, Milton Plantation, Newry, Rumford, Shelburne, Upton and Woodstock.

Likewise, the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust crosses the border and includes the communities of western Maine and northern New Hampshire that make up the upper watershed of the Saco River. Its service area flows from the source of the Saco in Crawford Notch toward the Hiram Dam and includes Harts Location, Jackson, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Albany, Madison and Eaton, New Hampshire and Fryeburg, Denmark and Brownfield, Maine.

In addition to their service areas, the land trusts collaborate with each other and local lake associations. Most recently, the GLLT, LELT, WMFLT and USVLT, plus the Portland Water District have joined forces to protect the fifty-mile Crooked River. The river is the largest tributary flowing into Sebago Lake and it provides primary spawning and nursing area for one of four known indigenous populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine.

Lovell Girl Scout Cadette Troop 67 up close and personal with tree cookies

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve. The mentors I’ve met along the way have played an important part in my involvement and caring for the environment.

All five land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities. Staff and volunteers lead walks, stopping frequently to share a bit of knowledge, ask questions and wonder along with the participants. These organizations also offer indoor programs featuring knowledgeable guest speakers.

I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on land trust properties.

Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.

Water snake at the GLLT Otter Rock

So back to Bekoff’s book, he quotes many biologists and others as he makes the point that when we experience alienation from nature we make bad decisions including “wanton killing of wild species, clear cutting, pollution and other human impacts, and caging of nonhuman animals.”

“What we do,” writes Bekoff, “does make a difference and rewilding our hearts is about fostering and honoring our connections to one another and all life.”

My daily fox–12/30/18

After all, as evidenced in our yard each day and night when the visitors are many, we share this place with and in fact live in the world of our nonhuman neighbors. We need to figure out how to live together–and that premise is at both nonhuman and human levels since we are all interconnected in the web of life.

Inside structure of an oak apple gall

Though Bekoff’s focus is on nonhuman animals, I do wish he’d also addressed other forms of life, such as fungi, insects, plants, and the like.

He does list what he calls the “8 Ps of Rewilding” as a guide for action: Proactive, Positive, Persistent, Patient, Peaceful, Practical, Powerful, and Passionate. “If we keep these eight principles in mind as we engage one another and wrestle with difficult problems, no one should feel threatened or left out,” says Bekoff.

As the book continues, there are definitions provided for catch phrases such as compassionate conservation and stories of unsung heroes who have made it their life’s work to “rewild our hearts and to expand our compassionate footprint.”

GLLT/Lovell Recreation Trailblazers created a woodland map

Bekoff is a realist and so am I. He would love to see us all become vegetarians or vegans, but realizes we will not. He knows that it will take people time to unlearn preconceived notions, especially given that the media thrives on misrepresenting animals. He knows that his rewilding our hearts is a concept with a broad agenda.

One of my take-away thoughts was that all of local environmental organizations are working hard to create corridors and raise awareness and awe about the natural world. Of course, we could all do better. But, we’ve already got a good start on doing what Bekoff suggests: “Figure out how to foster a love of nature and other animals so that every generation sees this connection as precious and vital and worth nurturing.”

But . . . he concludes that “if we all made some simple changes to our lives, the world would soon become a more compassionate place for all beings and landscapes.

Great Horned Owl Plastica species

And he reminds us to be humble and able to laugh at ourselves. Yeah, so um, I was the one who stopped a small group of friends as we moved along a trail on private property because I was the first to spot a great horned owl this fall. Yeah, um. It was plastic. And a set up. I’m still laughing.

Dear readers, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward. I know I got a bit off track by including my own article, but I do believe that we’ve got a start on rewilding our hearts in western Maine. Yes, we have a long way to go. Let’s do this. Together!

And remember, my guy purchased this copy of Rewilding Our Hearts at Bridgton Books.

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence by Marc Bekoff, 2014, New World Library.

Happy Bird-day Bird Count

Established in 1900 by an officer of the Audubon Society, the intention of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations.

Our local count, known as the Sweden Circle CBC, typically takes place two days after Christmas, unless, of course it snows. Within several weeks prior to the event, organizer Jean Preis rallies volunteers and assigns sections within the circle to leaders and their assistant birders.

I had the good fortune to lead the southeastern section and so at 8am I headed off to begin searching for birds along the road, at backyard or front yard feeders, and just about anywhere within the assigned section. For the first 45 minutes I was alone as planned, and kept blaming my limited sightings on that fact, as well as the brisk morning temperature.

Other than the temp in the teens, I couldn’t say the weather was at fault for it wasn’t all that windy and there was nary a cloud in the sky.

By 9am, I was joined by the rest of my team, Maine Master Naturalist student Juli, and her oldest children, who are naturalists in their own right, Caleb and Ellie.

Juli took over the challenging task of driving, all the while searching for movement. Caleb, Ellie, and I had a much easier task–we just needed to search high and low and if we spotted something, to let Juli know in as gentle a manner as possible so we wouldn’t cause her to jam on the breaks.

At Plummer’s Landing on Long Lake, we got out of the vehicle, as would be our custom for the rest of the day. Down to the ice we walked, our eyes scanning the surrounding scene as we listened. The only sounds we heard–the wailing of the ice. If you’ve never heard that, it’s almost as good as birding! As for birds near the lake . . . not a one.

But there was a beautiful red maple tree by the landing that made for a perfect teaching moment–the clock face that helps birders locate a bird someone spies. I pointed to 12:00 at the top, then 3:00 to the right side, 6:00 at the bottom, and 9:00 to the left. Instantly, the kids caught on and for the rest of the day they were able to direct us–that is, when we did spy a bird.

Ever so slowly, we made our way along main roads and back roads and noticed few birds. In a way, I wasn’t surprised for my feeders have had only a few regular visitors this year. And when I’m in the woods, or even on the edge of a field, I’ve seldom seen or heard a bird since November when the snow fell. Before that, juncos were extremely common sights no matter where or how I traveled. Where have they gone?

Despite the lower than usual numbers, I was sure we would see something by the old Central Maine Power dam not far from the Stevens Brook Outlet. But . . . all we heard was the roar of the water.

And all we saw . . .

was water racing toward the lake and . . .

the dancing legs of icicle formations. That was OK because we enjoyed admiring them. Still, we wanted birds to count. To that point, our tally included a few chickadees and a couple of tufted titmice.

Onward we moved, toward the outlet of Stevens Brook into Long Lake where we were certain the open water would provide us with something worth reporting.

All was quite quiet, however, and we didn’t see any waterfowl to note. But then . . . the biggest find of our day let itself be known.

High up in a white pine above the opposite bank of the outlet, a bald eagle sat in wait. We practically danced in the icy parking lot–and knew that no matter what else we might see, we were golden with this discovery.

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the eagle, and continued on while looking left and right, up and down. At last, a front yard feeder yielded some more chickadees, a white breasted nuthatch and a hairy woodpecker. Things were picking up. Sorta.

And then as Juli drove down one back road, we spotted five crows in an unplowed driveway. They flew off when we paused, so we continued on down the road. Returning a few minutes later, we again spied the five crows in the same spot. And Caleb, who as a youth hunter has learned the ways of the woods from his dad, knew that where the crows were gathered there must be a carcass. He asked his mom to stop the vehicle while he crossed the road to check the area. Bingo! He encouraged us to join him. Just off the clearing he’d discovered a deer carcass. We weren’t certain how it had come to perish, or why its head was missing, though we had some thoughts on both, but we did notice that many had come to dine. If we’d been more into our tracking mode than our birding mode, we might have been able to write the first two chapters about the manner of death and loss of the head, but we had a different mission on this day.

Another body of water called our names. Last year, I’d seen robins and various other birds in a wetland associated with Woods Pond, so we jumped out at the town beach and stood still to listen and watch. Nada. The ice on the pond, however, was enticing. And though they didn’t have skates, Ellie and Caleb found the conditions to be much to their liking.

Even the clipboard with the field tally didn’t pose a problem as they slid to and fro across the frozen wonder.

Eventually we moved on and added a couple more chickadees to the list. And then we saw one who was not on the list and though he is native to this land, he’s not typically seen here in winter. So we filled out the Rare Bird Form for the Great Horned Owl Plastica species.

One of our final stops as a group was on what we fondly refer to as the Dump Road. At a swampy area, we thought for sure we’d have some luck. And we did. In the form of beaver works.

Peering across the road in search of birds near the open water, we noticed more beaver works.

And our luck turned to awe as we admired a beech tree that still stood despite its hourglass shape. Why hadn’t it fallen?

The lodge looked well maintained and we rejoiced to think that it was located close to town and yet we’d never spied it before. Because of the CBC, we’d been given the opportunity to get to know our town just a wee bit more intimately.

After the beaver lodge sighting, Juli and her kids headed home, and so did I . . . for a quick lunch break. And then I journeyed down several more roads, adding a few more dashes to the tally. I found more chickadees, a few more white-breasted nuthatches, and some mourning doves.

Toward the end of the day, I decided to return to the dam, but still . . . stillness in the bird world despite all the sound and movement.

And ice-encrusted needles that looked so featherlike.

By 4pm the CBC had drawn to a close and our offerings seemed so skimpy. I was almost embarrassed to turn in the form, only to discover that most of the other birders in the Sweden Circle had had a similar experience. The Denmark and Fryeburg sections had the most sightings to report, but all in all, the numbers were down significantly. A few of us gathered around Jean’s table to compute the final numbers and wonder why they were so low. Too cold in November? When the snow and cold snap occurred early, did the birds fly elsewhere? Was there not enough food this season? One among us has spent the last few weeks joining the CBC in various locations around Maine, and he said that our experience was not unique.

Despite that, Juli, Caleb, Ellie, and I finished up the day smiling because we had seen an eagle. And today was Juli’s birthday–so it was certainly a wonder-filled present for her on this year’s Christmas Bird Count. Happy Bird-day, Juli!

Bird Brain

Wrote Aldo Leopold, “Everyone knows…that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”

And so it was that I tramped with a couple of friends today who had the delightful pleasure of meeting ArGee (R. G. for Ruffed Grouse). We’d been chatting and searching for a few red blooms on a tall staghorn sumac when suddenly we spied him crossing over a stone wall and approaching us. 

He circled and circled for a while as we stood still yet continued to talk–sharing admiration and awe at the opportunity to be in his presence. 

We watched him forage for seeds and wondered about his behavior. Typically, Ruffed Grouse are loners, except for mating season. But this one seems to greet visitors to its territory with somewhat regular frequency. 

When we moved, he did likewise–usually a few feet to either side of us. 

And when we stopped, he did the same, seeming as curious as us. 

It was a brisk morning, so periodically he did what birds do to warm up–turned into a football of sorts as he fluffed up his feathers to trap warmer air. A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird. After all, he didn’t have the luxury of hand warmers. But then again, we didn’t have the luxury of trapping air within our feathers. 

While we watched, I couldn’t help but notice the auricular feathers–those stiff feathers that cover the bird’s ear and form a triangular patch that extends back from the bill and the middle of the eye. 

Do you see what I mean as they fan out below ArGee’s eye? 

Here’s another look. And notice that beak–sturdy and down-curved for eating buds and twigs, the bird’s staple in winter. 

Survival isn’t easy for a Ruffed Grouse, but despite his affinity for people, ArGee knew to take cover occasionally and perhaps that is why he is still among us. That and maybe the fact that we’re honored to be in his presence and learn more about his species as we have the ability to study him. 

While I’d previously noted the comb-like scales on his feet that act as snowshoes and perhaps add stability somewhat like a porcupine as he’ll search for buds in trees once winter advances, today’s understanding included noting how ArGee moved–with one foot placed in front of the other. 

 I’ve seen it displayed in the tracks left behind including this old set we found further along, but watching the proximity of one foot to another as ArGee moved added a vision and understanding to the signs left behind. 

Sometimes it seemed the feet were practically touching and other times there was a bit of space between them. Then again, at times ArGee paused and that seemed to be when his feet where closer together and other times he marched or ran beside us and there was a bit of distance between the two feet. 

Our time with ArGee lasted maybe a half hour or less. And he wasn’t always puffed up to stay warm. When he returned to his original size, his chicken-like form seemed more apparent.

Always, he searched for buds to consume. Ruffed Grouse have a special internal adaptation, most helpful for their winter diet–similar to that of deer and moose, which is rather funny when you think about the fact that most Ruffed Grouse burst out of the snowpack and scare the daylights out of us as we approach and make our hearts beat rapidly as we’re certain we’ve encountered a moose. Maybe they should be named Ruffed Moose instead.

So back to that internal winter adaptation: they store food in their crops (esophagus) until later and then within their bodies are two offshoots of their intestines, called caeca, which grow enormous each autumn and allow them to break down cellulose so they can get nourishment from the woody aspen and birch buds that they prefer. Come spring, the caeca atrophy for the warmer months.

Our lesson from ArGee ended in much the same time frame as it usually does, but he left us wondering all the same. After we’d spent time moving and stopping together, suddenly he started to gently attack the backs of our legs. It was at a spot that seemed to delineate his territory given past experiences, but why the attacks? Did he want us to leave? Not leave? Were we suddenly seen as the aggressor? All along he’d seemed as curious about us as we him and so we were left to ask questions which we did for the rest of our journey. But wow. We were given the opportunity to wonder. 

And wonder we did. What did ArGee see in us? 

And what was he thinking? 

Bird brain? What passes through it? We may never know, but we do know that our lives were enriched and the landscape is alive. 

P.S. Pam and Bob–this one is for you! Wow! 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England

All month I’ve been thinking about which book to recommend and then a recent purchase came to the forefront. Finally. It’s a good thing given that this is the last day of November. 

Here’s the scoop: I was scanning book titles at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Bookstore and happened upon Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England. Since I already had National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England on my bookshelf, I wasn’t sure I needed Kaufman’s guide. But my friend Karen Herold highly recommended it and said she preferred it to the other book. I’m am hear to state that I wholeheartedly agree. 

Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England was written by husband/wife team Kenn Kaufman and Kimberly Kaufman. Both are naturalists extraordinaire, he being the author of other field guides (which I don’t yet own) and she the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio. 

The Kaufmans have color coded each section of the 7.75 X 4.75-inch book, making for easy reference. And though it’s a wee bit heavy (no heavier than the other book), it fits easily into the small pack I carry for explorations of the natural world. Of course, David Brown’s Trackards, accompany it. 

Speaking of tracks, the Kaufmans do offer a few identifying features of such, but they also recommend two other sources: the Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks and Paul Rezendes’ Tracks and the Art of Seeing.  I highly recommend both as well,

plus Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder,

which just happens to include me in the acknowledgements. But . . . 

my go-to guide in the field remains David Brown’s Trackards

Back to the Kaufman guide: I wish I’d had it with me this past summer when I encountered sulphur butterflies puddling on a dirt road in the western Maine town of Fryeburg. First off, the section on butterflies and moths begins with an explanation of their life cycles and the differences between the two, including an illustration of their antennae. 

In addition, a feature I really like is the view of the upper and underside of the wings since . . . 

 some butterflies “keep their wings tightly closed above their backs when at rest, 

showing their bright undersides mainly in flight,” state the Kaufmans on page 302. 

I could have fluctuated between Clouded Sulphur and Pink-edged Sulphur in my determination, but the description on page 302 reminded me that the latter prefers bogs and blueberry barrens and I was standing in the midst of a farm where milkweed, other wildflowers and hay grew. The other thing that supported my attempt at ID was that though my butterflies did have  pink-edged wings, the dots matched those of the Clouded in the book. 

And since it is now winter, the guide will be handy to pull out when showing others what a critter looks like–especially if we have the joy of spying one. 

Occasionally that happens, such as on one occasion last winter when a few of us saw this mink. Please forgive the fuzziness–a result of my excitement. 

And had I purchased the book sooner, I could have pulled it out as two friends and I watched an otter frolic in early summer. 

But . . . now I have it and it is the perfect addition to my pack, whether for solo hikes or with others when we question what we’re seeing. 

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this book is the voice of the authors, which echoes my own thoughts. (And their sweet dedications to each other on page 4.)

In the introduction, Kenn writes, “Once a person goes outdoors with senses attuned to nature, the sheer diversity of living things is both delightful and maddening, both reassuring and overwhelming.” Just this morning, Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I exchanged an email conversation about the very same thought and gave thanks that we still have so much to learn. 

Kaufman continues, “If we try to look at everything in nature, we find so many things that we never get past the edge of the parking lot.” I chuckled when I read that because my peeps and I have said the same thing, whether I’m tramping with the docents of the Greater Lovell Land Trust or a group of Maine Master Naturalists

Does the book cover every single species to be discovered in New England? That would be impossible–or at least too heavy to tote along on a tramp. “Our intent has been to cover those things that people are most likely to notice, so we have exercised a bias toward the most conspicuous plants and animals.” With that in mind, my suggestion: purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England and throw it into your pack. Then purchase any other guide books and refer to them when you get home. 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England by Kenn Kaufman & Kimberly Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Twig and Bud Primer of western Maine

Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, others small figurines or coins or stamps or antique cars or beer caps or . . . TWIGS! Yep, I would fall into the latter category and because I used them last week to teach a class, I thought I’d also share them with you.

If you stop reading right now, I understand. If you choose to continue, please know that some of what you read I’ve learned from the Maine Master Naturalist course, which first opened my eyes to twigs and buds; some from a variety of books on the subject; and lots from personal observation. You may not always agree with me, but I strongly encourage you to step outdoors and take a look. Keep track of your observations and begin to note idiosyncrasies.  But do remember this: nature hasn’t read the books and doesn’t always follow the rules we’ve insisted upon as we try to make sense of the world around us. 

Next year’s flower and leaf buds formed this past summer and overwinter inside bud scales, which are actually modified leaves. Most scales, such as this one, provide protection with a waxy coating. (Species: Norway Maple, Acer platanoides)

Terminal buds are  located at the tips of most twigs. When that bud forms, the tree ceases to grow for the year. At the base of the terminal bud is a leaf scar where a former leaf stem was attached to the twig. And within the leaf scar are little corky dots called bundle scars that were actually the vascular tissue that had connected the leaf to the twig. Think veins. The shape of the leaf scar and number of bundle scars can be used as an identifying mark since they are often consistent across a species. (Species: White Ash, Fraximus americana)

Leaf scars come in a variety of shapes, including monkey faces topped with hairy caps. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinera)

Others may be shield shaped, though you could also see a bit of a funny face in this one. (Species: Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata)

And there are those that nearly encircle the bud. (Species: Staghorn Sumac, Rhus hirta)

Some twigs feature a false terminal bud. In reality, it was a lateral or side bud that took the position of the terminal bud. On twigs that don’t have actual terminal buds, such as American Elm and Basswood, the wood kept growing until the tree could no longer supply it with nutrients or something else impeded its growth. The twig then died back to the last terminal bud and dropped off. (Species: American Elm, Ulmus americana)

On those twigs with a false terminal bud, a branch scar was left behind when the woody structure broke off. The branch scar is located . . . 

opposite the leaf scar, which contains bundle scars. (The branch scar does not have bundle scars.) (Species: American Basswood, Tilia americana)

Below the terminal or false terminal buds are lateral buds, those which grow on the side of the twig. Their orientation may be opposite, such as this example. (Species: Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum)

Others are alternate. The cool thing about this example is that the alternate buds are also appressed, meaning they grow flat to the twig; and they are one scaled (well, actually two scales fused together as one). (Species: Willow, Salix spp.)

Alternate appressed buds may grow far apart or quite close to each other such as with this particular tree and its globous buds. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)

Others are divergent and stick out away from their twig. (Species: American Beech, Fagus grandifolia)

Then there’s the pith. I just like saying that word–pith, pith, pith. Pith is the soft central core or interior of the twig. It comes in a variety of patterns including round, triangular and star-shaped such as is illustrated here. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)

In some species, its shape is best viewed in cross-section by halving the twig lengthwise with a sharp knife. Diaphragmed pith, solid with partitions, can be seen in Black Gum, which I didn’t find. But this example is chambered pith, which is hollow with partitions. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinerea)

Another fun characteristic that aids in identification is the occurrence of catkins on members of the birch family. (Note: Betulaceae, the birch family, includes six genera of deciduous nut-bearing trees and shrubs: the birches, alders, hazels, hornbeams, hazel-hornbeam, and hop-hornbeams.) (Species: Speckled Alder, Alnus incana ssp.rugosa) Speckled Alder is really a shrub, but don’t tell it that. 

Another fun thing to point out are the growth rings on twigs. We often think of aging a tree by counting the rings from the heartwood out to the bark, but . . . twigs have rings of their own. They’re a bit raised and wrinkled in presentation, but each cluster of rings indicates where that year’s leaf and flower buds had formed, developed, and released their seeds. After that, the twig continued to grow. The same will develop once the current buds complete their cycle. (Species: Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum)

If you’ve stuck with me, know that the end is in sight. I’d like to conclude this post with examples of some of my favorite trees found in the western Maine woods. I’ll begin with those deciduous trees with alternate buds. This particular twig is in a family that features catkins. It has several cousins so it’s worth getting to know a few of them. Notice the hairy twig, but not so hairy and rather pointed buds. Buds on older branches grow on stacked scars, which I’ll share an example of in a minute. If you were to squeeze these buds, they’d be sticky. Those are all great clues, and here’s one more. The tree’s bark is white and it curls away from the tree in rather big sheets. 

Did you guess correctly? 

Here’s a cousin and that example of stacked scars with the bud at the end that I promised. Notice the lack of hair? The clues for this species: scrape the bark on the twig and sniff it. Does it smell like wintergreen? And the bark on the trunk–does it peel away like ribbons? (Species: Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis)

And another member of the Betula family. This one is an early succession tree, meaning it grows quickly in fields and along roads that have been disturbed. But it is also the shortest lived of the family and doesn’t reach an old age in tree years (Yellow Birch can grow to be about 250 years and Paper Birch about 150). This species is lucky if it reaches its 90th birthday. Though you can’t see it here, the twig isn’t hairy, but it is quite bumpy or warty. And it doesn’t have a wintergreen odor if scratched. Also, the bud isn’t sticky. Though only one catkin is shown here, it could have two, while Paper Birch has three and Yellow three or four. Who is this? 

I’m sure you guessed it. 

Another of alternate twig and bud orientation, this particular bud is often described as a cigar. I’m not sure that works for me–maybe as it expands a bit in the spring, but the multiple overlapping scales and pointed tip make it seem obvious as its different from all other presentations. Plus, its leaves are marcescent, meaning they wither or remain on many younger trees throughout the winter. Actually, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking a mammal is moving nearby for in a slight breeze the marcescent leaves rattle. I’ll admit I’ve jumped a few times. Back to the buds–the other thing to note is that like a New York Fern, it tapers at both ends (maybe they, too, keep their lights on at both ends of the day). Who is this? 

Bingo! You are on a roll! I should define lenticel at this point. Those raised white dots on the twig are the lenticels, which are the pores that provide openings for air-gas exchange. 

We haven’t talked about the fact that some twigs have buds crowded at the tip. In this particular case, I think of them as a crown. 

This cousin also wears a crown. So, what are their differences? The first is more conical and shinier than the second. And look at their colors. Number 1 comes in shades of chestnut brown, while number 2 is much darker and almost reddish brown in tone. You’d have to look carefully to see the silky hairs at the pointed tip of number 1, but trust me that they are there. Number 2 is hairless and blunt. 

This is number 1. Did you guess that correctly? And number 2 is . . . White Oak, Quercus alba

Now it’s on to trees with opposite orientation. And if you think you’re seeing double, you are! I used this photograph at the start. But now, let’s compare this twig to that of a cousin. 

Can you see the fuzz on this one? And no fuzz on the one above? Also, notice in the first one the notched leaf scar. The second is not deeply notched. Who are they? 

Two of the three ashes that grow locally. Identifying White and Green Ash, as they are respectively, is never easy, but the hairs or lack of, and the shape of the leaf scars are the key elements. 

And finally, two members of probably everyone’s favorite fall trees. Notice the lateral buds are arranged on opposite sides. The buds and branch are purplish brown. On the twig, the buff colored lenticels practically jump out. The bud is a tad bit hairy and sharp pointed. Do you see the leaf scar bundles? How many? I hope you counted three. And who might this be? 

You are almost done. Only one last twig to examine. 

This one is probably Maine’s signature tree when it comes to fall foliage. And of all the members of the Maple family, this is the most abundant species. So, remember the crowded buds on the Oaks? Well, this twig also sometimes wears a crown. But, the terminal bud is wedged between two opposite lateral buds. And the color–red, because there’s always something red on this tree. Hint. Hint. If that didn’t give it away, this will . . . 

I love Red Maple. If you haven’t done so, follow the progression of its buds and I hope you’ll be wowed when it flowers next spring. Until I looked, I never noticed its dainty flowers. Now, I can’t not look. 

If you’ve stayed with me thus far, congratulations. You deserve an award. Or at least a hearty THANK YOU!   

 There’s more, but I’ll let the bigwigs handle that. I just learned of a new book about trees that I plan to purchase soon entitled Woody Plants of the Northern Forest: A Photographic Guide by Jerry Jenkins. Thanks to fellow naturalist Anita Smith for the recommendation. I can’t wait to add it to my bookshelf. 

Who knew there could be so many idiosyncrasies? After all, aren’t they all just twigs and buds? Ah, the wonder. 

I hope you’ll refer to this primer periodically as you gain a better understanding of twig morphology. And share it with your friends 😉

Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate. 

I Spy . . .

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

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

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

1

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

2

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

3

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

4

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

5

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

6

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

7

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

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

8

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

9

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

10

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

11

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

12

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

13

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

14

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

15

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

16

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

17

And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

18

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

19

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

20

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

22

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

23

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

24

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

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

25

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

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

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

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

Focus on Home Mondate

Some days are meant to be spent at home, especially when there’s yard work to finish up before the snow flies. And so today was just such a day and my guy chose to work on the leaves while I finished putting the gardens to bed and mowed one last time for this year.

1-bird's nest fungi

It was while putting the garden to bed that I made a discovery–a form of bird’s nest fungi, this one being Crucibulum laeve! The structure is so named because it resembles a tiny bird nest. Prior to spore distribution, each “nest” is covered with a yellowish lid. Inside, the little disc-shaped “eggs” are called peridioles, which contain the spores. When a raindrop falls into the nest, the eggs are projected out of the cup. I’ve had the honor or watching that one rainy day, but it was one of those “you had to be there” moments that will live on in my mind’s eye.

2-porcupine tree

In one of the gardens stands a rather decrepit Quaking Aspen. It’s a favorite tree for woodpeckers and porcupines. thus it’s terrible condition. And usually I post photos of bear claw trees, but this particular aspen sports many, many porcupine scratches, some new and others older, such as these.

3-lady bug

As I looked at the bark to notice what else might be about, I spotted a spotted ladybug. We’d had a frost overnight, but she continued to move, however lethargically.

12-bagworm

By the kitchen garden, I found another insect I’d forgotten all about these last few weeks–the caterpillar larvae of the Psychidae or bagworm moths that construct cases out of silk and environmental materials, much the way a caddisfly might. It’s the perfect camouflage from predators such as birds and even other insects.

4-milkweed seed

Everywhere throughout the garden were milkweed seeds, some wearing beaded skirts that will likely keep them in place. That’s fine with me, for I love milkweed. Even if this one does eventually fly away on a whim and voluntarily plant itself in another location, I know that my plants will produce more seeds for they also increase their population via underground tuberous rhizomes. Some call them invasive; I call them welcome.

12-hole in yard?

I’m not so sure the creator of this large hole in the yard is welcome. I know my guy wasn’t impressed. It’s about a foot wide and deep. We suspect one of “our” woodchucks. I’d rather think it was excavated by the beautiful red fox that crosses the yard several times a day, but it’s a bit away from the fox’s route.

5-mealy pixie cup lichen

My wander eventually took me from the garden to the stone walls, where lichens form their own little gardens and support such species as the Mealy Pixie Cups, a fruticose lichen with a stalk or podetia below the cup.

6-Rock Shield

Foliose-styled rock shield lichens grow abundantly on the rock’s surface, their success due to the numerous disk-shaped structures called apothecia. Reproductive spores develop on the rolled edges of the brown berets, awaiting the time when conditions are just right for them to move on and grow into a new lichen.

7-Cinder Lichen

Crustose lichens were the most plentiful with their painted on appearance, like this ash-gray Cinder Lichen that reminded me of a mosaic piece of artwork.

8-Concentric Boulder Lichen

One of my favorite crustoses, however,  was the Concentric Boulder Lichen with its raised blackish-brown apothecia. Each time I saw the pattern created by the little disks, I felt like I was looking at a maze.

9-tent caterpillar egg cases

And then I stepped over the wall and turned my attention to some trees. That’s when I spied numerous tent caterpillar eggs cases. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar overwinters as an egg. Each one is part of a greater mass of anywhere from 150 to 400 eggs. They encircle a branch and are almost impossible to see, until your eye begins to recognize the structure. This was an old one and no longer had the shiny varnish-like coating that will help keep winter at bay.

11-red maple flower and leaf buds

Also keeping winter at bay were the waxy scales of tree leaf and flower buds. The buds formed in the summer and now must wait for February’s warm sun before they begin to swell and ready themselves for next spring’s bloom. In the meantime, they are snug inside their tight structures.

10-tube caterpillar tube

My next great find–tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. Though Eastern White Pine needles grow in packets of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the white pine, spelling “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the state tree.) Anyway, the tube moth used silk to bind a bunch of  needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Can you see the silk at the top? Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news is that Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.

13-pinesap winter capsules

One of my favorite finds as I headed down the cowpath toward home was actually an old friend–Pinesap in its winter capsule form. Pinesap is similar to Indian Pipe, another Monotropa (once turned speaking to its flower that turns upright after fertilization). The creamy whitish flowers developed into woody capsules. As the capsules mature, the structures become erect. Once ripened, seeds will be released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsules.

14-False Tinder Polypore

I was back in the grassy part of our yard when I passed by a tree in the corner and made a new discovery–a false tinder conk or polypore, with its black fissured cap. My very own Phellinus ignarius! While a Tinder Conks pore surface is usually concave, in the false specimen, it’s angled downward from the rim to the tree.

I know my friend Faith will see a smiley face in the upper spore surface; it rather reminds me of a weasel.

We never left home today, my guy and me. Our focus was on the yard, but mine was a wee bit different than his. And for those of you who have been asking–these photographs were all taken with the Canon Rebel T3i. Yep, that’s the one that got wet when I decided to flip off a boardwalk last May.

Mondate Challenge

It was a mere drizzle when we stepped outside and walked to Pondicherry Park, but eventually we needed to pull up the hoods of our raincoats. Our journey was rather quick as we followed first the Snowshoe Hare trail, and then the Pasture Trail, which led us to the Stonewall Loop, where two thirds of the way around, we diverted.

1-crossing onto LEA property

Our main intention had been to cross over the stonewall that marks the park’s boundary and explore the Pinehaven Trail owned by Lakes Environmental Association. It is on this land that the Maine Lake Science Center is located, but there are other cool features as well.

2-You Are Here

As the first sign informed us, we had arrived. And you can see by the moisture that it was raining in earnest.

3-park rules

Funding for the Pinehaven Trail signs and low-element course was provided by LEA Board Member Roy Lambert and his wife Mary Maxwell, summer residents of Bridgton who have made a huge impact on protecting the lakes and ponds we all love. Roy has brought the LakeSmart Program to LEA and Mary has spearheaded LEA’s invasive plant patrols.

Despite the fact that the sign warned us the course is “dangerous when wet,” we decided to test it out. After all, we were accompanied by a leaf as indicated.

4-Birds on a Wire

Broken into four wonderful sets, each offering a variety of activities, we began by becoming birds on a wire.

5-my own nuthatch pose

Though I would have liked to say that I was a Barred Owl or Cooper’s Hawk, being a Nuthatch wasn’t so bad.

6-my guy nuthatch

My guy . . .

7-walking the tightrope

was also a Nuthatch.

8-next set of challenges

Set Two meant getting more practice in the art of walking on a balance beam. It looked so easy, but with each one, the level of difficulty increased a bit as our confidence did the same . . . for the most part.

10-balance beam series

And at first, our eyes saw only a few anomalies in the woods, but once we focused we realized each leg of the course was more involved than first anticipated.

11-swinging beam

The second set found us not only keeping our balance on the beams that zigzagged through the grove, but also on a swinging beam.

12-stepping up

And then we had to step up and up and up.

14-around the white pine

One of my favorite parts was circling the tree like a rock wall climber might do.

15-tree hugger!

In the process, I got to hug the pine, not that I ever need an excuse.

13-bench

My other favorite part of Set Two was the bench. There were other benches along the trail, but I found this one to be the most aesthetically appealing. Even if you don’t want to try out the course, you can walk the trail and sit a bit. You might just see a deer–we did. And in the past I’ve seen other animals including a red fox.

16-Alanna's signs

As we walked on, not sure if there were more sets, we spied the first interpretive sign created by LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, and featuring her explanations and drawings. I LOVE them. And want to decorate my house with them. I didn’t tell my guy that. The other thing I loved about all the signage–it was mounted on rough-edged boards, adding to the natural look. Do I know the creator of those boards? A local box company perhaps?

17-third set

Much to our delight, not much further on we came to Set Three.

18-Enchanted Forest

The forest really was enchanted and we found ourselves using all four modes of operation in order to get from one piece of wood to the next.

19-tree cookie steps

There were lots of tree cookies to step on and more balance beams to conquer.

20-hopping along

Sometimes we hopped like toads, who don’t leap as far as frogs with their longer hind legs.

21-a balancing act

Other times we had to channel our inner Cooper’s Hawk as there was no place to put our hands.

22-waiting for the wires to stop swaying

And in doing so, my guy figured out that pausing to wait for the wire to stop swaying made for an easier crossing. He succeeded. (I need to sneak back and practice this one some more as my knees were a tad too shaky.) We suspected that kids run across without giving it a thought. And so our excuse–it was raining.

23-yeegads--getting higher

Though it looked intimidating at first, moving across the log was fun, but I wasn’t so sure about the beam that turned out to be the highest one yet. It felt like crossing a brook and so after he finished I asked my guy to come back and give me a supporting hand. He laughed and asked if I expected him to stand in the imaginary water. Yes! Chivalry at its best. Once I started across while grasping his hand, I felt rather confident and soon let go. At the other side, I rejoiced in my success. And thanked him, of course.

24-clean water

Onward still, we encountered another one of Alanna’s signs, simple yet informative. And still, we were accompanied by a leaf. And no, we didn’t place the leaves on the signs.

This sign struck me as extremely important, not that the others weren’t. But . . . clean water is what the Lakes Environmental Association is all about.

26-Paul Bunyan's Playground

At last we reached the final set, or first if you approach from Willet Road. Again, a leaf 😉

As for how good would we be as lumberjacks? Well, my guy would pass. I’d almost get there, but I have to work on my log rolling skills.

26a-variety of swings

What I liked about the final set was not only the focus on various types of trees, but also that the same theme was executed in a variety of ways and so we crossed another swinging step bridge.

27-I got this!

Sometimes, the choice to be a Nuthatch or Barred Owl didn’t exist and we had to become Cooper’s Hawks as we had nothing to grab onto while moving forward.

28-now you don't see him

There were opportunities to be apes as well and then disappear around the back sides of rather large pine trees, their girth indicative of the fact that the land had once been agricultural and the trees grew in abundant sunshine after it was no longer farmed. So, do you see my guy?

30-now you do

Now you do! Circling around that tree was as fun as the first and it had ash tree foot and hand holds.

31-Me Tarzan

He Tarzan! And notice how the piece he was about to step onto was set on a log. Yup, it was a foot seesaw. There were several and we really liked them.

32-rope climbing, log rolling

The last set included climbing a rope to the upper deck and then descending the ladder to another and on to a balance beam and then the log rolling. He did it all. I saved the wet log for another visit.

33-Mast sign

Just beyond the final set was Alanna’s last sign and a hot topic this year since last year’s mast crop of white pine cones, acorns, maple samaras, and beech nuts have meant a banner year for squirrels and mice. Remember, those little rodents don’t have as much food this year and they’ll become food for the predators and nature will try to balance itself once again. Oh, and not only are Alanna’s drawings beautiful but her humor and voice come through in the interpretive signs.

34-across the boardwalk and back into the park

As for us, we had finished our balancing act, crossed the science center’s driveway, followed the second portion of the Pinehaven Trail and wound our way down to the board walk that passes back into Pondicherry Park. From there, we found our way home.

What a blast. I think we were both a bit let down that we’d finished the course.

Thank you LEA, Alanna, Roy and Mary, for providing us with a delightful Mondate Challenge . . . even in the rain.  My guy and I highly recommend the Pinehaven Trail.

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

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

1-Into the jungle

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

1a-cinnamon fern

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

1b-hairy underarm

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

2-kettle

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

3-white face meadowhawk

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

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

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

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

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

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

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

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

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

5-mammal tracks

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

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

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

8-spatterdock leaves and root

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

9-another kettle

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

10-green teal ducks

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

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

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

13-cranberries

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

14-some nibbled cranberries

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

15-October colors layered

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

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

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

18-royal fern fertile fronds

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

21-buttonbush galore, but more

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

22-two sandhill cranes

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

23-sandhill cranes

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

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

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

29-bald eagle

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

30-cranes flew out

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

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

 

Making Connections

“The Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is a series of events led by outdoor-oriented organizations and companies to celebrate the how, where, and what of being active outside in Maine. Our goal is to connect our friends and neighbors with the natural world, to promote fun, physical activity, & good health.”  ~greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org

In the spirit of the GMOW, the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust co-hosted a paddle at the Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, aka Brownfield Bog, in Brownfield today.

1-fine fall morning

Though the temperature was a bit nippy, as in mid-50˚s to start (and colder in the shade), we couldn’t have asked for a better autumn day, especially given that we first began planning this event last winter.

b-Kathy's sign 1

In what seemed like perfect timing for they didn’t all pull in at once, vehicles laden with kayaks and even one canoe, arrived and folks who’d never met before helped each other carry boats, paddles and personal floatation devices down the road. Then we stood in our traditional circle, where Erika of USVLT and I welcomed everyone and introduced our two organizations. By the tile sign created by Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy, I pointed out our location and destination along the Old Course of the Saco River.

2-walking to the put in

And then we all walked down the road to the put-in site . . .

3-kayaks on parade

where our parade of kayaks awaited the adventure.

4-onto the old course

One at a time the boats were launched. And then the magic began. It was two-fold in that I’d challenged our twenty participants, some of whom had learned of the event via our advertising efforts locally and were already members of our organizations, and others who discovered the event via the GMOW website and wanted to try something new. The challenge was to spend some time chatting with people they’d never met before. And they did. Conversations ranged from living in New York to termite mounds in Africa.

Folks came from Fryeburg, Bridgton, Lovell, Standish, Jackson and North Conway, as well as Westbrook, Portland, and Cape Elizabeth. But that wasn’t all, for one joined us from Philadelphia and two came from Houston. Our furthest traveler hailed from London. Well, truth be told, she’s a long-time GLLT member, docent and board member who spends at least four months in Lovell. 😉 Thanks Moira.

5-tapestry of color

The tapestry of colors was the other magical element. We chatted about the colors and the carotenoids (yellows and orange pigment) showing up as the leaves stop producing sugar and starch for the tree, and the chemical process that produces the anthocyanin or red coloration.

14-lily pad aphids and yellowjackets

We mentioned the lily pad aphids that sought nutritious sap and noted how the yellowjackets took advantage of the honeydew secretions the aphids offered.

12-soaring above--bald eagles

And some of us had the joy of watching two Bald Eagles soar on the thermals above.

16a-beaver works

There were some fresh beaver works to note and we did spy a few lodges, though none looked active.

7-duck hunters

And for most of the trip we heard the duck hunters’ gunshots as they took aim, though I think we scared a few of them off. The hunters that is. Well, we know we scared a few ducks off as well.

6-ahhhhh

But, what the day was really all about was an enjoyment of being outdoors and sharing a place many had never explored before.

8-around every bend

Around every bend, we discovered different threads, our own colors sewn into the tapestry.

9-the tree

One of my favorites is what I’ve come to call “The Tree.” It’s a perfectly shaped Red Maple that protects a beaver lodge–if you peak below the lower branches on the left, you may see the pointed top of the lodge.

10-the tree's reflection

Even The Tree’s reflection was worth several expressed “Ahhs.”

11-color enhanced by clouds

Though the clouds weren’t many, some enhanced the scene.

15-more color

With each stroke of the paddle it seemed we reached new vantage points where the artwork was similar . . .

16- and more reflections

yet different.

How could it get anymore beautiful?

13-lily pads upturned

Even the lily pads stood out as if seeking recognition for their presentation.

17-turn around point

At last we reached the end of the road, or rather Old Course. That was our turn-around point.

18-preparing to head back

And so we did . . . turn around.

20-taking a break

Before heading immediately back, however, we paused for a few moments to sip some water.

21-enjoying lunch

And a few new friends even enjoyed rafting up while they ate their picnic lunches.

26-the tree again

The trip back passed by much more quickly, as it always does. But still, The Tree called for attention.

23-yellow-rumped warbler

And so did the young Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew in and out among the Pickerel Weeds.

25-yellow-rumped warbler

They moved in a flock from weeds to the shrubs and back again and a few of us recalled the thicker than thick mosquito population we’ve encountered at the bog in the past, but exalted the insects because of the birds they feed. Today, we were mosquito free and thankful for that. The birds seemed to find what they needed to sustain them. There are still plenty of insects about, just not bothersome ones.

30-pulling boats out

Three hours later, we found our way back to the launch site and once again helped each other stabilize boats and bodies and then carry the boats and gear back to the vehicles. Our journey together had ended, but . . . we had all chatted with a variety of people and left with smiles on our faces and in our hearts for the morning we’d spent together.

29-layers

We’d connected in the most beautiful setting thanks to everyone’s effort of choosing to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.

For help making those connections, thank you Jesse Wright of USVLT for initiating this paddle with me so many moons ago, and to Trisha Beringer of USVLT for the time we shared walking and paddling in preparation, as well as taking the lead on the sign-up process, and to Erika Rowland of USVLT for transporting boats, taking up the lead when Trisha got sick, and being flexible along the way.

What a great day and great way to spend time outdoors in Maine.

 

 

Speaking to the Future, Jinny Mae

As a kid, science and history eluded me. Reading, and writing, and even, ‘rithmitic, I embraced. Well, only a wee bit of the latter, though my father thought my abilities were far greater than they were and he saw a bank position in my future. He was the mathematician. It wasn’t a subject for me to pursue. And so I became an English teacher.

And then one day I woke up and found I’d developed an interest in the how and why and the science of stuff. Added to that was a desire to know more about the past. And voila, here I am, some days spending way too many hours pursuing insects in the garden or bark on tree or dragonflies buzzing about. Other days, its following trails of yore and trying to understand the lay of the land and those who came before that interests me. My favorite days are probably those that find me pursuing the two subjects simultaneously.

1-Ambush Bug on Hydrangea

Today, I devoted spurts of time to a hydrangea bush that we rescued from a shady spot in our yard about fifteen years ago and transplanted to a sunny spot. What once was a dying shrub that rarely produced more than one flower is now a healthy specimen laden with blooms. And the insects love it.

My biggest surprise, however, was to find an Ambush Bug sitting atop one of the newly opened white flower petals. For the first time since I’ve been paying attention, the bug was on something other than a goldenrod and I could truly see its body. I’ve always thought it exhibited a hint of a smile, and do believe I’m correct.

An Ambush Bug is my “iguana” insect for its body structure always brings to mind a neighbor’s iguana that got loose one day and never was spied again when we were kids. (Or was it? Didn’t we find a dead iguana on the old dump road, Kate and Lynn? Was that Rob’s lizard?) Anyway, I think the Ambush Bug resembles an iguana, on a much smaller scale, of course. MUCH smaller.

2-Ambush Bug

Seeing the bug on the white petals really threw me for a loop. Why was it there? What would it ever find to eat? The pollinators no longer bothered with the shrub on which it stood. They’d moved on to the goldenrods and asters below.

And how could this insect behave as one who ambushes when it was hardly camouflaged on the white petal? It must have questioned the same (if Ambush Bugs can question) for it turned this way, then that, and back again, and then moved from petal to petal and flower to flower. Usually, it hardly seems to flex a muscle as it remains in one spot for hours or days on end.

3-eye to eye with Ambush Bug

We studied each other, eye to eye, or perhaps more correctly, lens to lens, until I blinked and it flew off. I trust it landed on a nearby goldenrod, where a meal wasn’t too long in the making.

4-Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Just after the Ambush Bug and I parted ways, I noticed a subtle movement below and watched a tiger moth caterpillar that reminded me of a soft boa scarf one might wrap around a neck quickly slither down another flower on the shrub until . . .  it reached the edge of the final petal and fell to the ground, climbed up a fern frond, found its way back to the shrub and moved on to the world within.

7-grasshopper 1

I was beginning to think that all of the insects on the hydrangea would move on or in, but then I met the Red-legged Grasshopper. He set his elbow on the leaf bar and we consulted each other. Would he fly away if I moved into his personal space, I wondered. He wanted to know why I stalked him.

8-red-legged grasshopper

I mentioned his body of armor and the herring bone design and the leg joints and the spurs on its legs that drew my awe.

9-grasshopper

As a solo traveler, I knew it didn’t appreciate that I wanted to share the space. But, I couldn’t resist. Notice its feet and the segments on its abdomen and even the veins in its wings. Did I mention its mandibles?

10-caterpillar scat

As it turned out, there may have been a reason it wanted to be alone, but I was there. To. Witness. The. Poop. A blessed moment. It would have been more of a blessed moment had it pooped on me. Oh, and did I mention that grasshopper poop, like all insect poop, isn’t called scat. Rather, it is frass. Thanks go to Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist in New Brunswick, Canada for reminding me of that term. Cheers Mike.

14-shield bug

Another moving about was a shield bug, so named for the shield on its back. It does make me think of a piece of metal one might use as protection. Combine the shield with the grasshopper’s suit of armor and you might think you were spending time in an earlier era. Much earlier.

15-shield bug

But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.

12a-shield bug eggs?

Depositing eggs.

13-shield bug eggs?

Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.

16-wasp within

The world I watched on the outside of the hydrangea made me wonder what might possibly go on within. As much as I wanted to break through the branches and take a better look, I knew I’d ruin everything and after all, it wasn’t my place. I did, however, get to witness one moving about briefly for a paper wasp left the goldenrods and heading under the hydrangea leaves to move the pollen about on its body. Why did it go under? Why not pause atop a leaf for such behavior? And how did it escape the inner world without . . .

16a-spider web

encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.

16b-web anchors

Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.

17-spiders

As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.

18-food in front

But one had set up its home on the eastern side of the shrub and so it spent the day in the shade and enjoyed fine dining on a small bee that I assume made a mistake of pausing while shifting some pollen on its body.

19-dining

There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.

21-dinner in hand

Later in the day, a web weaver on the western side began to show itself–and it also had a meal secured.

All of the insects and arachnids I saw, and I had to assume even more enjoyed the inner structure of the condo that the shrub certainly was, all spoke not to the past, but to the future.

And with that, I dedicate this blog entry to you, Jinny Mae. You have a better eye and understanding and ask better questions than I ever will. Here’s to the future!

So Many Advantages Along the Mountain Division Trail

When opportunity knocks, so they say, open the door. Today, it wasn’t really a door that I opened, but rather a trail that I explored. And it wasn’t a new trail to me, for I’ve ventured along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg many times before.

1-trail sign

But my morning and afternoon plans changed and I happened to be in the vicinity and I don’t think I’ve ever walked that way in late summer before–so I did what I love to do best and set off down the path beside the now defunct railroad track. And I was curious to discover who else might be taking advantage of it on this fine September day.

2-monarch caterpillar

Within minutes, I made my first discovery–a monarch butterfly caterpillar crawled along the paved trail. I’d actually chosen this spot for I hoped to see a few monarchs and my chances suddenly increased.

3-red-legged grasshopper

Also using the asphalt were innumerable grasshoppers of several types including this red-legged, and crickets galore. In fact, between them and cicadas, I could almost not hear the traffic on Route 302 at the start. Almost.

4-rail trail

Within minutes, however, the trail passed behind several businesses and then curved away from the road and toward Eastern Slope Airport. It was occasionally flat, occasionally straight, occasionally curved, and occasionally hilly. But always paved. And much quieter.

5-spotted knapweed and web

Constantly, the offerings changed. Knapweed with its pineapple-like base, which loves disturbed areas, had made itself at home. And a spider had used the structure to create its own home.

6a-monarch

As I walked, I began to notice them–a monarch fluttering past here and another there. At last, I found one that had paused to take advantage of the nourishment offered by an aster.

6-monarch on aster

I stood for as long as it would allow . . .

7-monarch on aster

enjoying every pose presented.

8-crystalline tube gall

A little further, I found something I only remember seeing for the first time a few weeks ago–I think it’s a crystalline tube gall on the oak leaf, but urchin gall would be my second guess.

9-banded tussock caterpillar

On the same leaf, either a banded-tussock moth caterpillar or a Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar munched away, so similar are they. Check out all the bristles by the head–both an extra set of black and a more subtle set of white.

10-water

By what I assumed was an old mill pond fed by a small brook, the watery world quietly intercepted all other communities found along this path.

11-painted turtle

And today, a painted turtle watched nonchalantly from a log in the pond as the world passed by–runners, walkers and bikers on the path above . . . some who hardly noted his presence.

12-male blue dasher

And dragonflies,  including this mighty handsome green-eyed blue dasher, below. Do you see the hint of amber in his wings? One of the telltale signs.

13-pokeweed poking through the fence

Continuing on, I was surprised by a sight I’d seen before because I’d forgotten its presence. Pokeweed flowered and fruited and . . . poked through the fencing that formed a boundary along parts of the trail.

14-northern white cedar

There’s also a short section where northern white cedar formed a wall, its woody cones all opened in an expression of giving forth new life and its leaves scaled like skinny braids.

15-pipewort gone to seed

Being a greatly disturbed zone, pilewort grew in abundance and its seeds danced and twirled and sashayed through the air like ghostly angels blowing in the wind. Actually, the graceful seedheads were much more attractive than the flower in bloom.

16-Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace had also bloomed profusely, but today showed only its winter weed form full of tiny seeds edged with rows of bristles. The better to ground itself somewhere when the time comes, I supposed.

17-Bristly sarsaparilla fruits

Speaking of bristles, bristly sarsaparilla sent its many-fruited umbels out through the fence, perhaps in offering to those passing this way.

18-into infinity

So many offerings I’d seen by the time I reached about the three mile mark and I knew there would be even more on the way back so I used my own imaginary turntable and began the return trip.

20-spider web between pipewort

It was then that a web strung with great and amazing strength between two pileworts caught my attention. First, I couldn’t believe the distance between the two plants or the thickness of the anchoring web. And then I noticed something else . . .

21-seeds caught in web

An orb about two thirds of the way across, decorated with pilewort seeds that will take a little longer than usual to get established on the ground. Will they be viable, I wondered.

23-funnel spider

Another industrious arachnid had used one of the fence pipes to make himself a home. Can you see the funnel spider waiting in the tunnel for delectable prey to land on his web?

22-goat

And then there were the goats, this one and two others who munched beside the trail. I called their owner because I feared they’d broken out of their pen (or someone had opened the gate). Her number was on a board attached to a tree as she’d advertised her daycare business to all who passed by. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and I learned that she lets them out for an hour or so each day to feed on the weeds. Weeds? What weeds. All I saw where wildflowers aplenty. Anyway, if you go, do know that you may encounter the goats and they are not gruff at all.

24-cabbage white butterfly

While I saw a few more monarchs as I wandered back, a few other butterflies at least half the size of the royal ones moved with dainty motions. For the cabbage white butterfly, the asters were all the thing. But like so many of the wildflowers that have taken root in this disturbed place, this butterfly also disturbs people because it has a penchant for damaging crops.

26-northern cloudywing skipper butterfly

Even smaller was the northern cloudywing skipper that stopped atop a red maple sapling. Males perch near the ground awaiting females, so his chosen spot made sense. His wing scales gave him such a satiny look as he shown in the light and his earth-tone colors included hints of purple.

It was all about the earth, I noted, as I walked along the Mountain Division Trail. Years ago, the path that I followed today had been used to construct the railroad track. And then in the 2000s, the rail trail had been built beside it. Over the years, I’m sure the railroad track had been enhanced. So the land was indeed disturbed . . . repeatedly.

And now, just as I took advantage of it to follow the well-constructed trail, so many others had done the same–both human and non. Not all were beneficial, but still they eeked out a life in that place. From insects and “weeds” to turtles and tree, there are so many advantages available along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine.

 

 

 

Our Home is Their Home

As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.

1-camp

What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.)  But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.

2-cicada exuviae

My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The  emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.

3-cruiser 1

The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.

3b-cruiser

One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.

4-cruiser hiding

I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .

6-cruiser and cast off spider

and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.

6a-lancet clubtail dragonfly

There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.

7-bag worms and pupal case of a pine sawfly

There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.

And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

8-pine sawfly caterpillar on screen

Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.

9-pine sawfly caterpillars

Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.

10-Northern Pine Sphinx

That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.

11-orbweaver

And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.

14a-calico pennant dragonfly in web

One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.

11a-Northern Pine Sphinx 2

A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.

13- Northern Sphinx 4

Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.

14-pine tree spur-throated grasshopper

Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.

Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.

 

Insects of Lovell

To say the insects of Lovell are the insects of Maine . . .  are the insects of New England . . .  is too broad a statement as we learned last night when Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist at the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, Canada, spoke at a Greater Lovell Land Trust talk  Mike helped us gain a better understanding of the relationship between trees, invasive insects and climate change in our grand State of Maine.

And then this morning, he led us down the trail on land conserved through the GLLT as a fee property and one held under conservation easement work.

1-what's that?

From the get-go, our curiosity was raised and we began to note every little motion above, at eye level, and our feet.

2-not an insect

Sometimes, what attracted our attention proved to be not an insect after all for it had two extra legs, but still we wondered. That being said, the stick we used to pick it up so we could take a closer look exhibited evidence of bark beetles who had left their signature in engraved meandering tunnels.

4-leaf miner scat

A bit further along, Mike pulled leaf layers apart to reveal the work of leafminers and our awe kicked up an extra notch. Leafminers feed within a leaf and produce large blotches or meandering tunnels. Though their work is conspicuous, most produce injuries that have little, if any, effect on plant health. Thankfully, for it seems to me that leaves such as beech are quite hairy when they first emerge and I’ve always assumed that was to keep insects at bay, but within days insect damage occurs. And beech and oak, in particular, really take a beating. But still, every year they produce new leaves . . . and insects wreak havoc.

6-leafminer pupa

Leafminers include larvae of moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), sawflies (Hymenoptera) and flies (Diptera). I’m still trying to understand their life cycles, but today we got to see their scat when Mike pulled back a leaf layer! How cool is that?  Instantly, I recognized a new parlor trick that I can’t wait to share with the GLLT after-school Trailblazers program we offer through Lovell Recreation.

7-grandma and granddaughter

As for today, Mike’s mother-in-law, Linda, tested the wow factor on her granddaughter and we knew we had a winner.

8-hickory tussock moth caterpillar

Our attention was then directed to the tussock moth caterpillars, including the hickory tussock moth that seems to enjoy a variety of leaf flavors.

9-another tussock

And we found another tussock entering its pupating stage. We didn’t dare touch any of them for the hair of the tussocks can cause skin irritation and none of us wanted to deal with that.

11-leaf roller

Our next find was a leaf roller, and for me the wonder is all about the stitches it creates to glue its rolled home closed.

12-meadow goldenrods

Eventually we reached a wildflower meadow where our nature distraction disorder shifted a bit from insects to flowers, including local goldenrods.

12a-up close

There was much to look at and contemplate and everyone took advantage of the opportunity to observe on his/her own and then consult with others.

13-silvery checkerspot butterfly

One insect we all noted was the Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly. It’s a wee one and in the moment I couldn’t remember its name.

14-checkerspots mating

But . . . it remembered how to canoodle and we reveled in the opportunity to see such.

15-bees on Joe Pye Weed

Our final insect notification was a bumblebee on the Joe-Pye-Weed. A year ago we had the opportunity to watch the bumblebees and honey bees in this very meadow, but today there were no honeybees because a local beekeeper’s hives collapsed last winter.

15a-Beside Kezar River

Our public walk ended but the day continued and I move along to the Kezar River Reserve to enjoy lunch before an afternoon devoted to trail work.

15b-darner exuvia

Below the bench that sits just above the river, I love to check in on the local exuvia–in this case a darner that probably continues to dart back and forth along the shoreline, ever in search of a delectable meal.

16-Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Landing frequently for me to notice was an Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, its body all ruby colored and legs reddish rather than black.

17-milk snake

My goal was to slip down to the river level like the local otters might and as I moved along I startled a small snake–a milk snake. Not an insect . . . but still!

19-Mrs. Slaty Skimmer

Because I was there, so was the female Slaty Slimmer Dragonfly, and she honored me by pausing for reflection.

18-slaty skimmer dragonflies

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice her subtle beauty, for love was in the air and on the wing.

20-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Lovell hosts many, many insects, but I certainly have a few favorites that change with the season and the location. Today, Ruby Meadowhawks were a major part of the display.

21-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Note the yellowish-brown face; yellowish body for a female; and black triangles on the abdomen, and black legs.

Our findings today were hardly inclusive, but our joy in noticing and learning far outweighed what the offerings gathered.

Ruby, Slaty, Miner, Tussock, Checkerspot, so many varieties, so many Insects of Lovell, and we only touched on the possibilities. Thank you, Mike, for opening our bug eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day The World Passed By

I love those days when I have a few moments and can pay attention to the world around me. It never ceases to fill me with awe and wonder. And today was such as I had a free hour that I chose to spend on the dock.

1-fishing spikder

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a fishing spider the size of my palm resting there, but I was for it was my first sighting of one this year. True confession, indoors I’m not a huge spider fan and as a kid I used to holler for someone to come kill any arachnid I spied. But . . . with age comes appreciation. And perhaps understanding.

2-fishing spider bristles

And so I appreciated this spider’s pattern and understood the need for its hairy body that gave it such a scary look. Fishing spiders hunt by sensing vibrations. The hair is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. It also allows the spider to actually walk on water to get its prey. Those bristly hairs also trap air bubbles that the spider uses to breathe when it waits underwater to ambush a meal, be it insects, tadpoles, or other invertebrates.

3-lancet clubtail and ant

When I heard wing beats behind me, I turned my focus away from Charlotte and toward a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly that had landed on a seat of My Guy’s boat. An ant marched right over to check it out.

4-ant tickling dragonfly

And I fully expected the Lance to eat the ant. But . . . he didn’t. Drats.  I like watching them consume their prey.

5-lancet minus one tarsus

The more I looked at this guy, and it was a guy based on its cercus, the more I noticed, including the fact that it was missing the tarsi or claw-like foot of one leg.

6-dragonfly_anatomy

It was his face though, that I really wanted to study. I found this simplified picture at arizonadragonfly.org, and though it’s not complete, it provided enough information for my purposes.

7-facial features of a dragonfly

There’s so much to learn, that to add more detail would be more than overwhelming. Look at the mouth parts. And those eyes–each is composed of 30,000 lenses. Apparently, they can see ultraviolet and polarized light. And then there’s the ocelli, or visual organs, that probably work along with the antennae. Prey don’t have a chance.

8-fishing spider

When the Lance flew away, I checked on Charlotte again. Still she sat, one leg dangling below the dock board and touching a web. I figured she was waiting for movement to announce that a meal had arrived.

9-Ted had arrived

And then I noticed that it wasn’t a meal, but perhaps a mate she’d been expecting.

11-spider movement

Suddenly, he darted under the dock and she started across the gap–toward me!

12-Charlotte the spider

Then she stopped, seemed to make an adjustment,  and quickly disappeared.

13-spider nursery

I moved in for a closer look and made a discovery.

14-spider nursery

Her nursery! Fishing spiders are nursery web spiders. She must have wrapped her eggs in a silken sac and carried it to the gap between the outer two boards of the dock, where she constructed the web. And she was standing guard waiting for her spiderlings to emerge–until I came along. Now the question remains, will I be around when they do hatch and disperse on their own silken threads?

15-bubble on water

I don’t know. But today, I was there to notice so much in such a short time–as the world passed by.

 

 

Self-Guided Tour of Sabattus Mountain

As stories go, Sabattus Mountain in Lovell offers plenty of lore. For starters, there’s the name of the mountain. I’ve heard at least two tales and seen three spellings, but basically the legend is the same–about a Pequawket named Sabatos, Sabatis, or Sabattus, who guided hunters and one day killed a lynx, or was it a mountain lion, before it sprang upon him.

In a July 14, 2017 article, Ed Parsons of the Conway Daily Sun wrote: “Sabattus was born in St. Francis, Canada, and with the influence of French missionaries, was named for St. John the Baptist, shortened to Sabattus. When Roger’s Rangers destroyed St. Francis in 1759, Sabattus was about 10 years old. He was kidnapped and went south with the rangers. Later, he went to Fryeburg with one of them, and spent the rest of his life in the area.

Sabattus had two children with the well-known area healer, Molly Ockett. In 1783, an earlier wife of his returned from a long trip to Canada, and claimed to be his spouse. To settle the dispute, Sabattus took them to the house of Mr. Wiley in Fryeburg so there would be a witness, and the two women fought, “hair and cloth flying everywhere.” Mrs. St. Francis, as Molly Ockett called the former wife, was stronger and won out. Molly Ockett left and moved to Andover, Maine.

There’s also the Devil’s Staircase, but that’s for another day.

s1-sign

Two Land for Maine’s Future program grants, along with funding from the Greater Lovell Land Trust, enabled the State of Maine to purchase 177 acres on and around Sabattus Mountain, protecting hiking access to Lovell’s highest peak. The trail is a 1.6-mile loop to and from the 1,253-foot summit. Sabattus Mountain is now owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The land trust, however, has taken a keen interest in upkeep of the trail system recently because there had been much erosion ever since Hurricane Irene and the State seemed to back off maintaining it. Last year, the GLLT’s three interns built numerous water bars, especially on the eastern trail.

s6-Brent's Loop Trail Sign

Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.

s2-self-guided nature walk

Today, a team of docents, associates and this year’s intern, under the well-organized leadership of GLLT Docent and Maine Master Naturalist Joan Lundin, installed informational signage along the loop.

s3-explaining the plan

The morning began as Joan divided the team into two groups. First she instructed Intern Isaiah (in red) and Stewardship Associate Dakota (in plaid), to take one set of signs up the western trail and leave them beside examples of particular species on the way.

s5-all smiles to go

Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.

s4-signs

All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.

s12-hi ho

And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.

s7-installing the first sign

Because she’d climbed the trail so often in order to prepare for today’s undertaking, Joan knew right where each sign belonged. At the start, she did most of the installing, showing off her muscle power on this steamy day, despite her petite physique.

s8-yellow birch

Each sign included common and scientific names, plus only a few key characteristics so not to overwhelm those who might stop to read them and look around to locate the particular species. It’s a technique decided long ago by the full team of docents who have undertaken this task each summer for years–always along a different GLLT trail.

s9-striped maple

The natural community along both trails on the loop system transitioned about two-thirds of the way up. For the lower portion, the community consisted of a variety of deciduous trees.

s13-hemlock

Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.

s14-sphagnum moss

Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.

s15-loop trail sign at ridge

As we hiked up the eastern trail, Dakota and Isaiah swung along the ridge line and came down to find us for they had only placed their signs along the western trail as instructed by Joan, and hadn’t yet pounded them into the earth. We chatted as we moved upward, talking about the turn ahead to the ridge, and Dakota told us we’d be pleased with how obvious it was since Brent had installed the new signs. Indeed!

s16-glacial erratic

Of course, we were a group that failed at following directions, and so off trail we went to check on the glacial erratic that we knew stood just beyond a downed tree.

s17-porcupine scat

We also checked underneath, for who doesn’t like to look at porcupine scat. New and old, though not especially fresh, it’s been a winter den for at least 30+ years that I’ve been climbing this mountain.

s18-Canada mayflower

And then Joan redirected us, pulling us back into the mission of the morning and finding a place to post the Canada Mayflower sign–between the granite slabs at our feet.

s19-window on the world beyond

Making our way across the ridge, we paused for a second to look out the window upon the world beyond. It’s from heights like this one that we always appreciate how much of Maine is still forested. At a recent gathering with District Forester Shane Duigan, he said that the state is 85% forested–down from 90% not because of urban sprawl, but instead increased farming.

s20-main summit signs

A few minutes later we reached the main summit, where Brent had posted more signs. They’re nailed to a White Pine and mark the intersection of the ridge trail and western loop, with a spur to the western-facing ledges and scenic overlook.

s21-white pine

That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.

s22-Keyes Pond and Pleasant Mtn

For a few minutes, we took in the wider view to the south–noting Keyes Pond in Sweden and Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, both part of the great beyond.

s23-scenic view

And then a quick trip out to the scenic overlook, where the sweeping view included the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake and pyramid outline of Mount Kearsarge in North Conway.

s24-scenic view 2

Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.

s25-chipmunk

On the way down, we continued, or rather, the rest of the team continued to install the signs while I watched, and one quiet chipmunk with a piece of a leaf dangling from its mouth looked on with approval. We assumed it approved, for it didn’t chatter at us.

s26-teamwork

It seemed the signs on the western trail went into place far more quickly than on the climb up, but maybe it was because there weren’t as many. We did pause for a few minutes as Isaiah and Dakota changed out one sign for another because the species Joan wanted to feature wasn’t as prominent as hoped. But, she was prepared with extra laminated cards and quickly produced a description of an alternate species.

s27-plank

We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.

s28-white admiral

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by the sight of pollinators upon the Staghorn Sumac, including a White Admiral Butterfly.

With that, our tour was done for the day, but we’d met several people along the way who were thrilled with the work we’d done. We hope you, too, will partake of the pleasant hike up Sabattus Mountain, and stop along the way to enjoy the self-guided tour. It will be in place until Labor Day weekend.

And be sure to stop by the office on Route 5 and make a contribution to the Greater Lovell Land Trust for we are a membership-driven organization and can’t do such work without your continued support.

P.S. Thank you Self-guided Tour Docents and GLLT staff, plus Property Steward Brent.

 

 

The Ayes Have It

I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.

e1-northern flicker

From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.

e2-flicker feeding

Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.

e4-tachinid fly

After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other  sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,

e8-long-legged fly

and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.

e7-green and brown stink bug

I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.

e8-stink bug eyes

Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.

e9a-song sparrow

Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.

e7a

What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.

e11-slug eyes

What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?

A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.

e11a-spider eyes

Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.

e11-ebony jewelwing

As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.

e12-barred owl

My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.

With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.

In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.