Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

Since posting this blog yesterday, my Maine Master Naturalist mentor, Susan Hayward chimed in and corrected me. If you’ve read this previously, please be sure to scroll down to the Squawroot discovery. (Or not Squawroot). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge once again and setting me on the right track.

Our intention today when Connie Cross and I visited the wetland at Sebago Lake State Park’s Campground was to . . . well . . . walk with intention. There were several miles of trails to explore during the offseason, but we decided, or rather I did, that we should circle the beaver pond to see what we might see.

b1-horseshoe bog

It was raining as we drove to our meet-up point. And so we piled on extra layers to ward off the damp chill, and thought about snowshoes–to wear or not to wear? Connie chose to throw hers into a backpack and I went without.

b1a-raccoon prints

Our journey down to the wetland was one that had been recently traveled by others, including a certain waddler who showed off its finger-like prints in the melting snow. It made perfect sense to us to follow the track of a raccoon for it would lead to water.

b2-beaver works

Everywhere by the water’s edge, we noticed the works of another mammal–some old and others more recently hewn by the local beaver family.

b6-lodge

And then we spied the lodge and noted the mudded sides and recent additions to the chimney stack at the top and knew that it was active.

b3-duck on lodge

As we watched, we noticed that someone decided to call upon the residents–for a female mallard hopped from the water to the lodge and began to climb up.

b4-duck on lodge

One might expect a fox or coyote to pay a visit to a beaver lodge and reenact the story of the big bad wolf and three pigs. Or as noted on tonight’s PBS show entitled Nature: Leave it to Beaver, the visitors might be a muskrat, mouse, or frog who check in at the inn, but a mallard?

b5-mallard

Apparently, she liked the contents amid the mud used to insulate the house.

b7-sky reflection

As we watched, the sky above began to change and we noted such in the water’s reflection. Clouds, sun and blue sky marked a morning in transition.

b8-mallard couple

Continuing along the trail, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard became our friends and seemed to follow us, that is, until he signaled to her rather like a dog points, and a few seconds later off they flew.

b9-beaver

In the meantime, we heard a splash in the water behind us. What caused it? There was no snow high up on the trees that might have fallen. And then . . . we saw the creators. Beavers. There were actually three–moving about slowly and then suddenly splashing again and disappearing into the depths below. And the chambers within. We were in awe and felt honored to have shared a few minutes with members of the family.

b12-squawroot

Finally, we pulled ourselves away. And then . . . we came upon another find. And somewhere from the depths of my brain after some word association like Indian pipe and Pine sap, I pulled up the name–Squawroot. Connie looked it up on her phone and tada, I was right. Another name for this parasitic plant is American cancer-root for it only occurs where it can attach to oak roots and we were in a forest of red and white oaks. Like Indian pipe and Pine sap, this plant doesn’t have any chlorophyll and therefore no green color. It actually reminded us of a pineapple.

And tada, I was actually wrong. Though they look sorta similar, this is what Susan shared: “Your squawroot looks to me to be the favorite food of those beaver.
Bullhead Lily or Spadderdock Root. Squawroot is later in the summer. There is rarely any residual after the winter; maybe a clump of twiggy dried stems. The Lily root is much more substantial tissue than squawroot. It is carbon loading for the beaver.

I had never seen the roots of Spadderdock before. I learn something knew every day–thankfully.

b14-checking the trail

We continued to circle the bog, and on the northwestern side I gave thanks that Connie had packed her snowshoes, for she packed the trail while I followed. We did try to figure out why it was called Horseshoe Bog. The shape didn’t speak to the name, but perhaps someone once found a horseshoe in the area–or so we wondered.

b13-snowman

We weren’t the only ones wondering. A snow creature posed over the space with many a question about the future on its mind.

b15-from the other side

As we circled, the skyview changed and we finally began to feel the warmth of the day.

b16-another lodge

We also noted at least three other lodges that had provided warm spaces in previous winters.

b17-a closer look

The one noted in the last photo showed no signs of mud when we took a closer look so we knew it wasn’t active this year. If they had intended to stay, the beavers would have worked hard to interlock the sticks and then add plenty of mud like we add insulation and siding to our homes.

b19-beaver lodge trail

After three hours, we’d completed our journey–traveling maybe a mile in all that time. But we rejoiced for we’d spent time with the mallards and beavers and squawroot. Mallards, Beavers, and Squawroot, Oh My!

 

 

Cozy Cabin

This afternoon Jinny Mae and I went in search of the perfect location to build a cabin. A tiny cabin. A one room cabin. With an outhouse of course. And an infinity pool.

p1-Old Beaver Pond

Deciding where to place it proved to be the most challenging part of the building process. We didn’t want to rush into the things and so we stood. For a long time. And absorbed the sun’s warmth. And reveled in the quiet. It was a contender, but decided we might have to return in another month or so when the song birds sing to decide if it was the right spot, for it was almost too quiet.

p4-brook

And so we continued our journey beside a stream where the ice had melted and water gurgled.

p5-water

In fact, it gurgled so much that it was irresistible and we began looking about because we felt drawn to the spot.

p3-hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris)

The neighborhood also appealed to us because it had so many interesting landmarks including the hexagonal-pored polypores,

p11--tinder conk pore surface

tinder conks (aka hoof fungus) with their pore surfaces exposed,

p10-false hoof fungus

and even some false tinder conks.

p7-script lichen

One of the things that surprised us was all the writing on the bark for we found script lichen on many a tree trunk. It felt like we’d stumbled upon volumes of research about the construction process.

p12-hairy curtain crust fungus 2

When building, the old adage is location, location, location, but it helps when local resources are available–which we found in the form of curtains, aka hairy curtain crust fungus (or so I think).

p15-many fruited pelt lichen

We also spied multi-fruited pelt lichen that would be suitable to cover the floors.

p17-beaver 2

And then we began to notice the available lumber.

p19-beaver 4

It came in a variety of tree species.

p20-beaver 5

And was already de-barked.

p19-beaver 6

And pre-hewn.

p23-infinity pool

When we saw the infinity pool, we were certain that we’d found the prime location.

p24-lodge roof top

And then we spied a pre-built cabin with a new roof top and we imagined a chimney in the center of the structure.

p25-lodge and dinner raft below water

As it turned out, there was no need for us to build a tiny cabin after all, for we found one already constructed and it even included a refrigerator filled with a cache of branches. Fine dining was definitely in our future.

We were excited because we wouldn’t need to do the building ourselves and our dream was realized in a lodge that was well placed as it graced the landscape and took advantage of the local offerings. A cozy cabin indeed.

From Lion to Lioness

Given yesterday’s rain and fog, March forgot its lion-like nature and seemed rather tame. Or so we thought.

h-lion

This morning, however, dawn broke with sunshine and clouds, followed by raindrops the size of half dollars, followed by clouds and wind, followed by snow and wind, followed by clouds and sunshine, followed by hail, followed by sunshine and clouds. And all of that before noon.

h-clothes-line

The wind continued to blow, but was down a few knots when two friends and I noticed this bark hanging out to dry much the way laundry does.

h-beaver-bog

Our intention was to explore Lakes Environmental Association‘s newly acquired property in North Bridgton. The 325-acre property was the gift of the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust. And based on the wildlife signs we encountered today, it offers a valuable corridor. It’s all of that plus it’s part of the Highland Lake watershed and ultimately the Sebago Lake watershed. And it will provide a place for research, public education and recreation.

h-bog-1

And so today, I followed Marita Wiser, author of HIKES & Woodland Walks in and around Maine’s LAKES Region and JoAnne Diller, who has conquered all 100 4,000-foot peaks. Our intention was to skirt around the outside of the wetland, but curiosity got the better of us.

h-coyote-prints

For a bit, we followed the tracks of several coyotes who had traveled through rather recently given that we could clearly see the toes, nails and X between pads .

h-coyote-trot

And then we found a set of prints, also coyote, that appeared to be even fresher. What made us wonder were the drag marks we saw in various places associated with the tracks, which we don’t often see.  It was obvious that the mammal was trotting give the sets of four prints in a backward C fashion. But was it dragging its tail because it was sinking in a bit, much as we were? Or was it dragging some prey? We never did figure it out, but enjoyed the chance to wonder.

h-heron-nest-2

We do know that it led us to a heron nest high up in a tree. I’d only visited the property twice before, in the early summer and had seen another heron nest, but this one was new to me. Such big birds. Such little nests given that they raise three or four young who grow as big as their parents while waiting to fledge.

h-beaver-brook-meanders

Though we could feel the wind on our faces, we enjoyed the sunshine as we journeyed on through this special place. Soon this world will change and so we were rejoicing in the opportunity to view it from such an upclose perspective.

h-beaver-lodge-1

Our next stop was one of the beaver lodges. It appeared that no one was home, given the fact that there was no meltdown at the top and no mammal tracks leading to or from it.

h-beaver-lodge-2-opening

Instead, we followed faded weasel tracks presumably made by an otter, to another lodge, where the top was exposed.

h-beaver-damotter

As we circled around behind it, we noted that many visits had been made.

h-heron-nest-3

And then we turned again, to another heron nest that I recognized. During my June visit, an adult had flown in, indicating there may have been young in the nest.

h-lungwort-brown-1

From there, we paused briefly to admire some lungwort that was the brownest and driest I’ve ever seen, especially given yesterday’s rain and today’s mixed precipitation.

h-beaver-dam-approach

And then our eyes were suddenly drawn to a line of lumps in the snow and we realized we were standing on the infinity pool created by a beaver dam.

h-beaver-dam-3

Being mighty explorers, Marita led the way and we climbed up and over a hemlock hill to garner a closer look. And then JoAnne led us onto a little island where we stood and took in the views.

h-beaver-brook-below-dam

Tracks leading to the water indicated we weren’t the only ones who had ventured this way. But . . . no sign of beaver activity.

h-beaver-trees

Back up over the hill we tramped and suddenly our eyes began to focus . . .

h-beaver-teeth-marks

on beaver works.

h-beaver-goddess

With our imagination wheels turning, we saw a sculpture of a pregnant woman.

h-beaver-birch

And marveled at the amount of fresh works everywhere.

h-beaver-trail

Their path was well traveled and led us to more.

h-beaver-chew-stick

We even spied beaver chews, the snack of choice.

h-beaver-dam-small

And another smaller dam.

h-marita-and-joanne

Eventually, we left the beavers behind and continued across the hardwood/hemlock/pine forest, crossing a couple of skid roads before finally following one out, sharing stories and future plans as we hiked.

For this day that came in like a lion, we were thankful for the opportunity to enjoy its more lioness form and to roar with our own joy and laughter shared.

Paying Attention

When she invited me to join her for a walk down a dirt road, I knew Jinnie Mae and I would make some wonderful discoveries, but had no idea what begged to be noticed.

j-ebony 15

We cruised along at a faster pace than normal as we chatted . . . and then . . . we slowed . . . down. And that’s when the world poured forth its graces.

j-ebony 18

Beside a small stream, we were in the land of numerous ebony jewelwing damselflies, their metallic green bodies, beady black eyes and jewel-outlined wings showing brilliantly as they flitted about.

j-jack1

We noticed Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing strong, proud and tall,

J-swamp candle

swamp candles lighting up the water,

j-heal all 3

heal-all beginning to bloom,

j-pyrola 2

and waxy-petaled pyrola flowers with styles curved below like an elephant’s trunk.

j-beaver 2

We stopped by a beaver pond and decided they have moved on,

j-beaver 4

but their works were still evident.

j-beaver 3

Though the lodge may be abandoned by beavers,

j-lodge 1

it appeared that someone had stopped by.

j- royal 6 (1)

On the other side of the beaver dam, royal ferns decorated the stream in their shrub-like manner.

j-royal 2

Their fertile fronds posed like crowns above their heads, bespeaking their royalty.

j- royal 5 (1)

With their unique structure, there is really nothing else that resembles the royal fern.

j-ebony3

Because we were once again by the water, we realized the jewelwings were abundant–though they seemed more blueish in color here than further down the stream. Was it the lighting?

j-ebony 13

Beside the tranquil stream, they flittered and fluttered, their wings like sails over iridescent bodies, and occasionally they settled on vegetation for a photo call.

j-spider 2

Others also settled.

j-cuke1

We pulled ourselves away–or actually, Jinnie Mae gently nudged me away and we continued our journey back, certain that we’d see sights we missed on the way down the road. There were Indian cucumbers with multiple flowers–the most I’d ever seen . . . until Jinnie May pointed out that it was really two plants. Oops.

j-cuke 2

But still, we found one with at least four blossoms, all in various stages.

j-butterfly1

She told me we’d probably see an Eastern black swallowtail.

j-butter 3

And we did.

j-spotted winter

Though it’s not time for spotted wintergreen to flower yet,

j-spotted 1

we found its seed pods atop tall stalks. For me, this was a plant I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. (According to Maine Natural Areas Program’s Rare Plant Fact Sheet, Chimaphila maculata is threatened in our state and has an S2 ranking) Will I see it in other places now that I’m aware of it? Time will tell.

j-winter 1

We noticed tender new wintergreen leaves, but it’s the berries that made us turn back for a closer look.

j-winter 2

The scarlet berries matured last summer, survived the winter without being eaten (they taste like wintergreen in the summer, but lose their flavor and sugar count over the winter months) and have now become enlarged.

j- trailing 2 (1)

What really stopped us in our tracks–trailing arbutus. Last month, we were wowed by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. They’ve since faded to a rusty tone.

j- trailing 6 (1)

And some have transformed into swollen round seed pods.

j- trailing 8 (1)

The sepals have curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on our knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they may soon disappear.

Paying attention with and without a hand lens on a delightful spring day–we were once again thankful for the opportunity to notice . . . and to wonder.

 

Temporarily Giving a Dam

Another frigid morning and a dusting of snow set the scene for the Greater Lovell Land Trust docents and me as we tramped about the woods today.

b-trail

Hiking up a trail, it suddenly occurred to us that we were zooming–not exploring in our usual slow pace. Blame it on the cold. Blame it on the fact that we had a mission and I had a time frame.

b-pond 1

We knew of the beaver activity in these woods and were eager to take a closer look at their recent work. Oh darn. Such a task.

b-roadway dams

A couple of small dams stopped us in our tracks.

b-beaver log

And then we slowed down and began to notice.

b-chew and hole 1

Debarked logs and holes caught our attention.

b-beaver hole 2

Fairly fresh holes where a beaver recently came up for air.

b-lodge 1

Through the trees we spied the lodge.

b-beaver works 1

Cut saplings spoke of food and construction,

b-beaver works 3

while carved statues dotted the landscape.

b-beaver works 2

Hieroglyphics marked many a tree base.

b-beaver works 4

We saw signs of success,

b-beaver trees

near success,

b-tree falls wrong way

and potential failure–this one fell away from the pond and was hung up on other trees.

b-catkins

While circling the pond, we paused to offer admiration–of the speckled alder catkins,

b-ice on stream

ice works,

b-burl 1

burls,

b-yellow birch, hemlock

and relationships.

b-lodge 2

We reveled in a close-up view.

b-channel 5

And recognized more activity in broken ice and air bubbles.

b-beaver path to channel

With discerning eyes, we recognized a pathway and water channel,

b-tracks over log

and wondered about melted snow that possibly indicated recent action.

b-beginning of main dam

Dam construction occurred in a variety of ways and created more than one shallow pond.

b-dam crossing

An obligation I had ended our exploration sooner than is our norm. On our way out, we crossed a small dam–thankful that we’d taken time to ponder and wonder about these ponds that serve as pantries and highways. Though our visit was as temporary as this change in the landscape may be, we were happy to have the opportunity to give a dam.

 

Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

When I suggested to Marita that we explore Brownfield Bog this afternoon, she wondered  how much water we might encounter on the road. And so we wore boots. Marita donned her Boggs, while I sported my waterproof hiking boots.

b-johnny jump up

Until we got there, we didn’t realize that the privately-owned road leading into the bog isn’t open yet, but thought we’d park at a driveway near the beginning and leave a note. The owner came along, whom she knew, and graciously invited us to park  near his home and cross through his woods down to the bog road. He and his wife share a piece of heaven and I took only one cheery photo to remind me of their beautiful spot and kind hospitality.

b-river road literally

And then on to the bog it was. Just after the gate, we realized that we couldn’t walk to the Saco River–literally a river road.

b-bog 1

But this is a bog, where all forms of life enjoy wet feet.

b-willow 2

From pussy willows to . . .

b-speckled alder 1

speckled alders,

b-cranberry

cranberries,

b-red maple 2

and flowering red maples–wet feet are happy feet and they all thrive in seasonally flooded places.

b-ducks 1

We kept scaring the ducks off, but know that there were wood ducks among the mix. They, of course, know the importance of wet and webbed feet.

b-lodge 2

b-beaver tree

b-beaver scent mound

And by their lodges, tree works and scent mounds, we knew the beavers had been active–another wet-footed species. We did wonder about the survival rate of those that built beside the road–seems like risky business given the predators that travel this way.

b-pellet

Speaking of predators, check out the orange rodent teeth among all the bones in this owl pellet.

b-bog 2

On this robin’s egg kind of day

b-pleasant mtn

with Pleasant Mountain sandwiched between layers of blue,

b-field 1

the breeze brisk at times and the sun warm always,

b-water over road on way back

the flow of water didn’t stop us.

b-wet feet

Waterproof boots and wool socks–the perfect combination to avoid wet feet. Well, maybe a wee bit damp, but five hours later and I just took my socks off.

 

Making a list

and checking it twice. That’s what the busy beavers on a friend’s property appear to be doing right now as they ready for winter.

When JoAnne asked if I wanted to see the recent beaver works, I jumped at the opportunity.

beaver pond 1

Today’s rain didn’t stop us from heading out to explore. She first discovered this new pond when she walked down a sloping field and noticed through the trees what looked like water–where it wasn’t supposed to be.
beaver creek 2

A creek flows through her neighbor’s property and once supported several mill sites.

beaver stream width

It continues, or should I say continued, across her property, coming in from the right. That is, until things changed.

beaver ribbons

This past summer, in the middle of what is now the pond, JoAnne stood beside the then creek and marked a property boundary with pink tape.

beaver ribbon 1a

The ribboned tree was on the far side of the creek before her new neighbors  came knocking.

At a former dam site, they took it upon themselves to do their own construction. It needs work as we could see some holes, but I’ve no doubt that they’ll be on that in no time.

  beaver works 6beaver works 4beaver works 2

Their industrious nature was evident everywhere we looked. No tree species was spared. Once felled, they trimmed the branches and carried or dragged them to the water.

beaver debark

With their large front teeth, beavers bite chips off trunks. Their rodent teeth never stop growing so gnawing wood helps keep them in check. Because their lips are located behind their teeth, they can keep their mouths closed while they work. No need to hum a logging tune.

beaver chews

Some trees are particularly tasty and it seems that they like more than just the bark and cambian layer, the softwood just beneath the bark. Or perhaps they are cutting them into log-size pieces to make for easier carrying and maneuvering in the water.

beaver shed

Nothing was safe, including the sapling that had grown beside the shed.

beaver industry

beaver works 3

Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way they intend.

beaver caught

The upper part catches on other trees. All that effort . . . for naught.

beaver works 5

We stood in awe and wondered about how nature plays tricks on them occasionally.

beaver height

We marveled at the thought of them standing on their hind feet to work.

beaver trail 2

And we noticed their oft-traveled roadways throughout the area.

beaver admiration

One of the truly curious things–most of the trees have fallen toward the water. Chance? Instinct? Engineering skills? They’ve learned how to fell a tree in that direction, thus creating the quickest route back to safety?

beaver lodge 2

The lodge is large. Accessible only via underwater entrances, the beaver family has protection from some predators. Outside, we could see part of their winter feed pile. We suspect there are more sticks below the water that will be available once the ice finally forms.

beaver statue 2

When all is said and done, statues like this will remain to remind JoAnne and others of these natural engineers and how they altered the land to create the water world they need for survival, which will ultimately benefit other wildlife.

As for their checklist:

*dam secure?

*lodge in good repair?

*food cut, moved and stored?

How about you? Have you made your list and checked it twice?