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 😉

Nothing to Grouse About

A week ago I shared a unique experience with five other naturalists, the majority of them in the six to eleven age range. For twenty minutes the six of us watched a Ruffed Grouse at it moved about, overturning leaves and foraging on buds. When we last saw it, the bird headed off in the opposite direction that we intended to journey, and so we moved on with wonder in our eyes and minds.

2

And then the next day I returned on a mission to study some twigs at the same property. No sooner had I stepped onto the trail when I heard the sound of leaves cracking a wee bit and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the same bird.

The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying about ten feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird.

And we began to chat. I talked quietly to him (I’m making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings.

It was then that I did the unthinkable–I named him: ArGee.

Again I started down the trail, and again ArGee followed about ten feet to my right. And then I thought I got ahead of him, but a few minutes later he caught up and foraged by my feet as I examined twigs and buds for their idiosyncrasies.

When I finally turned back, ArGee did the same. Eventually I ran because I didn’t want him to follow me to my truck. Would he have? I don’t know. Would he survive? I sure hoped so. Would I visit again? I knew the answer was yes. Would I see him again? Who knew?

The next day I dragged my guy along. But much to my dismay, no ArGee. I’d been blessed twice and had to accept the possibility that he’d either flown off or became part of the food chain. My hope was that if the latter was the case, it was a four-legged predator or larger bird and not a human bi-ped.

Since last week, about five or six inches of snow blanketed the area and this morning dawned frigid with the temperature at about 5˚. I dressed for it and headed to a nearby spot in hopes of meeting up with a group that was going to count salmon and redds. But, I missed the link-up and decided instead to wander in ArGee’s territory so I could reaffirm his disappearance and move on.

1-looking for food

As I looked up at something in a tree, I heard a slight noise by my feet and guess who? I greeted ArGee with a quietly grand hello and together we shared the space, mindful of each other. After about twenty minutes he headed under a stand of hemlocks that provided some cover.

2-hiding and feathers bloated

I snapped and crackled through the woods, bushwhacking over to his position, all the while wondering if I was getting too close and perhaps he didn’t want me to spend more time with him.

2a-hiding

But what I discovered was that he’d stopped foraging, stood still, though occasionally turned his head, and puffed up his dappled and barred plumage. While I had donned several layers to keep the brisk air at bay, ArGee needed to fluff up in order to trap air in his feathers. Cool fact (or cold!): A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird.

4-crown

While ArGee warmed up, I focused on some of his features, including the crest feathers on top of his head. Their formation brought to mind ocean waves cresting, but perhaps they were actually standing upright because he saw me not as friend, but rather a foe?

5-eye to eye

I knew I was overextending my stay, but I couldn’t leave. And he didn’t seem agitated, so I continued to look. There was that eye-ring to notice, rather bead-like in appearance.  And the contrasting orientation of the feathers above and below his dark eye, their comb-like tips spread out like miniature fans.

6-looking at me

For another fifteen to twenty minutes, he warmed up below the hemlock, while I stood nearby and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance.

7-beak

I had time to consider his robust down-turned beak and figured it must be adapted for the coarse vegetation it consumed. Ruffed Grouse are known to feed on buds or catkins of aspens, birches and cherries, and that was the habitat in which ArGee had made himself at home. They’ll also consume, seeds, fruits, leaves and twigs, insects, and maybe even salamanders, in season of course.

8-coming out of hiding

Finally, my friend seemed to have warmed up and so out from under the hemlock ArGee emerged.

9-dining on leaves

And immediately he found bramble leaves still green.

10-leaf in its mouth

Ripping one leaf off, he made quick work of it.

11-gobbling it up

And in a matter of seconds it disappeared into his mouth.

12-looking for more food

Then it was time to think about another.

12-those feet

Out in the open again, I had a chance to get a better look at ArGee’s feet. Though today’s snow was rather crusty, there’s potential for up to ten inches of fluff to fall tomorrow and then his feet will play a key role.

12a-combs on feet

Where the snow is deep and soft, grouse travel atop it with the help of their “snowshoes”—lateral extensions of their toes. Can you see the comb-like rows of bristles, aka pectinations? They began growing in September and reminded me of a centipede serving as each toe. It’s those bristles that act like snowshoes.

They also have stout legs for walking or running and those were also covered with insulating feathers that looked like an old pair of furry sweatpants.

12b-tail feathers

It’s difficult to tell a male from a female based on appearance, but typically the bird is a female if the color is faded or absent on the central tail feathers, thus I leaned toward ArGee being a male. No matter what the sex of this particular bird, the varied shades of black, gray, rusty red and buff all presented in a variety of patterns, including small hearts–what wasn’t to love?

13-I see you

For a while longer, ArGee and I played “I See You” and I continued to wonder about his behavior. Usually this species is quite elusive and difficult to approach. In fact, most often I am startled by the loud wing beat of a bird exploding, or so it sounds, from the ground or snow in front of me, and my heart responds with rapid beats for a second . . . and then I realize it was a Ruffed Grouse trying to avoid me.

13-so close

Today, and this past week, that has not been the case.

13b-are you looking at me?

ArGee has seemed as curious about me as I’ve been about him.

16-saying goodbye

Is he tame? Or has he been defending his territory? Perhaps it’s a hormone imbalance as the season changes, especially given that winter seems to have arrived early.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m grateful for the time I have had to get to know this bird of the Maine woods a wee bit better. As has happened in the past, we parted ways at the same point, so I’ve a better understanding of his actual territory.

I’ve experienced grouse being aggressive when protecting their young in the spring, and wonder if at some point a close encounter with ArGee could switch dramatically from fascinating to hostile as he defends his territory.

Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. For now, I have nothing to grouse about!

 

Amazing Race–Our Style: episode ten

I can’t believe we are still in the race, but we are. And so last night the clue arrived as mysteriously as ever and a wee bit vague: Drive west and then south, following Routes 16, 125, and 111. Find your way to Stonehenge.

While we were certain that Route 111 in New Hampshire was not going to put us on a flight to England’s Stonehenge, we decided to follow the directions and see where we ended up.

We did note that Team Speedy was ahead of us as we drove south on Route 16, but in Ossipee they turned right onto Route 25. Oops, wrong number, but we weren’t going to tell them that.

Two and a half hours later and BINGO! We’d found our destination.

0-America's Stonehenge sign

America’s Stonehenge in Salem, New Hampshire. Who knew? I’d lived in New Hampshire for ten years prior to moving to Maine in 1986 and never heard of this place. But . . . apparently the time had come.

We entered and watched a brief introductory film. First named “Mystery Hill Caves,” the name was changed to America’s Stonehenge in 1982 because researchers believed that better reflected their understanding of the site.

Was it built by a Native American culture or a migrant European population? Who knows? But what we did learn is that carbon dating has helped age some of its features at over 4,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest man-made construction of  chambers, walls and ceremonial meeting places in the United States.

The site has been under continuous research and there are a variety of theories about its origin. Our main challenge was to observe and learn.

1-Sundial

But first, one of us had to determine the time of day. My guy rose to the occasion and placed the pole in the center of the sundial.

2-Sundial 2

“2:11 pm,” he said. Pretty darn close for it was actually 2:09, but we were told to proceed.

3-Wigwam

The first part of the journey included a Three Sisters Garden of corn, pole beans, and pumpkins. There’s a replica of a dugout canoe and a wigwam for such were found on the property, plus some pottery and other artifacts.

4-Well of crystals, Pattee Area

And then we worked our way up the hill and into the maze of chambers. Some referenced astrological events; others were the works of Jonathan Pattee who built a wooden structure upon some of the chambers, but it burned in 1855 and his son later sold off some of the artifacts; and William B. Goodwin, the first researcher to own the property.

Fortunately for us, many items worth noting were labeled. Number 8 was an Upper Well, also known as the Well of Crystals because excavations in 1963 proved that quartz crystals were found in a vertical fault twenty-two feet below. Such crystals may have been worshipped or used for tools by ancient cultures.

5-Pattee Chamber, root cellar

By the well was the Pattee area, and so I ventured down and stood before a chamber that may have served as either his family’s root cellar or at least storage space.

6-Chamber in Ruins

Nearby was a collapsed chamber. The roof slab that now stands upright is estimated to weigh 6.5 tons. And here’s the cool stuff–tree roots near the back wall of the chamber were carbon dated to the late 1690s, indicating the walls were built prior to Mr. Pattee’s residency. Further research indicated the following: “In 1969, charcoal that had sifted into the walls was found below these roots at two to four inches above bedrock and dated to 1400 BC. In 1971, a third and even older date of 2000 BC was obtained.” There’s more, but that’s enough to be mind boggling. BC?

7-True south pointing wall

The astrological importance of the site was noted throughout and we found the True South Pointing Wall.

8-south facing chamber

Directly opposite of it was the entrance to a south facing chamber. For me, the curious thing about this chamber was that it was damaged in a 1982 earthquake–and I quickly recalled that quake as I remembered feeling its tremors.

9-The Pulpit

Then there was The Pulpit. It’s believed that quarrymen used this spot as a staging area to load stones onto wagons in the 1800s, thus giving the property another chunk of historical value. It’s also thought that Mr. Goodwin had the upper part of the structure reconstructed by his crew for he believed that the site was built by Irish Culdee Monks.

I have to say that my guy and I weren’t beyond that interpretation for some of the chambers reminded us of Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound in Ireland that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Hmmm . . .

10-The V Hut

Another interesting chamber from our point of view was the V Hut, so named for its shape. This one reminded us of the Mystery Structure in Lovell, Maine, for part of it forms a similar sort of V shape.

11-East-West Chamber

Throughout the journey, our focus was brought back to orientation of chamber openings. So the curious thing about this particular one and the one opposite of it–they had an east-west orientation. All other openings faced south.

12-Wqll restoration

The outer wall of the East-West Chamber offered a different look than any we’d previously seen. Using photographs from the Goodwin era, the outer walls were restored in the late 1970s.

14-Wall and pathway to Oracle Chamber

They led to a wonder-filled pathway. Do note the white paint–that was used throughout to feature key points. Though I thought it ghastly, it did serve its purpose and the drawing you see on the bedrock was part of a very important drainage system. Curiously, the area was well drained, but when we later walked surrounding trails we had to work around water obstacles–why can’t we figure out today how to make the water move in an effective fashion?

15-Drill marks and wedge marks

The pathway we were traveling led to the Oracle Chamber. And then there was more white paint. But, take notice. The U-shape above was painted around drill marks probably made by those 1800s quarrymen as they broke off slabs.

But it’s the Vs that were of even more interest.

16-Wedge mark

The V wedges were similar to those found at ancient sites in Europe we were told. Before the invention of the steel drill in the early 1800s, stone masons apparently made these V wedges.

17-Sundeck with orbs

Now all oracles need a sundeck and lo and behold, such existed. As we admired it, a few orbs did the same and we had to wonder about the ghosts living among the rocks. They certainly had stories to tell.

18-Oracle Chamber

The Oracle Chamber was known to be the most important area with a variety of features including an upper drain, secret bed, speaking tube, roof opening (see the sunlight coming through at the end of the chamber?), seat, closet, and deer carving. It was actually rather dark and we could locate some of the features, but never saw the deer carving, which would have been a treat.

20-Sacrificial Table

Before we’d entered the Oracle Chamber, we’d viewed one of several tables within the complex.

21-Sacrificial Table 2

But it wasn’t until we were standing above it that it made more sense. The Sacrificial Table was a 4.5 ton slab with a grooved channel. Its a point of controversy for the site, but some believe that because of its size it was used for sacrifices. The oracle had a speaking tube in his chamber located directly beneath it that adds to the assumption.

16a-if lichens and mosses could talk

If only mosses and lichens could talk, the tales they could tell. But then we wouldn’t have mysteries to consider.

30-Marginal wood fern

Speaking of such, one of our challenges was to identify a fern that grew among the rocks. It had several key features, including the fact that all of its fronds grew from a central point in a circle and it was still quite green–as in evergreen. A quick look at its spore arrangement on the underside and the answer was clear–marginal evergreen wood fern.

28-Black and Red Oak

We also had to name three colors represented by the oak leaves on the grounds: Black, red,  and . . .

29-White Oak

white.

23-Astronomical Calendar with view cuts

And then it was time to climb the Astronomical Viewing Platform. I was initially put off by the sight of the modern structure and thought perhaps it was a children’s playground tossed into the mix. But . . . thankfully I was wrong. Constructed in 1975, from the platform you can view the major astronomical alignment stones, including true north for summer and winter solstice. Trees were cleared in 1967 along the various important date sights and are still maintained. When the structure was first constructed, there were probably no trees atop the bedrock. This afternoon, as we looked out, our view included the November 1st sunset.

24-Nov 1 Sunset

We followed the trail toward the November 1 Sunset Stone.

26-Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith

And were equally excited to note the Winter Solstice Sunset Monolith. This was the first monolith that researchers suspected to be a solar alignment. On December 21, 1970, the shortest day of the year, it was photographed. Because the Earth’s tilt has changed, it’s a bit off these days, but would have marked the southern most set of the sun almost 4,000 years ago. Wow!

33-White Pine map

Before we left, we had another challenge: to find something that reminded us of the maze we’d just journeyed through–and in many ways the pine tree’s route system seemed to provide a map.

31-Alpaca

We also needed to pay homage to the alpacas who now call this place home and in their own way bring us back in time. The earliest evidence of man at America’s Stonehenge was 7,400 years ago as proven by evidence from a fire pit, and alpacas were domesticated about 5,000 years ago–in South America.

32-Modern day message

That being said, our final challenge was to find a more up-to-date representation and a message etched onto a rock seemed to fill the bill.

34-Astronomical Calendar and contour model

Back into the museum we journeyed and imagined ourselves into a contour model of the property with yellow lines representing the various astrologically important dates and sight lines. We’d also learned that a line can be drawn directly from America’s Stonehenge to England’s Stonehenge along the Solstice.

When our time was done, we were more than wowed. And had a lot to absorb about our learnings.

But, we were in a race and as quick as we’d wanted to be, we feared we were too slow.

Team Speedy, however, apparently went way off course when they turned onto Route 25. They were the last to cross the mat and have been eliminated. (Quietly we were heard to  mutter: YES!)

Team Purple won this leg as she has done several times even though she’s solo. And still sporting her sandals despite the colder temps.

We actually placed second today and were thrilled. We’re still in the race!

Only two more episodes to go. It’s down to Team Purple, Team Cape Cod, Team Livermore and us. Who will be the final three? Stay tuned for The Amazing Race–Our Style: episode eleven.

Childhood Magic

Why did the Greater Lovell Land Trust co-host (or rather tri-host) a hike through Pondicherry Park in Bridgton this morning? Because it’s hunting season, and it didn’t make sense to invite the public on a property that isn’t posted. (Not that we don’t still tramp on GLLT properties in November, mind you, but not on a public walk necessarily.)

And when I asked Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust and Alanna Doughty of Lakes Environmental Association to join me in leading the tramp, they both quickly and graciously agreed to do so. I couldn’t wait because not only would it be a chance to share the special place with GLLT members, but also to bounce off of Jon and Alanna as we shared our knowledge of the natural and historical aspects of the park.

1-Bob Dunning Bridge

But . . . this morning dawned rainy and snowy. Still, we didn’t cancel. And though we knew that not everyone who had planned to join us could because there was more snow in the Lovell area and no power, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small contingent of participants that represented all three of our groups. And really, I love leading smaller groups because it’s so much easier for everyone to participate.

2-Jon giving the bridge history

Our group, consisting of Pam, Jon, Bill, Connie and JoAnne, plus Alanna and me, stood for a bit on the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway into the park from behind Reny’s Department Store on Depot Street. As Jon explained, on September 11, 2010, the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge was constructed in true barn-raising fashion.

3-Stevens Brook

The bridge spans Stevens Brook, the source of power when Bridgton was first founded and for many years thereafter.

4-Bob Dunning Bridge

One of the unique things about the bridge is that each tie beam comes from a different tree species, with the bark left on. As I walk across the bridge, my eyes are always drawn to the beams.

Until I took the Maine Master Naturalist class, I recognized only a few species by their bark. But my eyes were opened to the fact that each species has its own presentation, which is true for everything in the natural world. I wanted to know all of them so I set out to teach myself, beginning with the species on the bridge. These became the focus of my capstone project for the class and from that I created a Barking Up A Bridge brochure that is available at the kiosk.

5-sugar and Norway maple leaves

Into the park we finally went, stopping periodically along the way to notice and learn, including the similarities and differences between a sugar maple leaf on the left and Norway maple leaf on the right. Both have the same number of lobes (5) and look so similar, but . . .  the Norway maple leaf, an invasive planted along the main streets as a shade tree after the loss of Elms, is much boxier and more rectangular in shape. Plus, as Jon pointed out, the stem seeps a milky substance, which is a quick way to identify it.

6-pine soap

Our finds included many as we moved along at our usual slow pace, but one thing kept showing its form on pine after pine. Froth. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up the tree’s oils on the way. Air in the bark furrows bubbles through the oily film and produces the froth.

7-pine soap

Conditions were just right for it to occur so we spied frequent examples.

8-tussock moth cocoon

And because we were looking so closely at the bark, we noticed other things like tussock moth cocoons. We also found tube caterpillar moth cocoons created with pine needles and even pulled one apart to take a closer look. And the tiny sawfly cocoons on various twigs.

10-Willet Brook

Eventually, we found our way beside Willet Brook, which flows into Stevens.

11a-JoAnne photographing script lichen

And again, our eyes were drawn to tree bark and crustose lichen in particular. JoAnne snapped a photo of a script lichen that decorated a red oak.

13-crossing onto LEA property

Our intention was to turn away from the brook and cross the boardwalk that leads onto the Lakes Environmental Association’s adjacent property. Before doing so, however, we began to channel our inner child and rolled some logs.

12-baby red-backed salamander

And we weren’t disappointed for we found young and mature red-backed salamanders as hoped. If you roll a log, always pull it toward you so any critters that want to escape can do so in the opposite direction; and always put the log back into place quickly (well, after a couple of photographs, that is.)

14-Maine Lake Science Center Lab

At LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, Alanna gave us a quick tour of the premises,

15-MLSC Lab

including the lab where various water quality tests are conducted.

16-Connie on the low-impact challenge course

Back outside, we headed up to LEA’s Pinehaven Trail and tried our talent as birds on a wire along the newly installed  low-impact challenge course.

17-Pam and Bill manuevering the wire walk

We all succeeded as Nuthatches for none of us fell off. If we’d done it with one hand, we  would have been Barred Owls and if we hadn’t used any hands, we would have been Cooper’s Hawks. But we were happy to be Nuthatches. There are four sets of challenges, each with a variety of activities to complete. Challenge your inner child.

18-watching balsam sticks

Crossing back into Pondicherry Park, we said we’d bee-line back to the bridge, but several times we just had to stop . . . especially when we found Balsam Fir blisters inviting us to poke them with twigs and drop the resin-tipped sticks into calm water.

19-balsam rainbow

We watched with fascination as the essential oil propelled the twig and created a rainbow, again satisfying that child within.

22-crossing back over the bridge

At last, a half hour after our intended finish time of 12:30pm, we found our way back to our starting point, all delighted to have spent time exploring and playing on a rather raw morning.

Thank you again to Jon and Alanna for sharing your knowledge and sense of wonder. And thank you to Pam, Bill, Connie, and JoAnne for coming out to play with us.

23-Chili and Beer

Later in the day, my guy and I drove to Lovell for yet another special event at the VFW Hall: LOVELL’S 1st ANNUAL BOWLS & BREWS fundraiser for the Sunshine Backpack Food Program.

It was a chili cook-off and beer tasting event featuring locally crafted chili and locally crafted beer from Bear Bones and Saco River Breweries. Plus, National Distributors in Portland donated Harpoon and New Belgium beers.

24-Paula and Diane

Diane Caracciolo nailed it and won first place from the judges and as the people’s choice. Her take away was a coveted apron, actually two, designed by local students who benefit from the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. As Paula Hughes, one of the event’s organizers explained, the packs are sent home on Fridays and filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to ensure the kids get enough food on weekends.

At the end of the day, it seemed an interesting juxtaposition to have spent the morning channeling our inner child and the afternoon thinking about children who are so hungry that they can’t enjoy such childhood magic.

If you’d wish to contribute, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Paula.

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.

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

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.