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?”

 

 

 

 

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.

Satiating Our Curiosity at Long Meadow Brook Reserve

Two weeks ago I traveled the trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook with several friends and much of our wonder was captured by intermingling lines.

l-ice lines

All felt quite magical on that crisp January day as the encrusted twigs and buds offered a brilliant display.

l-snowbirds in the ice castle

It was made even more special because two of the three with whom I tramped were snowbirds who experienced the awe of our winter world. Despite all their layers, they  felt like royalty living in an ice castle, glass slippers and all. (Don’t be fooled into thinking those are snowshoes strapped to their boots or winter hats rather than crowns.)

l-Long Meadow Brook 2

We made our way to the dam by the brook as the sun shifted lower and shadows lengthened. It didn’t matter for the sky was clear and we celebrated exploring the winter world of Lovell.

l-porky den 1:25:18

And then we backtracked a bit before crossing a property under conservation easement with the land trust and visited a porcupine condominium located in a large stump dump. The porkys didn’t let us down and we found prints leading into and out of seven or eight entry ways, along with downed hemlock twigs and scat. All perfect porcupine sign.

l-squirrel 1

Since then, we’ve experienced a variety of mixed winter weather, but this past weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, making for great tracking conditions, such as this group made by a red squirrel, the two smaller feet being its front feet, which landed first, before the larger hind feet swung around and landed in front–the typical pattern left behind by a hopper or leaper. Its toes pointed toward my ruler, thus indicating the direction of travel.

l-chipmunk prints 1

Because it had been warm over the weekend, chipmunks made a brief appearance–rather than being true hibernators, they are light sleepers and will move about in the chambers within their tunnels. Occasionally, during a thaw, they’ll even venture out to forage for fresh seeds.

l-chipmunk prints 2

Notice how the straddle is about two inches, while the red squirrel above exhibited a straddle of about three inches. Straddle being the measurement from the outside of the left hind foot to the outside of the right hind foot. In case you are wondering, the measurement for gray squirrels is about four inches.

l-coyote track

And then I came upon tracks so fresh that I was certain I might spy the two coyotes who traveled before me, but as is most often the case, I didn’t see them.

Following the snow, we had another downpour and everything changed. But then the temperature dipped again.

l-few Tuesday Trackers

And so today when the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers took to the trail at Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we were sure we’d find a plethora of well-made tracks. Only two problems. One: by the time Kathy, Dick, Mary, Russ, and I arrived, it was snowing lightly. And two: not too many mammals had been on the move in the last day or so. At least not in that neck of the woods.

l-Long Meadow Brook 1

We beelined (sort of, for we did stop to look at deer tracks) down to the old beaver dam hoping for otter sign or that of other weasels. Nada. Instead, we took in the view to the north.

l-Long Meadow Brook south

And then to the south.

l-beech leaf 2

And headed toward the porcupine condo. But along the way, a couple of other things caught our attention, including a beech tree getting a head start on the next season.

l-pitch pine 3

And a pitch pine that was the gnarliest any of us had ever seen. Pitch pine needles, in bundles of three, grow on the branches but may also sprout on the trunk–a unique feature making for easy identification among the evergreens. But so many? On branches?

l-junco

At last we reached a field where we welcomed sunshine to warm us up and noticed a few feathered friends. More than one junco scratched some bare ground in search of seeds.

l-squirrel pattern

As we crossed the field we rejoiced to have the track pattern of a gray squirrel to admire. Small things made us happy.

l-lorax tree

And then, at the top of one of the stump dumps we stood in awe of the Lorax tree. Only several branches had small fans of needles left; all the rest having been devoured by the local residents living below.

l-porky hemlock twigs

As we made our way into the hemlock grove to take a closer look, we spied what we believed to be a bobcat track based on straddle and stride, the latter being the distance from the toes of one print to the toes of the next print in the zigzag line. The overall impressions were a bit diluted indicating they were a few days old, but we’ve seen the same in this area before and the measurements led us to that conclusion. We also spotted downed hemlock twigs featuring the characteristic 45˚angled cut made by a porcupine.

l-porky tracks?

By this time, our group had increased by two when Alice and Saranne joined us for the trip into the porcupine haven.

l-porky den:stump dump

We peeked into holes, but suspected the homemakers had entered inner chambers.

l-porky tracks 2

We did find telltale tracks filled with the morning’s flurries, but still demonstrating their pigeon-toed pattern. And we saw that the bobcat had checked the holes as well before it moved on.

l-porky hole:hoar frost

We decided to move on as well, climbing up onto the stump dump, but with a word of caution to watch out for steam holes. Hoar frost surrounded the holes and gave us further reason to believe that indeed the condo was occupied.

l-porky tracks around downed limb

The very branch under which we saw one hole had fallen from a white pine. All around it were more porcupine prints.

l-porky chews

As for the white pine’s needles–think of them as dinner. The same was true of a bent red oak branch and its buds. A little variety in the diet.

l-bench

We too were ready to eat and so we headed out.

Another three hour tour and our curiosity was satiated at Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent property.  A couple of benches await at Long Meadow Brook should you want to pause and take in the wonders yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Endowing the Future

The morning began with a Greater Lovell Land Trust guided hike into the wetland of the John A. Segur West Preserve on New Road in Lovell.

w-shrike kill still in tree

Despite the cold temp, there were eleven of us along for the journey. To stay warm, we made a sort of beeline to the wetland, but stopped a few times, including to measure the straddle of mink tracks, and then to see if a shrike’s deposit we’d spotted a few weeks ago was still pinned to a tree in the log landing. It was, which wasn’t a surprise. As Dave, one of our docents commented, shrikes are not all that common here so it may have left this  dinner behind before it moved on. But, we wondered–why hadn’t a blue jay or another bird taken advantage of the free meal?

w-ruffed grouse tracks

From the landing, we moved on toward Bradley Brook, where we spotted tracks left behind by ruffed grouse, mink, deer, and a kazillion squirrels. But, other than the mink, no predator tracks, which was curious.

w-snowshoe hare print

Out on the wetland, we noticed where a hare had packed the substrate and yesterday’s wind blew any soft snow away creating a raised impression.

w-Dave channeling his inner deer

It was there, also, that docent Dave, bent down in the background,  demonstrated how a deer rubs its forehead against tree bark–leaving behind information about its health and wealth.

w-squirrel bridge

Our plan had been to venture further into the wetland to make more observations, but ice conditions were such that we didn’t dare. Instead, we returned to the brook and followed it back, noting ice bridges that none of us dared to cross. We left that action to the squirrels.

w-Robie Meadow 3

The John A. Segur West property was a new one on my guy’s list, and so we went with that theme and after lunch I dragged him to two other land trust properties. Our first stop was at Western Foothills Land Trust’s Robie Meadow on Scribner’s Mill Road in Harrison.

Again, given the brook that we’d have to cross, we paused and decided to enjoy the view from the edge.

w-fox track to brook 2

Throughout the property we did note the usual squirrel tracks and red fox. As we walked beside the brook, I hoped for others that weren’t to be, but at a spot where last week on a walk co-hosted by the GLLT and WFLT, we’d noted a pathway to the water created by either coyote or fox and a bobcat traveling back and forth to the water. Today–fresh red fox tracks.

w-red fox print

The size of individual prints, fuzzy appearance due to a hairy foot, and chevron feature of the foot pad all spoke to its maker.

w-deer ribs and fox track1

As we made our way back to the road, we stopped by a kill sight discovered last weekend. The ribs and backbone of a deer reached toward the sky. And right behind–more fresh red fox tracks. The fox had paused briefly before journeying on in search of a new food source.

w-red pine plantation beside Crooked River

Our final destination was across Scribner’s Mill Road to Loon Echo Land Trust’s Crooked River Forest Preserve-Intervale.  Neither of us had ventured forth on this property previously. While no true trails yet existed, the logging roads were easy to follow and we chose that route because we wanted to get down to Crooked River. As we approached the river, we realized we had traveled through a red pine plantation.

w-white pine at LELT

Right by the river, we discovered a white pine that had lost its terminal leader, thus allowing lower whorls to reach skyward. As my guy said, it looked like a great climbing tree–had we been so inspired. Blame it on the cold. Blame it on our age. We passed up the opportunity.

w-Crooked River 1

The river, so named Crooked for its meandering nature, offered a mixture of ice and open water.

w-fox prints and pee

And everywhere throughout the property we found evidence of red foxes, including prints and pee.

w-coyote bed

We also noted a spot where a coyote paused for a bit, so smooth and indented was the impression left behind. I threw a mitten down temporarily to give a sense of the bed size.

w-Crooked River 2

Though we eventually crossed over the LELT boundary, we had followed a snowmobile trail, and so we decided to see where it would lead–hopeful we wouldn’t find ourselves in someone’s back yard.

w-Scribners Mill bridge

Our worries were squelched when we spied the Scribner’s Mill bridge in the distance.

w-mill:blacksmith shop

And soon came up beside the old blacksmith shop.

w-mill sign

The mill complex was built in 1847. Three generations of Scribners operated it continuously until 1962.

w-mill

In its heyday, the mill produced clapboards, shingles, barrels, and lumber. The Scribner’s Mill Preservation, Inc. formed in 1975 with the mission to transform it into an accurately reconstructed saw mill powered by water.

w-mill:signs

As we stood and looked at the ads of local businesses on the long shed (including one we know intimately), we wondered about the annual “Back to the Past” Celebration that used to be held each August. During that weekend, we recalled how we’d watched the machinery at work. The lathe workshop and the blacksmith shop were also open. Tours of the homestead included exhibits and demonstrations of traditional crafts such as weaving, spinning, rug-hooking and quilting.

w-mill from bridge 2

Today, all was idle. Except for the water.

w-mill from bridge 3

It swirled by, carrying memories of the past into the future.

And we gave thanks for the opportunity to visit properties owned by three different local land trusts who do the same as they carry memories of the past forward for future generations.

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.

Our local land trusts offer numerous hikes open to everyone, providing a great way to explore and learn more about the diversity of the natural communities.

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.