With recent encouragement I changed my focus and gazed skyward.
Rewarded immediately, the porous and slightly concave underside of Otzi, the Ice Man’s Tinderconk fungi, revealed a pattern repeated over and over again.
In another place where the forest is intended as a demonstration project, the dancers of the woods let their boughs reach down as if they were ladies dressed in gowns rather than Norway Spruce standing in a foreign community.
The upward gaze, however, was soon drawn down to the cone with scales numerous, thin and irregularly toothed, attracted my eye and that of a squirrel who left a large midden at the tree’s base.
And then that gaze focused outward where Common Mergansers whispered amongst themselves in a language only they understood.
In their midst, a Common Goldeneye swam and once again I wondered about that descriptive term “common.” Exactly what is common about that golden eye and all the other features of this duck?
Moments later I gazed skyward again from under a princess pine clubmoss that ends each leaflike structure with a Y as in “Why”? Certainly. Perhaps because.
Distracted once again–I spotted a spring stonefly with its rolled wings providing a stain-glassed venation.
The next upward gaze turned a tree stump into a nurse nourishing an entire deciduous forest as if it could.
Downward, I focused on a black-capped chickadee puffed up on a cold spring morning . . .
and a Mourning Cloak butterfly who had overwintered as an adult under the bark of a nearby tree.
So as a friend reminds me, I’ve entered a new season, one where I squat over vernal pools and beside streams and search for life within for hours on end.
For now, the ice is only just melting and life within the pool taking time to emerge, such as this predacious diving beetle larva.
At last I stand up straight and turn for a reason I don’t recall. But . . . there it is. A bird I’d seen swoop over the pool and stand at its edge as I approached. Of course, then it took off, not giving me an opportunity to identify it . . .
Until the barred owl did just that. Flew back in and posed above. And I realized that as I looked up at it, it looked around . . .
and then down at me. My gaze might be upward, but the owl also searched outward and downward.
As it should. This well-focused visionary knows that one must look in every direction for there’s always something to wonder about. Especially as we celebrate Easter 2021.
And my guy and I give thanks for receiving our second Pfizer shot this weekend. In the midst of joining the owl’s vision, we’re all looking upward.
My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.
And so it was that on this brisk morning, snow-capped Mount Washington greeted me. If you zoom in, you might see the buildings at the summit.
Because I was at a different summit that I frequent, I knew I had to check on the activity of the local residents and wasn’t disappointed. First, I followed their trails, where leaves are well packed. Those led to trees, but no downed nip twigs as one might expect. That could only mean one thing–there are still plenty of acorns on the ground for them to eat. Because I was searching, however, I was thrilled to discover one sign that the season is changing. I knew that by the five layers I was wearing, but the stripped bark and cambium layer of a birch indicated the same. A porcupine’s diet varies with the offerings and part of their winter dining includes just this. Notice, too, the pattern of the incisor marks. Such a design thrills me no matter how often I encounter it.
One of the porky trails led into a crevice below where I stood. It was there that I caught the first glimpse of icicles and knew I had to climb down. My route wasn’t the same as the porcupine’s for I’m not quite as nimble on rocks and slippery leaves.
But, with grace, I descended and made the surprise discovery of Mount Rushmore East. At least, that’s how the rock faces looked to my eyes.
But seriously, I wanted to spy the icicles from below and they became the inspiration for next week’s GLLT Moment.
That wasn’t all I wanted to spy and I wasn’t disappointed for the trail of scat indicated one potential den site.
And more scat led to another. I suspect those aren’t the only two, but I wanted to keep moving, such was the temp.
That said, right beside the second porcupine den, I found a small hole in the ground capped in hoar frost and suspected that someone was inside. It seemed a bit larger than a chipmunk hole. Maybe a squirrel? Or a weasel? Or even, the porcupine’s den vent?
While those choices rolled around in my brain, I climbed up the ledges and made my way down the trail until it intersected with another. Eventually, water once again stopped me as it often does.
Only two weeks ago the temperatures in western Maine were in the 60˚s and 70˚s, but the past few days have been chilly and already dancing elephant legs are forming over sticks that dangle above moving streams.
Even the froth created by the friction of the stream’s movement had frozen in place.
I stopped a few more times, but finally reached the spot that was my second intention of the day. While exploring in this area a couple of week’s ago with several Greater Lovell Land Trust docents, we noticed beaver trees. The work looked rather recent and so we set up a game cam in hopes of getting a view of the perpetrator.
Today’s visit, however, showed no fresh work on this tree.
And a skim of ice indicated no one had recently walked out of the water. I snagged the camera and dropped it at the office so the photos can be downloaded. I hope they reveal more than a few test pics of us homo sapiens.
It was while heading back to my truck that this splash of color caught my attention. Notice the Striped Maple leaf on the mushroom–they are like a matched set. I’ve been torn in my identification between an Artist’s Conk and a Red-belted Polypore, whose belt is not always red.
But more important than identification was presentation. And the knowledge that the middle mushroom grew when the tree was still standing, while the others fruited after the tree had fallen, for mushrooms must always orient toward the ground, the better to spread one’s spores, of course.
My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?
How about now?
Surely now you can.
Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.
Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
And so it was that upon arrival home from a short hike with my guy this morning, we discovered a package addressed to me in the mailbox. When I saw the town in Florida I knew exactly from whence it had come, but still didn’t know what was inside.
Well, much to my delightful surprise it was a children’s book.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor with illustrations by Peter Parnall.
Upon opening to the inside cover, several pieces of paper fell out. The first was a letter from Ben and Faith Hall; though actually it was written by Ben. Here’s an excerpt: “One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock. It was written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall. When Byrd Baylor’s name appeared on the cover of the book I saw, I purchased it for fifty cents.“
Ben and Faith, you see, are part of a group of twelve retired residents in their Florida town who tutor second graders struggling with reading comprehension. Given that, they are always on the lookout for appropriate books to share with their students.
Ben continued in his note to me, “After reading the book, I left it by Faith’s chair without saying anything. Obviously, I wanted to see if her reaction was similar to mine. It was. The story reminds us of your blog with its information and imagination. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. Keep going!
My ulterior motive in sending you the book is that hopefully you will write a children’s book. In no way should you take time away from your blog, but with your depth of spirit it would be worthwhile.
The illustrations in the book are fascinating and remind me of your skill with photography.”
Well, Ben and Faith, thank you so much for this gift. And for your love and support for what I enjoy doing. As for the children’s book, ideas fly through my brain all the time, but . . . I’d have to self-publish and it isn’t going to happen.
As for I’m in Charge of Celebrations, I totally get it. My guy wasn’t in the house when I sat down to read it and it’s a book that needs to be read aloud. And so I did. When he walked around the corner into the living room, he thought I was talking to someone on the phone.
For those of you not familiar with the title, Baylor begins the story with an explanation of how she’s never lonely as she explores the desert.
I feel the same way and on January 11, 2019, I actually wrote, “People often ask me this question: Aren’t you afraid of hiking alone. My response is that I’m more afraid to walk down Main Street than through the woods, the reason being that it’s a rare occasion I encounter a mammal. Oh, I do move cautiously when I’m alone, but there’s something uniquely special about a solo experience.”
As Baylor goes on to say, part of the reason she’s not lonely is this: “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” Indeed. Each celebration marks the day she made an incredible discovery.
And so, I took a look back at some of my blog posts, and it’s all your fault Ben and Faith that this is a long one. But you inspired me to review some exciting discoveries I made just in the past year. With that, I attempted to follow Baylor’s style.
Friends, while reveling in the colors of dragons and damsels, their canoodling resulting in even more predators of my favorite kind, I met Prince Charming, a Gray Tree Frog who offered not one rare glimpse, but two. And so it is that May 30th is Gray Tree Frog Day.
For over thirty years I've stalked this land and July 14th marked the first time I noticed the carnivorous plant growing beside the lake. Droplets glistened at the tips of the hair-like tendrils of each leaf filled to the brink as they were with insect parts. On this day I celebrated Round-leaved Sundews.
A celebratory parade took place on September 22. The route followed the old course of a local river. Along the way, trees stood in formation, showing off colorful new coats. Upon some floats, seeds rustled as they prepared to rain down like candy tossed to the gathered crowd. My favorite musicians sported their traditional parade attire and awed those watching from the bandstand. With an "ooEEK, ooEEK," and a "jeweep" they flew down the route. Before it was over a lone lily danced on the water and offered one last reflection. And then summer marched into autumn.
With wonder in my eyes and on my mind I spent November in the presence of a Ruffed Grouse. The curious thing: the bird followed me, staying a few feet away as I tramped on. I stopped. Frequently. So did the bird. And we began to chat. I spoke quietly to him (I'm making a gender assumption) and he murmured back sweet nothings. Together we shared the space, mindful of each other. As he warmed up below a hemlock, I stood nearby, and watched, occasionally offering a quiet comment, which he considered with apparent nonchalance. Sometimes the critters with whom we share this natural world do things that make no sense, but then again, sometimes we do the same. Henceforth, November will always be Ruffed Grouse month for me.
At 6am a flock of crows outside the bedroom window encouraged me to crawl out of bed. Three black birds in the Quaking Aspen squawked from their perch as they stared at the ground. I peeked but saw nothing below. That is, until I looked out the kitchen door and tracks drew my attention. It took a moment for my sleepy brain to click into gear, but when it did I began to wonder why the critter had come to the back door and sashayed about on the deck. Typically, her journey takes her from under the barn to the hemlock stand. Today, as the flakes fell, and the birds scolded, she sat on the snowpile, occasionally retreated to her den, grunted, re-emerged, and then disappeared for the day. I went out again at dusk in hopes of seeing the prickly lady dig her way out but our time schedules were not synchronized. I don't know why she behaved strangely this morning, but I do know this: when the crows caw--listen. And look. And wonder.
April 8th will be the day I celebrate the Barred Owl for he finally flew in and landed. As I watched he looked about at the offering of treats. Cupcakes and cookies were for sale to the left in the form of Juncos and Chickadees. And then he turned his focus right, where drinks were on tap as the snowflakes fell. He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel of a vole to his liking. Eventually, he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food. But still, he couldn't make up his mind and so he looked some more, swiveling his neck. In the end, he never did choose. Instead, off he flew without munching any of the specialty items. But I finally got to see my owl.
Ah, Ben and Faith, there are moments when one miraculously arrives in the right place at the right time, such as when a dragonfly emerges from its exuvia and slowly pumps blood into its body and you get to be a witness.
It strikes me as serendipity that this book should arrive today. You see, all month I’ve been debating what book to feature and time was of the essence as May approached. And then today, your lovely note, a copy of I’m in Charge of Celebrations, and the Christmas homily you wrote, Ben.
You are both the salt of the earth and I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for your kindness. (I’m only now realizing that we’ve shared a few celebrations that we’ll never forget including the fawn at Holt Pond and your smiling Bob the Bass.
Once again, the April Book of the Month: I’m in Charge of Celebrations.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986.
Setting: A backyard in western Maine on what some might consider a bleak spring day, e.g. a snowy April 8th.
(Cock-eyed bird feeders indicative of ground thawing—really)
Act I, Scene i: I must wonder when “In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.” This one, however, marched on, soon to leave, not once uttering, “Nevermore.”
Act II, Scene i: (enter stage left), And then said one Junco to another, “Junco, Junco, wherefore art thou Junco?” (exit center stage only when sliding snow falls from the roof and lands on the ground with a smack, thus startling all)
Act II, Scene ii: (enter stage right) Where there’s a Junco these days, so is there a Song Sparrow, its conical beak ever ready to crack open a seed. (exit stage left after chasing the Juncos around)
Act II, Scene iii: (enter stage left, right and center) Not to be left out of the gang, Black-capped Chickadees flew in and out at a much quicker pace, grasping a seed and taking it to a Lilac branch to break it open. (exit stage left and then fly in and out, over and over again.)
Act II, Scene iiii: (enter stage right) Making noise as he arrived, a Downy Woodpecker showed off his preference for suet over seed. (exit stage left, with undulating flight)
Intermission: All goes silent as the lights go up in the theatre and in flies a Barred Owl. (finally)
As often happens during Intermission, the owl looked about at the offering of treats.
He checked the cupcakes and cookies on sale to the left.
And then he turned his focus to the right, where the drinks were on tap.
He even checked out the items below his feet, hoping upon hope to find a morsel to his liking.
Despite all the choices, or maybe because of them, he had to stretch out one leg . . .
and scratch an itch.
Eventually he changed his orientation to take a better look at the entire spread of food.
But still, he couldn’t make up his mind and so he looked some more.
And swiveled his neck around.
By the time intermission ended, he hadn’t made up his mind and so he moved off without munching any of the specialty items.
Act III Scene i: (enter stage left, right, and center) The large flock of Juncos flew in, flew out, and flew in again. (exit the same way came in, dispersing in every direction)
Act III, Scene ii: (enter stage left) From the shrubs we hear the song first and then Mr. Cardinal flies to the Lilac. (quickly exit stage right)
Act III, Scene iii: (enter stage left) Mrs. Cardinal arrives only after her guy has flown off. She shows her determination to dine on some morsels of corn.
Act III, Scene iv: (stay on stage, move to the right, then turn sharp left) Showing her determination, she lets nothing stop her.
Act III, Scene v: (center stage) With a kernel of corn in her beak, she shows off her success. (exit stage right as she searches for her Mr.)
Act IV, Scene i: (enter stage left, right and center) A repeat performance of the Juncos and Song Sparrows (exit every which way when the snow once again flies off the roof)
Act V, Scene i: (enter stage right) With its own flash of color an American Robin pays a brief visit to the stage (exit stage left)
Act V, Scene ii: (enter stage left) With its breast not quite as vibrant, a Red-breasted Nuthatch ponders the possibilities.
Act V, Scene iii: (center stage) And a decision was made, a morsel of suet consumed. (exit stage right)
Act V, Scene iv: (enter stage right) Waiting until almost the end of the performance, a pair of Tufted Titmice flew in, grabbed a quick bite, and flew off again in the direction from whence they’d come. (exit stage right)
Act VI, Scene i: (enter stage right) Outlasting his Junco relatives, the Song Sparrow continued to eat . . .
Act VI, Scene ii: (center stage) and eat evermore, whether a caged bird or not. (exit stage right)
Act VII, Scene i: (enter stage right) And then a Hermit Thrush sat upon the Quaking Aspen sapling to mark the final act.
Act VII, Scene ii: (center stage) Its upturned bill will soon provide us with the most beautiful, yet hauntingly exquisite song; clear, musical phrases will blend brilliantly as ethereal, harmonious tones. Spring really has arrived in western Maine. (exit stage left)
Grand Finale: (center stage) Spring arrives in its own rendition each year. And the Barred Owl watches.
We watched as well, thankful for the cheap seats that turned out to be the best seats.
I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.
From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.
Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.
After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,
and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.
I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.
Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.
Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.
What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.
What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?
A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.
Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.
As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.
My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.
With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.
In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.
Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.
Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’sHeald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.
Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.
Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.
No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.
For the black bears that left their signatures behind.
Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.
Others bespoke a setting sun.
And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.
And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.
Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.
At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.
Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New Englandupon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.
Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.
The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.
As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.
And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.
While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.
I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.
For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.
And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.
A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.
Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.
At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.
Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.
I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.
I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of the water.
It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
It would have been so easy to stay home last night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30. And so, I piled on the layers from a wick-away shirt to Under Armour, a turtleneck, sweater, LL Bean vest and rain jacket. I slipped into my Bogg boots and made sure I had the right gear–smartphone for photos, reflective vest, headlamp and flashlight. With a visored hat on my head to shield my glasses from the rain, I was finally ready. Out the door and down the road I went, headed to the Lakes Environmental Association‘s office for Big Night.
I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to attend the party. Our number was about twenty. I think the best part was that we ranged in age from 6 to almost 60, the latter being me–the oldest kid on the block. And in that mix, one teen who was celebrating his 15th birthday (Happy Birthday, Kyle), and several teens who had never attended before but came because one of their crowd was an annual participant. We even had two policemen in the mix–and though their job was to slow traffic and keep us safe, they had as much fun as we did completing our mission.
Said mission–to help spotted salamanders . . .
and spring peepers cross the road.
We did so for a while and then headed back to our vehicles. Just before reaching the spot where we’d all parked, someone spotted this redback salamander–I smiled because its the symbol of the Maine Master Naturalist Program.
We were wet. We were cold. And we were happy. As nature would have it, Big Night preceded Earth Day–a perfect beginning.
Earth Day began appropriately with a board meeting at Lakes Environmental, where among other topics, Dr. Ben Peierls, the new research director of LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center, shared with us his plans for the water quality testing laboratory. Ben addressed us first so that he could drive to Portland and join the March for Science. We continued our meeting, but were thankful for his representation. Meanwhile, directly outside and all around town, another gathering was taking place as many people participated in an Earth Day cleanup.
By the time I left the meeting pleased with all that had been accomplished, I was ready for a solo adventure to find out what the Earth wanted to share with me since most of the snow melted this past week. Despite being another raw day, or maybe because of it, the candy lichen brought a smile to my face. I think one of the cool things about this lichen is that even though its salmon-colored fruits stand atop stalks, this is really a crustose (crust-like) lichen, the bluish-green surface being the actual structure.
Near the candy lichen, the bright blue of some berries stood out on the common juniper. They remain on the shrubs all winter and it seemed only a wee bit ago they looked all withered. Today’s offerings were plump and pretty.
And then there were the raindrops, each waiting its turn to continue the journey toward the earth. I had to wonder what else it might fall upon before reaching its final destination–each little ball encapsulating nourishment.
One of the receivers, sheep laurel, which displayed its own new life.
And at the base, trailing arbutus. One year ago, as I noted in my Earth Day post, it was already in bloom. This seemed a reminder from Mother Earth that we need to practice patience.
I continued my mosey, as quiet as could be, and so was startled when one large, exotic bird, and then another, and a third flew off from behind a stone wall. And then I realized they were wild turkeys–who truly are exotic if you take a look at all the colors in their feathers.
I’d been on the snowmobile trail, but traveling was difficult given some remaining icy snow and deep ruts filled with water. As if I needed an excuse, I decided to slip into the woods. One of my first delights–tinderconks lining a tree as I looked up.
But really, it was the thick moss coating at the top of the tree that first drew my attention. Several trees in the neighborhood displayed the same fashion.
My wander was aimless, taking me through boggy areas . . .
and small sections where snow still blanketed the ground.
Besides plenty of deer scat, I found prints . . .
Raindrops enhanced the hair.
And though I suspect they’ve moved toward open water, there was plenty of evidence that the moose had also spent the winter in these woods.
They, too, have shed hair–preparing for the summer scene.
A couple of months ago, I’d been concerned that the moose had consumed all the tree buds, but the red maples showed me otherwise.
At one point, I stood for a while atop a rock and looked to the south.
And then to the north. It was as I stood there that I heard a repeated sound. It began with a few slow beats, and then a swift series of beats. All seemed muffled. It finally occurred to me that I was listening to a ruffed grouse. Eventually, I followed the drumming and came close to the one beating its wings against a log–the work of a displaying male. I didn’t bother to seek out the actual bird for I knew I’d startle it and it would fly off, so I let it drum in peace, thankful for the opportunity to at least hear it. Really, it was a first for me. Oh, I’ve possibly heard it before, but only today did I recognize it for what it was.
For a while, I was fake lost . . . and then I heard another repeated sound that lead me to a widowmaker and I knew exactly where I was. But where was the maker of the sound?
In a tree above me.
There were actually two barred owls and I was so thankful for the honor of listening to and watching them on this Earth Day.
I was also thankful for all the privileges bestowed upon me. The privilege of living. The privilege of noticing. The privilege of questioning. The privilege of understanding. The privilege of wandering. And especially, the privilege of wondering. Thank you for your offerings, Mother Earth. I am honored to know you.
It all began when I stepped out the back door just before six o’clock this morning. From the treeline I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” I could have returned to bed then, happy for the opportunity to hear such a wise one.
Not long after that, as I passed by a window in the butler’s pantry (no, we don’t have a butler, just an old farmhouse), a splash of red on the ground drew my focus–a Northern flicker had stopped by to feed. Notice the subtle curve of its bill? The better to dig up ants and beetles, as is the custom of this ground-feeding woodpecker.
An hour or so later, I met my friend, Marita, for a hike up the Bald Peak trail at Pleasant Mountain. Our destination–not the summit as we had a time constraint–but rather, Needles Eye.
Our climb included frequent stops at vantage points to take in the sound and beauty of the place.
The flow of the living water and its ever changing presentation mesmerized us much as leaping flames do.
It spiraled over the rocks like a sculpture in fluid motion.
And while so much poured forth and wound its way down the mountain stream,
some remained frozen in time.
At the sign pointing toward Needles Eye, we crossed a stream and then worked our way across the short spur to the narrow formation of rocks that water threads through.
I should qualify that. Marita sauntered across the ice and snow, seeking the wee bit of dirt and leaves at the edge of the trail. It’s a steep edge and even on a summer day, I pick my way carefully over rocks and tree roots. Today, my brain suggested I call it good and sit still. But, she’s a good friend, and realizing my trepidation (I’d forewarned her), she spoke to me calmly about each foot placement, and even turned back to demonstrate exactly what I should do, waited patiently as my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” and my heart said, “I think you can, I think you can,” and offered a hand when necessary.
Together, we did it. This photo is Marita’s as I didn’t want to change my camera lens once we stood in the chasm and watched the water fall.
On a summer day, it’s a delightfully damp place to rest before continuing up the mountain. Sometimes, there’s only a hint of a stream. Today, it was equally enchanting–perhaps we should have bowed in respect of the beauty and power before us. And just maybe we did.
Returning on the spur, Marita again came to my aid. And then we hiked a bit further up until time forced us to head down again.
The descent seemed easier as the snow had softened a bit in the two hours we’d spent enjoying each other’s company and filling our senses with the sights and sounds surrounding us.
Back at home, I was pulled out the door again and made my way to the vernal pool. Ever so gradually, the ice is melting.
And across the center, a crack divided it in two from east to west, while a line between the sunshine and shade completed the quadrants from north to south.
Piles of pepper, aka springtails, floated on melted water atop the ice.
Others clustered on the open water at the pool’s edge. Other than that, I could see no action. Every day, however, will bring something new so I know I’ll check back frequently.
Leaving the pool behind, I headed toward the area where I’d heard the barred owl several hours earlier–and I called. It didn’t respond. But, I reminded myself that this morning’s greeting was enough.
Returning home again, I couldn’t resist the crocuses that I first noticed yesterday. In the past few days, the snow has receded quickly and with today’s light, these spring beauties finally opened.
And then, in the garden beside the house, I found one more surprise–a double daffodil blossoming under some leaves. In this season of watching with wonder, my heart was full.
This day will stick with me for its offerings and I’ll be forever grateful to Marita . . .
for without her help, I wouldn’t have had the gumption to stand in the Needles Eye. She is a kind and funny and wise(r) soul. And I am blessed by our friendship.
P.S. Two minutes after posting this blog, a woodchuck ran across the deck–headed toward the barn, of course.