The Amazing Race–Our Style

I’m sure when we said our wedding vows back in 1990, there was something in there about only riding a snowmobile once. And I did that once two years or so ago–mostly because I knew it would please my guy. Certain memories remain from that experience: I felt like a bobblehead inside the helmet; I lacked control as I sat behind him and couldn’t see; when I did peek around, I was sure my head was going to strike a tree so narrow was the trail; and I didn’t like the speed. Oh yeah, and at a road crossing, I do believe I jumped off and walked to the other side. With all of that in mind, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I created a Valentine’s gift for him–our very own Amazing Race. My rationale was that we enjoy the show, but know that while there are certain stunts one or both of us could handle with ease, there are others that would certainly cause us to be last to the mat–and lose. So, why not create an Amazing Race that we have a 99.9% chance of winning. If we lose, we’re in big trouble. All that being said, our race includes twelve events, one for each month. And this month’s activity meant a snowmobile ride for two. Oy vey. I created this so I could only blame me.

a1-selfie

We awoke to five inches of snow this morning and knew that today was the day. After an early lunch, I tried to delay the inevitable. The dishes needed to be washed. And dried (I never dry the dishes). Toilet cleaned. I even thought about vacuuming, but my guy stopped me. And presented me with a black helmet. It was much too big and kept shifting around. He gave me a second helmet to try on. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t take it off fast enough. “We have another,” he said as he headed to the barn. Darn. And the third one fit just right. Double darn.

a3-the chariott of choice

Our mode of transportation was ready and waiting. No long lines of others vying for a seat. No being put off until a later time. Our race had begun.

a2-double selfies

We hopped aboard and headed off down the trail. At first it was sort of okay and I almost relaxed, until that is, we took a sharp corner and I clenched my hand rails while leaning away. Sometimes, I felt like I was a kid again in the back of the school bus and jumping up and down as we went over the bumps on Valley Road in my hometown.

I was glad my guy couldn’t hear me unless I leaned close and spoke up–I kept my own running commentary for the first twenty minutes, which occasionally included an expletive not worth repeating.

a4-tunnel vision

At last we reached the Narrow Gauge trail, where my guy picked up the speed, but given it’s a fairly flat old railbed, I chose not to complain. And as good as his word, he stopped whenever I asked. One of my favorite spots along the trail is what we refer to as the tunnel, for in that section only, the walls are high on both sides and hemlock trees tower over.

a6-icicle

One of the things about riding on the machine is that you don’t get to really see anything. He loves it because it takes him places he wouldn’t ordinarily go. Yeah, there’s that. But . . . I prefer a slo-mo approach. And so today, we melded our ways–full speed ahead (although he thinks he took it slow) and complete stops every once in a while to take a look at things like sap forming an icicle,

a7-hemlock and rocks

hemlock roots and rocks intertwined,

a8-elephant

and an elephant.

a9-looking back

At last I walked back to him and we continued on our way. We were only going to go the length of the Narrow Gauge, but I was surviving and my guy smiling.

a9-Hancock Pond

Our next destination–Hancock Pond in Denmark.

a11-Hancock Pond

I asked him to stop by this camp intentionally, for I wanted to show its owners, Faith and Ben, the midwinter view–and lack of snow mainly because of its orientation to the sun.

a13-rock tripe

Despite the fact that most of last night’s snow had already melted, rock tripe along their shoreline had turned green–photosynthesis in action.

a14-Bear Trap

As we walked back to the chariot, we noted the houses on top of Bear Trap. My guy suggested that we turn around and head in that direction next. From the start, I suspected our plan of an out and back trip wouldn’t occur for he loves to return via a different route, while I don’t mind following the same path back because I usually see something I missed previously. But . . . I agreed with him.

a15-Perley Pond

We did have to travel a wee bit back on the Narrow Gauge to reach the turn toward Narramissic, located just below Bear Trap. Since we were passing by for a second time, I asked to stop at Perley Pond for a quick look.

a16-edges melting

Around the edges, the melt down was beginning.

a19-Peabody-Fitch House

And then onward and upward we rode to Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Homestead erected in 1797 by William Peabody, one of Bridgton’s first settlers. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Bridgton Historical Society.

a18a-Pleasant Mountain

Our main mountain wasn’t part of today’s journey, but the view of the ridgeline was spectacular from the farm’s field.

a20-map between Holt and Otter Ponds

From there, we passed by the spur to the bear trap, and continued on toward Holt Pond. For a while, I felt lost in a daze as we flew through woods in varying degrees of succession due to logging events over the years. I tried to look for bear trees for I knew there should be some, but didn’t spy any. And hardly recognized our place when we suddenly arrived at the emerald field near Holt Pond.

a21-Stone House

I also completely missed the quarry from which the Stonehouse was built. The house had an interesting history. In the early 1800s, John Mead built a primitive house in South Bridgton. Like the big bad wolf of fairy tales, wind huffed and puffed and blew the house down. Mr Mead was quoted as saying, “I can and will build a house that will stand the winds and weather.” And so he did–using the plug and feather method to cut the stone from the nearby quarry and transporting it a half mile via a stone boat or sledge. The stone treasure rose from the hillside, where Mead had situated it out of the wind. The field was certainly windy and we didn’t pause for long.

a22-Otter Pond

Our next stop was to a place I’d never visited before and I was impressed by its size–Otter Pond. Today, I felt like we were the otters as we slid across the snow-covered ice.

a23-wetland at Otter Pond

At the far edge, I found a spot I hope to return to for it looked like an interesting wetland.

a24-cattail

For today, the cattails, their seeds blowing in the breeze, were enough to whet my appetite.

a25-Hayes Hardware

And then in a few more zigs and zags, we found ourselves in familiar territory as we passed by my guy’s store.

a26-mat--home sweet home

Two more road crossings and a few more bends in the trail–and finally the mat welcomed us home after a successful finish to the first leg of The Amazing Race–our style.

 

 

 

 

 

Did You See What I Saw?

Aimless wanders are among my favorite and today was such when I headed out the back door. Rather than follow any trail or even in my own former footprints, my direction changed with many a whim.

p-pileated woodpecker holes

Porcupine tracks first caught my focus and I followed them to a hemlock that is slowly being consumed–on a nightly basis. Just beyond, I noticed a dead snag that was once a healthy pine had some fresh wood chips surrounding its base. A pileated woodpecker had worked above, but there were also two new holes near the bottom. I’ve watched pileateds work from the ground, but it still seems amazing that they’d take such a risk. And they do–frequently.

p-pileated scat

Scat left beside those particular excavations were filled with insect body parts. A while later I came upon another well-drilled tree and discovered scat filled with bittersweet seeds.

p-fisher prints

Right near the pileated works, I spied a set of prints that made my heart flutter. Might I find a kill site? Did a porcupine meet its demise?

fisher track

The five tear-drop shaped toes and diagonal of paired prints, plus great strides between sets informed me that I was following a fisher. I thought perhaps it might lead me to a porcupine den other than under our barn, but no such luck. Instead it led me to another set of tracks and then disappeared into thin air. I’m not sure how the fisher’s story ended. Then again, I rarely read a complete chapter for any of the mammals I track.

p-raccoon track 2

That’s okay, for where the fisher left me hanging at the end of a page, a raccoon picked me up. And along a double-wide stonewall I traveled with it.

p-turkey hens and tom

The raccoon tracks led to turkey tracks and I felt as if I knew the creators for I was probably a quarter of a mile from home and they’ve been spending the nights high up in the white pines of our woodlot and part of their days consuming bird seed in our yard. Ten hens and one tom are they.

t-vernal pool

The turkey tracks led me to a favorite spot–the vernal pool, where I noticed deer had also paid a visit. I crossed over, thankful that the ice was still frozen, and followed the deer.

p-bounding deer 2

They led me to a grove of gray birches that grow among the pines, beech and red maple. And in one opening below a bent tree, catkins had rained seeds and scales shaped like fleur de lis upon the snow. And a snowshoe hare leaped.

p-deer beds 1

The hare led me to more deer and turkeys. Again, I climbed a double-wide wall and while reflecting on the size of the field this plot formerly was for it had been plowed many moons ago, I noticed the deer had also paused. To my left were four beds, those icy looking impressions left behind by their warm bodies.

p-deer beds 2

And to my right five more. There was actually one at my feet, making a total of ten. I find beds all the time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever found them upon a wall before–all in a row.

p-deer scat and hemlock cone

The wall is located under a hemlock grove, and so it was no surprise to discover hemlock cones beside deer scat. Deer dine on hemlock bark and buds and their scat mimics the size, shape and color of a cone, often with a dimple at one end and nipple at the other. That the color should be similar makes sense, but I’d never thought about the similarity with the size and shape. As my guy would say, I’m overthinking.

p-squirrel 2

I continued to follow the deer’s lead when I thought I heard a slight noise above. It wasn’t the chatter I usually associate with a red squirrel. This one was so busy pulling scales off a pinecone to get to the two seeds imbedded within each, that it hardly noticed I stood watching.

p-squirrel 3

For about ten minutes he allowed me to watch him work.

p-squirrel cache:midden

A glance around and I knew that time and again he’d dined in the same area, turning a fall cache of cones into a winter midden of scales and cobs.

p-vole tunnels

It was near the squirrel haven that I began to notice vole tunnels–a sight I didn’t expect to see so soon. Voles spend the winter mainly in the subnivean layer–between the snow and ground. Under the hemlocks, the snow depth was shallow and the vole’s travels revealed.

p-moose and deer intersection

Of course, I was still following deer tracks, for really, this is their home site, aka yard. The place where they eat and sleep, with well packed runs leading from one to the other. And secretly (though it’s no longer a secret since I’m about to reveal it) I hoped to find an antler. Or two! I found none–yet this year. But . . . I did spy a track of another sort. A couple of moose also passed through, their prints so much larger than that of the deer.

p-moose print and hair

Consequently, I found a shed of a different sort for by some of the moose prints I noticed hair. It may have felt a bit wintery today, but tomorrow the temperature should rise into the 40˚s. Spring is on its way.

p-moose hair

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a closer look at the hair–a couple of spring tails, aka snowfleas, were also checking it out.

p-bobcat

I let the moose be my turnaround point and followed a different route home. And had the pleasure of discovering bobcat prints. I also saw fox tracks. The only prints I didn’t find for the perfect walkers were coyote, which surprised me. All in all, it was an extremely successful wander.

p-spectacles on ice

Made even better when I realized I wasn’t the only one looking. “Did you see what I saw?” asked the bespectacled ice goddess. “Indeed, I did,” was my reply.

 

Distracted by Nature

A morning message from my dear friend Carissa set the tone for today. Her Lenten devotional is based on the poetry of Mary Oliver and she thought of me when she read “The Summer Day.”

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

A perfect beginning, indeed.

w-Horseshoe Pond

A short time later I joined a couple of other friends and we traveled together to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. Our snowshoe journey began beside Horseshoe Pond where we paused to enjoy its beauty and recall trips up Lord Hill, whose face was obscured to the left.

w-hemlock cones and seed below

Once we got onto the trail, it was the little things that we noticed, like the hemlock cones with partially opened scales, their seeds all released. One tiny seed sits atop my name in this photo, but we wondered together why we’ve always seen the cones only in their closed up formation, whether fresh or old. Had they always looked like this one in late winter and we just never realized it previously?

w-frullania liverwort with new growth

And then we paused beside yellow birches where the liverwort Frullania eboracensis grew in abundance. Again, a new realization for us. We knew it to have brown stems, but today spied the green. As it turns out, in his book, Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, author Ralph Pope begins his description with this: “Plant dark green to brown . . .” Our eyes were opened.

w-crowded parchment laterally fused

Next there was the Crowded Parchment fungus that threw us off momentarily. We recognized the cap, but were unsure about the part of the fungus that was spread out flat like a crust. It turns out, the flat parts or fertile surfaces of this mushroom laterally fuse or join together at the dark ridges. This behavior certainly spoke to its name of crowded. In Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman refers to it as “One of the most common fungi as well as one of the most crowded in New England . . . It’s not unusual to see several hundred gregarious fruiting bodies laterally fused or in dense clusters on a single branch.” Common or not, we were wowed.

w-script lichen

And because we stopped to gain a better understanding of the Crowded Parchment, another gift was offered in the form of script lichen writing its own story on an adjoining branch.

w-nectria fruiting bodies?

Nearby, there was a similar cinnamonish color on beech bark. This particular beech was dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect. As I’ve noted before, the scale insect or more technically, Cryptococcus fagisuga, is a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

w-closer look

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. As some further research revealed, two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengiaIt is now my understanding that what we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies. Oh my.

w-lichen garden1

We also paused frequently beside gardens dominated by lichens. Crustose, foliose and fruticose varieties completely enveloped the bark of this toppled tree, their individual colors and textures adding to the visual display.

w-mink 1

And then . . . and then . .  . as we looked, a motion captured the attention of one in our group. I only wish my focus had been better, but still, it was enough.

w-mink 2

We were blessed with the opportunity to spend a few moments with a mink as it bounded down the hill before realizing it had an audience.

w-mink measurements

Of course, after it disappeared down a hole into a stream and we’d waited a bit, we checked out the tracks it left behind. The size of the prints and length of the straddle or measurement from the outside of one print to the outside of the other confirmed our ID.

w-mink prints

From that point on, we continued to find evidence that the mink had traveled to and fro over the course of several days. Our hearts were grateful to have shared such a moment.

w-hairy, bony find

And as we took measurements, we spotted something else on the snow. Something hairy and bony found about three or four inches from the fresh mink tracks.

w-hairy, bony--scapula

A scapula from a little brown thing, possibly a vole. Dropped from the mink or from above by a bird? We’ll never know. But we do know that someone consumed someone else–as it is in the natural world.

w-Sucker Brook

Seeing the mink made perfect sense because we traveled on and off trail beside Sucker Brook.

w-hobblebush flower and leaf buds

It was there that the naked but hairy hobblebush leaves and flower buds reminded us that spring isn’t far off. The three of us don’t necessarily want winter to end for we love how it forces us to notice other things such as the nectria’s fruiting bodies. And we love to track. But . . . we also love the other seasons, so we’re happy exploring at any time of the year.

w-suds

Beside the water, the icy formations kept calling my name and I honored many by snapping a photograph. But, then we met the suds. Water foam is caused by the decay of twigs and plants and occurs naturally in streams and brooks. As they release compounds, the interaction breaks the surface tension, allowing air to mix in and create bubbles. And just as we found the Crowded Parchment living in a large community, we also found this congregation of bubbles–creating a design all its own.

w-Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog

Despite the short trail, it took us forever to reach the point where the brook becomes Moose Pond Bog, but we did.

w-stream with rattlesnake liverwort

And then we beelined (sort of, for still we kept stopping) to the final stream crossing on the trail for we wanted a glimpse of the rattlesnake liverwort we’d discovered growing there last year. Alas, it was buried under snow. And that means we’ll have to return again. Darn.

w-sucker brook reflections

In the end, it was a morning well spent as we dillied and dallied over the littlest of things. And watched a mink. We got to see a mink!

No, it wasn’t a summer day. But . . . we were distracted by nature. As Mary Oliver asked, “What else should we have done?”

 

 

 

 

Climbing Higher Mondate

The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, ” could be aptly applied to the first part of today’s hike for we’d tried to locate the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch two weeks ago but missed a turn along the way. This time, we made sure to pay close attention as friends had given us specific directions.

e1--making the left turn at the National Forest Boundary

As they’d told us, we remembered to turn left at the National Forest boundary and followed the line to the base of the mountain, breaking trail all the way.

e2-first ice formation

Eventually, we realized we were on an old cart path and followed as it zigzagged up. And then we reached a boulder covered in ice. Don’t get me wrong–I love the relationship of rock and ice, but . . . was this what we’d climbed up to see?

e3-looking for more

My guy peeked around the corner and encouraged me to follow.

e4-climbing higher

The first rock with ice was a tease and he could see what he thought was the mine up above. And so we climbed higher.

e6-mine 2

Voilà. At last we found the actual mine. Can you see my guy? His height provided perspective.

e7-sense of height

He stood in awe before the fountain of youth frozen in time.

e9-looking upward

My eyes were drawn skyward to the chandeliers that dangled above. My guy did urge me to move out of the way for he feared one might come crashing down.

e14-chandelier

But I took one more photo before heeding his words of caution.

e15-fallen ice

We noted that some had fallen previously and sat like broken glassware upon the mine floor.

e10-icicles up close (snowfleas as well)

Even the snowfleas or spring tails wanted to be part of the display. Do you see them? The little specks that look like black pepper?

e11-dike 1

I was so taken with the ice sculptures that I almost forgot about the mine itself. Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham, New Hampshire, where the mine is located. Originally, it was mined for mica. From a Geological Survey Professional Paper, I learned that prior to World War II it was mined for feldspar by the Whitehall Company, Inc.

e12-icicles

Today, the only mining that took place was initiated by the water and we could hear it trickling under the ice.

e16-christmas fern

It seemed, however, that there wasn’t enough water as a Christmas Fern struggled to survive.

e13-junco prints

Finally, we followed the Junco tracks and made our exit.

e19-leaving the mine

It was almost like a different world awaited us outside the mine.

e21-Leach Link Trail sign

From there we drove back down Route 113 to Stone House Road and ate a quick lunch in my truck before heading to the trailhead for the Leach Link Trail that follows Cold River.

e22-bear claw marks

It seems like every time we visit this area we find evidence of the bears who live here. Notice the nail marks on the sign. Typical behavior for a black bear–to attack something in the woods that is different than the norm. Not only do they like telephone poles, but trail signs often take a beating as well.

e23-hemlock crack

Again, we had to break trail, which we took turns doing because the snow was deep enough to tire us out. For the most part, we passed through a hemlock and spruce forest. I’m always amazed at how a hemlock tree tries to heal a wound left by a frost crack. Just like my snow pants absorb the sun’s heat, the dark bark of the trees also absorb sunlight, but they don’t have a heated home to return to once night falls and temperatures plunge. I understand how the constant thawing/freezing cycle creates cracks–but I don’t understand why the hemlock portrays the squiggly line, while frost cracks on other trees tend to be much straighter. Then again, all tree species have their own patterns and idiosyncrasies. Maybe I just have to accept that this is the way it is. And move on.

e23-snow aprons

We did. But I stopped our forward movement again. Snow had piled high at the base of the trees following the two snowstorms we received this past week. At first, it appeared that the aprons the trees wore were on the north side. But then, in one grove it seemed obvious that my theory had been proven wrong for some aprons faced west and others east. Oh well.

e26-chester dam

Just over a mile later we reached the Chester Memorial Bridge by the AMC camp. The bridge was given in memory of Mabel Chester, one of the camp’s founders.

e27-Cold River flowing south

Cold River flowed south below the dam. And we turned east.

e29-My guy at the summit

We hadn’t intended to, but ended up hiking to the summit of Little Deer Hill. Our visit was short because it was there that the northwest wind slapped our faces and tried to whip off our hats.

e29-Baldfaces

A few photos and then we quickly descended back into the forest, where we couldn’t feel the wind’s force to the same degree. We practically ran as we followed the trail we’d previously carved.

e30-stop ahead

It seemed like time passed quickly as we reached the snowmobile trail once again and saw the sign reminding us to stop ahead. The truck was parked near the trail’s stop sign and our trip was done.

e5-mine 1

We enjoyed the afternoon hike, but as we reflected on our day, it was the mine that will stand out most in our minds. Thanks to Linda, Miriam, and Dave for providing us with the incentive to visit and correcting our directions.

Climbing higher on this Mondate was certainly worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Books of February: The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS & OWLS of the NORTH

“Who cooks for you?” was the question I heard being asked as I fell asleep last night. And “Who cooks for you all?” the response I awoke to this morning.

‘Tis the season for owl mating calls, in this case Barred Owls, and therefore the season to promote two books about some species that hoot in our neighborhoods.

o-The Hidden Lives of Owls

The first, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, provides a fun and informative read. Perhaps I like it so much because we share a name and an interest in nature. But really, it’s the stories she tells about her experiences in the night world that make me feel as if I’m sitting on a tree stump or rock wall beside her–waiting and watching.  Listening and learning.

Calvez begins her book with silhouettes for eleven owls and a list that includes the scientific name of each, overall length, and wingspan.

s-screech owl 2

The first chapter is about Northern Saw-whet Owls, a new favorite for me since I was honored with the opportunity to meet one at the end of 2017 as I snapped my way through a thicket of hemlock trees, twigs breaking with each movement. Despite all the noise, this owl flew in and our eyes connected. Like Calvez, that sighting quivered in my mind and heart as I tried to remain calm and maintain my focus. I felt like a little kid wearing big girl boots, such was my excitement.

It’s through Calvez that I learned the origin of this bird’s name: the rasping call reminding those who named it of the sound made when “whetting” or sharpening a saw against a file.

And did you know that within mated pairs of these little birds, minute members of the owl family as they aren’t much bigger than a robin, the female sits on the nest for an almost one-month incubation period, while the male dutifully brings food? He actually continues this process even after the young’uns fledge, while momma goes off to the spa in order to regain her strength (or start another brood).

Since she first became fascinated by owls, Calvez had the good fortune to travel to a variety of locations and learn from others–as well as from the owls. She delved into the science of the species and the spirit of some individual birds; her stories are all tucked into this 205-page book. While some are species we may not see in the Northeast, for she writes about those she most familiar with in the Northwest, there’s still plenty to be gained from reading this book.

The book ends with the following: “Notes from the Field: Insights from an Owl.” I wish I could share it with you, but don’t have permission to do so. Let me just say–this list and the silhouettes and comparisons at the beginning make the book well worth the purchase. And the stories in between, filled with wit and wisdom, make it well worth the read.

o-Owls of the North

The second book, which I purchased the same day, is OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson.

This book is more of a guide, filled to the brink as it is with photographs and facts about ten owls. For each species, Benson includes a global map and quick list of the following: description, range, size, wingspan, other names, diet, a brief personal story about an experience with the particular owl, identification, sounds, habitat, food, hunting, courtship and nesting, juveniles, and behavior. Almost every page features one or two action shots.

And then there are the sidebars, highlighted within an orange box on each of the odd-numbered pages. One included information about pellets, whitewash and skulls.

o-owl pellet

Of course, that reminded me that I have an owl pellet in my collection of all things natural. I found it in March 2016 at Brownfield Bog. According to Benson’s sidebar: “Owls usually swallow their prey whole. An owl catches a mouse, kills it with its talons or by biting its neck and then bolts the whole thing down. Much of the mouse is not very digestible though–the bones, fur and other tough parts don’t provide much nutrition. These are compacted together in the owl’s digestive tract. Then, about six hours after the meal, a pellet of these indigestible parts is coughed up and it drops to the ground beneath where the owl is roosting.”

o-pellet critters--voles

I’ll probably never dissect the pellet I found, but did dissect one for the Maine Master Naturalist Course–and determined that the owl had consumed two voles. (Don’t look too closely for I know that I put a couple of bones in the wrong place–nobody’s perfect.)

We have an Owl Prowl coming up at the Greater Lovell Land Trust and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. The two books, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS by Leigh Calvez and OWLS of the NORTH by David Benson, have proven to be valuable resources. I purchased both at Bridgton Books, an independent book store.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out these books, join us for the Owl Prowl, or step outside–tis mating season and the calls can be heard. You might even think about responding. Go ahead–give a hoot.

The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, published 2016, Sasquatch Books.

OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson, published 2008, Stone Ridge Press.

Make Your Own Impressions

A couple of us were honored this morning to share the trail with ten homeschooled kids ranging in age from about four to teenagers. There was even a babe in his mom’s arms, but he choose to sleep through most of our journey as we looked for tracks at Western Foothills Land Trust’s Shepard’s Farm Preserve.

s1-into shepard's farm family preserve

I was wowed by these kids for their knowledge about the natural world was impressive. It was obvious that they’ve spent a lot of time outside not only due to all they had observed and the stories they told me, but also because it was quite cold and they never complained.

s2-the bog and deer tracks

Through a mixed forest and into the bog we searched for and followed tracks–of mice and deer.

s3-into the bog

We so wanted to see those left behind by a predator and thought for sure we would since the deer tracks were plentiful, but today that wasn’t meant to be. We did find where the deer had browsed, peed, scatted and slept.

s4-curious kids

The kids’ curiosity was for more than just tracks and so we stood in awe of a pileated woodpecker tree.

s8-hornet's nest

And a hornet’s nest.

s9-hornest nest in flight

The nest was flying high–on the underwing of a bird sculpture–reminiscent of a certain Tesla Roadster on a rocket.

s10-flying squirrel tracks

After showing them some plaster casts of prints and my scat collection back in the parking lot, we said our goodbyes and I drove on to meet my friend, Jinny Mae.

Not long into our time together, we squealed with delight when we thought we’d made a new discovery. We found squirrel tracks that started about ten feet from any tree and as we looked at the overall pattern we noticed that there were arced lines between the sets of prints that appeared different from the lines behind the sets that we typically encounter. Our brains and hearts worked in unison and we determined that we’d found a trail left behind by a flying squirrel. It was a first for both of us. But . . . as we continued on we began to question our conclusion and we switched back to red squirrel. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was a squirrel. And maybe that’s enough.

s13-beaver dam

We made our way to a beaver pond, again hopeful for interesting tracks, but our best finds were squirrel and mice. Oh, and a domestic dog and its skiing partner.

s22-beaver lodge

We did spy a lodge that we thought might be active, but didn’t risk the journey to check on it for we found ourselves sinking deeper than our comfort zone.

s12-steeple bush gone awry

As we made our way off of the pond, a steeple bush came to our attention–its erect structure gone awry. Uh oh. Had it done something wrong?

s14-pileated woodpecker

And then we heard a pileated woodpecker that we finally spied on a distant tree. Though we both have the good fortune to see them often, we were still thrilled and amazed at its size.

s15-brook

Our next stop was beside the brook that flows out of the pond. I was with Jinny Mae so it was no surprise that we stood for a long time, listening and admiring.

s17-ice

Ice and water always fill us with wonder . . .

s23-ice 3

and awe.

s20-shadows

Shadows and textures do as well.

s19-lungwort

And not to be left out, lungwort.

s5-creating a snow angel

The tracking wasn’t so great, but at the end of the day we’d all delighted in the discoveries and questions and understandings and connections we’d made. And the fun we’d had in doing so.

s7-snow angel

When life gives you snow–make your own impressions.

Hardly Monochrome

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different. Yesterday we were graced with a foot of fluffy snow. And so it was with joy that I strapped on my snowshoes.

p1-window art

As I passed by the barn, I noted fresh porcupine tracks, but it was a window on the attached shed that drew my awe. I’ve seen the frost resemble ferns, flowers and trees before, but today’s display reminded me of moss.

p2-stonewall

Marshmallows seemed to have capped the stonewall along the cow path.

p3-hairy woodpecker

Into Pondicherry Park I headed and immediately was greeted by the sound of a hairy woodpecker chiseling away.

p4-bridge

The park receives a lot of visitors each year, but on this day I was tickled to be the first to make tracks.

p6-vehicle

My goal was to join others at Lakes Environmental Association’s Maine Lake Science Center for a tramp along the Pinehaven Trail, but we decided to go off trail at times to see what we might see.

p7-Anne and Alanna

I had the extreme pleasure of exploring with these two fine women, Alanna, LEA’s education director, and Anne, chair of LEA’s environmental education advisory committee. So we wondered about this vehicle. Its age. How and why it ended up where it was. We had no answers, but the squirrels and mice didn’t seem to mind its presence for their tracks led in and out. We did note some tangled fencing added to the mix.

p8-fencing

But it made sense because we were on land formerly used for farming and Alanna pointed out a section of fencing that a tree had embraced behind us.

p9-steering wheel and radio

We were busy chatting, but had we paused, perhaps we would have heard tunes pouring forth from the radio. Then again . . . maybe not.

p10-boardwalk

I spent an hour with them and then departed via the boardwalk below the science center building. It’s one of my favorite places.

p12-polypody fern

And no venture forth is complete without stopping to admire the polypody fern that dangles from a boulder, curled up as it was because of the cool temps.

p13-mossman surrenders

A wee bit further I almost passed by Moss Monster for he was hiding under his winter blanket and all that showed forth was a small balsam held tightly in his hand. I wished him sweet dreams until we meet again.

p13-tinderconk

Just as I moved from the boardwalk back into Pondicherry Park, I spied several tinder conks upon a yellow birch, their lines reminding me of oyster shells and a yearning I’ve had recently to spend some time at the ocean surfaced again. I love the woods, but do need that salt air fix every once in a while.

p14-Owl?

Slowly, I made my way beside Willet Brook and then Stevens Brook–looking about to see what I might see. And then I stopped. Could it be? Nope. As much as I wanted to spy an owl, all I found was a burl topped with snow upon a white pine trunk. It sure looked like a bird sitting on a branch. Wishful thinking.

p14-male mallards

I did find other birds, though, in the form of mallards.

p15-male:female mallards

There were plenty of them and I could have watched all day as they treaded water and occasionally nipped each other or gave chase.

p16-male mallard on snow

One handsome guy moved onto a snow bank and appeared to smile over his companions for a few minutes–king of the hill.

p17--duck prints

And then they all moved off, but left behind their prints–just for me 😉

p18-Stevens Brook

My lunch break miraculously turned into a three hour tour that I chose to illustrate in black and white, with shades of gray in between. It was a lovely day enhanced by all that snow. And hardly monochromatic.