A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

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In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

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As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

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And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

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Like this.

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Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

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And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

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The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

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We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

Milestones are always important as they mark significant events in our lives. And for me, such an event occurs today as I celebrate the second anniversary of the day wondermyway.com was born.

Since I was in elementary school and made few and far between entries into a chunky journal bound in a green cover (which I still own), to the first empty book journal my sister gave me when I graduated from high school, to a variety of travelogues and other journals I’ve filled from cover to cover,  I’ve recorded my life’s journey from time to time.

The most satisfying for me has been this very blog, to which I’ve added numerous events and discoveries, both natural and historical, over the last two years. As personal as it all is, I’ve taken a leap of faith by sharing it with you. And you have been gracious enough to read it, and comment on it, and “like” it, and sometimes “love” it, and offer me suggestions, corrections and gentle nudges.

Thank  you for following along on the journey. It’s been scary to put myself out there, but I have.

And now, I thought I’d review some favorite finds I noted in posts over the past year. My learnings have been many and it’s been fun to review all that I’ve seen and thought and admired and wondered about. I hope you’ll feel the same and will continue to follow along and comment and share those that you enjoy with your family and friends.

Here’s my countdown , or maybe I should say my count up of favorite moments in time over the past year:

Feb 21, 2016: Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

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b-sketch 1

I made time one year ago to sit and sketch–one of my favorite activities. To be still and embrace life around me. To notice. And commemorate.

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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Usually, we drive the forest road in to the gate on Hut Road in Stoneham, but in winter it isn’t passable, and thus one must walk–which means paying attention to things you might not normally notice, such as this: a special relationship between a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in place, they embrace and share nutrients. Forever conjoined, they’ll dance through life together.

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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While exploring the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s  Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham with my friend, Parker,  who is a master mycologist, he found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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When I first spied this lump of gray I assumed it was a dead mouse. I know, I know–I should never assume because I risk “making an ass out of u and me.” And so I took a closer look. And noticed tons of bones and those orange teeth. An owl pellet filled with the remains of dinner. Owl pellets are extra cool and dissecting one is even cooler. I collected this one but haven’t dissected it because I think it makes for a great teaching tool as is. If you want to see it, just ask.

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

v-egg mass 1

At the vernal pool, or frog pond as we’ve always fondly referred to it, just steps from our property, I kept a keen eye on the situation last spring. In general, each mass laid by  female wood frogs was attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a warm, sunny spot.

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

April 28, 2016: The Big, The Little and Everything in Between

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The phone rang as I stepped out of the shower and a male voice yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. My friend, Dick,  was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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Along Perky’s Path at the GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Preserve, a bunch of us had the honor to watch a dragonfly split open its exoskeleton and emerge from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver. As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

May 31, 2016: Slippers Fit for a Princess–Including Cinderella

p-ph lady y 15

Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined. With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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At Lakes Environmental Association‘s Holt Pond Preserve, a friend and I had moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at. Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. It was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

partridge berry

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j-  trailing 7 (1)

In May, trailing arbutus wowed us by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. In June,  they faded to a rusty tone. And some transformed into swollen round seed pods–a first for me to see.

The sepals curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they wouldn’t last long.

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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I posed a question this day: So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

And fellow Master Naturalist Pam Davis responded: Check out bagworm moths to see if it might be an answer to the stick thing on the leaf and your house. Here’s a discussion: http://nature.gardenweb.com/discussions/2237505/not-a-bug-maybe-a-gall and a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagworm_moth

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

w-frit 2

It was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land. Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian Pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

h-pitcher  flower up close

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form. When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug. I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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My favorite wonder of the day . . . moments spent up close with a meadowhawk.

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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My guy and I discovered several of these examples of fungi on fungi at Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Raymond Community Forest and had no idea what they were–so I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

u-candy-2

On a rainy day adventure with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in nearby New Hampshire, we paused to admire candy lichen, a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration. Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish berets atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

j-lichens-galore

And then . . . and then . . . and then just as our eyes trained on the red caps before us, something else made itself known. We spied another lichen that I’ve only seen once before: Cladonia cervicornis ssp. verticillate.

Its growth formation is rather unique. In one sense, it reminded me of a sombrero, but in another sense, I saw fountains stacked one atop another, each giving forth life in their own unique fashion. But rather than being called Fountain Lichen, its common name is Ladder Lichen–perhaps referring to the fact that the pixies can easily climb up and up and up again.

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

h-pine-suds

A sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot–froth at the base of a pine tree. 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? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw . . . Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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Some cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

December 23, 2016: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

m-print

I followed the porcupine trail along his regular route and over the stonewall only to discover prints I’ve never met before. My first impression was raccoon, but the shape of the prints and the trail didn’t match up in my brain. More and more people have mentioned opossum sightings in the past few years, but I’ve only seen one or two–flattened on the road. Today, in our very woods, opossum prints.

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

o-deer

While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

January 25, 2017: On the Prowl at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve

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Notice how these pine needles are clumped together? What I learned from Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious,  is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. 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 when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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When life gives you flakes . . . make a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

To all who have read this far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past two years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

My guy and I were up for an adventure this morning as we headed off to a property recently acquired by Loon Echo Land Trust. I’d been there once before, but at that time there was no trail system and I certainly hadn’t climbed to the summit.

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We were on a 356-acre property bisected by a paved road. First, we hiked the upper section, passing through a hardwood forest.

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Immediately, I realized we were in the presence of one of my favorites–noted for the mitten-ish presentation of its leaves. One would have to be all thumbs to fit into this mitten, but still, my heart hums whenever I spy a white oak.

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Or in this case, many white oaks, some exhibiting the wine color of their fall foliage.

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And the bark–a blocky look that differs greatly . . .

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from the ski trail ridges of red oak.

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Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.

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As we neared the summit, we noticed that the sky view had a yellowish tone reflected by the ground view. Most trees were of the same age due to past logging efforts, but the predominant species was sugar maple.

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Another favorite tree also grew abundantly here. I think they are also favorites because I don’t see them as often. In this case, the bark, though furrowed and ridged like a northern red oak, featured an almost combed flattened ridge.

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And its leaves–oh my! Notice the asymmetrical base? And the length–my boot is size 8. American basswood–an important timber tree that is known to share the community with sugar maples and hornbeams–all of which provided that yellow glow.

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At last, we reached the vantage point.

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Above us, a mix of colors and species.

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Before us, a mix of white and red oak leaves.

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And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake

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and Rattlesnake Mountain.

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While we admired the view, ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) swarmed us. Well, not exactly in swarm formation, but more than is the norm.

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After admiring the view for a while and wondering about the ladybirds, we backtracked a bit and decided to explore the green trail, assuming that it looped about the summit.

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The trail conditions changed constantly, and one thing we realized was that the leaves had dried out and we wished we could have bottled their scent along with our crispy footfall as we trudged through–the smells and sounds associated with autumn.

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Eventually, we entered a beech commune and what to my wondering eyes should appear–bear claw marks? We ventured closer, circled the tree and looked at others in the neighborhood before determining that our eyes had perhaps played a trick on us.

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That was OK because within seconds a twig moved at our feet.

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We watched as its tongue darted in and out, red tipped with a black fork.

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Finally, we moved back to what we’d named Ladybird Lookout and found lunch rock where we topped off sandwiches with Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge a la Megan and Becky Colby. Life is good. Life is very good. (And we know a town in western Maine that would benefit greatly from a bakery–just saying, Megan!)

r-trail-ribbon-art

After lunch, we climbed back down and crossed Conesca Road to check out trails on the other side. There is no trail map just yet, but we never got lost. And we appreciated the artwork nature created of manmade marks.

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This space offered a different feel where hardwoods combined with softwoods. And more stonewalls crossed the property, speaking to past uses.

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It’s here that we noticed an area demarked by pink flags and stopped to wonder why. Note to self–excavated hole and debris mean beware.

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Upon closer examination, an old hive. So who dug it up? We had our suspicions.

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We also noticed a fungi phenomena.

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Fungi on fungi? Honey mushrooms attacked by something else?

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The displays were large

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and otherworldly. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

r-red-leaves

As we concluded our visit, we passed over one more stone wall decorated with red maple leaves.

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And then we hopped into the truck and traveled a couple of miles south to conquer another small mountain–one visible to us from Ladybird Lookout. (I really think LELT should name it such.)

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Here the milkweed plants grew abundantly.

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In the field leading to the trail, the property owners planted white oak saplings in hopes of providing food for wildlife. Um, by the same token, they’d enclosed the saplings in plastic sleeves (reminding us of our findings in Ireland) to keep deer at bay.

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The understory differed and ferns offered their own autumn hues.

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In contrast were the many examples of evergreen wood ferns.

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We soon realized that quite literate bears frequented this path and announced their presence.

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At last, the view opened and we looked back at the opposite shore of Crescent Lake, though realizing that our earlier ascent was masked by the trees.

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Turning about, Panther Pond came into view.

We’d spent the day embracing Raymond because everybody loves Raymond.

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r-brimar-trail-sign

Raymond, Maine, that is. Loon Echo Land Trust is gearing up to celebrate the Raymond Community Forest that we explored this morning and the Bri-Mar Trail up Rattlesnake Mountain has long been traveled by many. In fact, when I used to write copy for the local chamber of commerce, I spent some time learning about Edgar Welch, who was the fastest man on foot and ran up Mount Washington at least once a year. He lived in Raymond and worked for David McLellan, who was partially blind from a Civil War injury. Because Mr. McLellan’s farm was at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, the sun would set one hour earlier than elsewhere in town. According to legend, after work each day Edgar ran up the mountain and moved rocks. Finally, he’d moved enough to let the sun shine on the farm for an hour longer. Another story has it that one day a man bet Edgar that he could beat him in a race to Portland. The man would race with his horse and buggy, while Edgar ran. When the opponent pulled into the city, Edgar was waiting for him. I love local lore.

And everybody loves Raymond. Well, my guy and I certainly gained a better appreciation for this town today.

 

 

 

In Constant Flux

Ever so slowly, the world around us changes.

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Sometimes it’s as obvious as the leaves that fall.

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And other times, it’s a bit more subtle, evidenced by the bees that have slowed their frantic pace as they make final collections.

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Mid morning, I headed down the cow path in search of other signs of change.

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As I walked along, I began to realize the interdependence of all. Under the northern red oaks–many  chopped off twigs.

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The angled cut and empty cap indicated the work of porcupines seeking acorns.

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I found maple leaves pausing on hemlocks,

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pine needles decorating spruce trees,

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and occasional puddles offering a rosy glow. Eventually, all of these leaves and needles will break down and give back.

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I found life on a rock, where lichens began the story that was added to by mosses. The creation of soil was enhanced by a yearly supply of fallen leaves and needles gathered there. And then a seed germinated, possibly the result of an earlier squirrel feast.

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I found orange peel and many other fungi aiding the process of decomposition so that all the fallen wood and leaves will eventually become part of the earthen floor.

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I found a healthy stand of trees and ferns competing for sunlight in an area that had been heavily logged about ten years ago.

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I found evidence of those who spend their lives eating and sleeping in this place.

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I found seeds attached

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and those on the fly–heading off in search of a new home.

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I found the last flowers of fall

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exploding with ribbony blooms.

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After bushwhacking for a few hours, I found the snowmobile trail, where man and nature have long co-existed.

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At last I found my way across the field rather than through our woodlot, thankful for the opportunity to take in the colors of the season one more time.

At the end of the day, I’m once again in awe as I think about how we, and all that we share this Earth with, are dependent upon each other and the abiotic forces that surround us.

And with that comes the realization that the scene is in constant flux and so am I.

 

 

 

Sightings Along the Snowmobile Trail

bone mystery

Today’s walk began with a mystery. I actually first saw this about a week ago and wondered about it, but then it slipped my mind–a bone found at the base of a pine tree along one of the trails in our woodlot. A vertebrae? Deer? Or something from the meat market? Our neighbors’ dogs have surprised us before, but I didn’t see any sign of their tracks near this. Maybe it had been under the snow for a while and they left it months ago?

chew marks

Whatever it is and however it got there, it’s providing calcium to little brown things.

tipsy pole

We decided to head north along the snowmobile trail. It follows the power line and is a major thoroughfare in this section. Some of the poles are a bit tipsy. Too much to drink? We know from experience that they have wet feet.

alder

Speckled Alder love the wet soil and are prolific along this section of the power line. Today, their burgundy brown catkins were aglow in the late afternoon sun. The longer male catkins form in the fall. The females, which are much smaller and closer to the trunk, develop into dark brown cones. Alders are pioneers, meaning they’re usually the first species in the transition of cleared land back to forest. I’m trying to learn the differences of catkins among tree species so please hang in there with me (pun intended).

gray birch catkins

I couldn’t reach to get a better look even though the trees were arched over the trail, but these are the male catkins of Gray Birch  (Betula populifolia), dangling near the tips of the twigs. While the males can grow to about three inches long, the erect female catkins will be found among the new leaves and are only about 1/3-inch long.

paper birch catkins

Like the Gray Birch, the Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), develops catkins in the fall, which remain dormant over the winter. As the leaves develop, they’ll mature. The male catkins seen here are in the typical arrangement of groups of three that droop from the tip of the twigs.

deer stand

There were other things to see along the way, like this deer stand that has been beside the trail for as long as we’ve lived here. I assume it’s still used because it’s in good shape.

To me, it looks like a lifeguard chair. That reminds me–today was definitely not a beach day. Sunny, but still blustery and cold. Nothing some hot cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps couldn’t cure after our walk.

teaberry

As the snow melts along the trail, more and more wintergreen appears. For the most part, the leaves are still showing their fall foliage red, but some greening is taking place. And I saw very few berries so I have to assume that they provided sustenance to the grouse, squirrels and deer that share this space.

flower pot

One of my favorite finds today was nature’s flower pot.

And I’ve been looking for signs of moose in the area all winter. I usually find their tracks, scat and beds somewhere around here. We’ve had the joy of seeing them from our kitchen window during different seasons. But it’s been a while. Finally, today . . .

moosr

atop a barn where the trail intersects a road.

Thanks for wondering my way once again.

Bark Eyes

powerline

Looks Like We Could Walk to Mount Washington

Though it was a blustery day, the wind wasn’t much of a bother in the woods beyond the power line. I crossed the snowmobile trail and slipped into my peace-filled mode.

pine

Until a couple years ago when I was working on my capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program, I didn’t know a lot about tree bark. Since then, I’ve been developing my bark eyes. Seriously, I have a difficult time driving down the road–my distraction isn’t a cell phone. It’s tree bark.

pine sketch

I like the pattern visible on the plates of Eastern White Pine–its numerous horizontal lines remind me of writing paper. Hmmmm . . .

What better way to get to know it than to sketch it. One thing I’ve learned over the years about sketching is that it doesn’t have to be exact. Only God is perfect–thank goodness I don’t have to aspire to that goal. So my sketches represent what I see.

red oak

red oak sketch

The red inner bark of Northern Red Oak is visible through the furrows. In older trees, the flattish furrows look like ski tracks coming down the tree.

ash

Do you know this one? Can you see the diamond shape? Some people see a letter A. Others see the rind of a cantaloupe. I guess, whatever works for you is the best way to describe it.

white ash sketch

White Ash it is. I feel like we’re not only on a texture tour of trees, but also a color tour 🙂

Last one for today before I share a few other cool things that I discovered.

red maple

This one always catches my eye. No only is it known for the color of its twigs, flowers and fall foliage, but look at the bark. Do you see the bull’s eye pattern in the cracks? Bull’s Eye Target on Red Maples is caused by a fungi that only affects this species. Most Red Maples in our area display the target. It doesn’t appear to kill the tree–immediately.

red maple sketch

Though the snow is still deep, it’s getting more and more difficult to move–crusty on top and then, whoosh, suddenly I sink in–snowshoes and all.

porc tree

As I tromped along, my eyes were drawn to the area under a large hemlock that I’ve visited many times this winter. At first there was activity there, and then nothing, until today that is.

porc cut

The porcupine had nipped the branches and you can see the incisor marks on this one. The fallen branches become prime deer food.  Deer had been under the tree. I took a photo of their tracks and scat but, alas, the wrong camera setting and it was overexposed.

Also seen under this tree, a spot where a red a squirrel paused on a branch to strip a white pine cone–and let the scales and leftover cob fall to the ground. Another cafe in the woods.

  porc scat and cone

Porcupines scat as they eat. Under this tree, I found some of the largest porcupine scats I’ve ever seen. The one photographed here is normal size, but I wanted to show it beside a hemlock cone. They do look similar until you get up close and personal. While the scat is woody, the cone has scales.

large porc scat

I couldn’t resist sharing this one. One rather large porcupine scat.

hare gnawing

I hope you are still with me. A mystery that I think I’ve solved. Unfortunately, the tracks were diluted by the recent warm temps we’d had but I had a general idea of the movement this critter made.And there was no scat–I looked around as you can imagine.

hare 3

A closer look. Did you notice that the work is all toward the base of the saplings?

hare 4

Final clue–an angled cut. Rather clean cut, unlike those made by ungulates (deer and moose). This critter has sharp teeth. And we can thank it for our ability to move on the snow. What is it? Any guesses?

As you wander, take some time to wonder about the bark in front of you. I’ll keep sharing more as my bark eyes continue to develop.

Sit Spot and Beyond

sit spot

I promised myself I won’t write every day, but it’s addictive. And I promised myself that I’ll try to sketch tree buds this year–as the season begins to change. We’ll see how long this lasts. But today was the perfect day to spend some time outside at my sit spot. Sketching. Sunshine. Soft Snow.

drawings

A start.

birch trees

And then I took off on my snowshoes to get up close and personal with the birch trees.

Paper birch catkins

Paper (aka white) Birch catkins usually come in groups of three.

yellow birch1

Yellow Birch buds are long, pointed and hairy. Encountering these trees means it’s time for a scratch and sniff test–wintergreen.

gray birch

Gray Birch (which some also call white) is actually dull grayish-white. The lines or lenticels, which help the tree exchange gases, give it a dirty appearance. The bark doesn’t peel like a Paper Birch or Yellow Birch. And it often features those triangular-shaped chevrons at the base of its branches or branch scars. Gray Birches are known to lean and their short, slender branches bend toward the ground. In my brain, it’s easy to differentiate it from Paper Birch, but then again, there are hybrids. I haven’t figured that one out yet.

birch polypores

Birch Polypores doing what they’re supposed to do. I love how they’ve oriented themselves so that even after the tree snapped, they are parallel to the ground, thus allowing their spores to drop.

bp

This is one of the most common bracket fungi. It looks like nothing else and only grows on birches. Though an annual, the fruiting body exists for several years.

vernal pool

Before heading home, I stopped by the vernal pool on our neighbors’ land. We were given the opportunity to purchase some acreage from them three months ago, including this special spot, but alas, it wasn’t in the cards for us. I worry about what will happen to this special place. For as long as I can, I’ll continue to visit it. Hard to believe right now, but it won’t be long before the wood frogs, salamanders and spring peepers return here to mate and deposit their eggs.

I don’t want to see winter go, but there’s always the next season to look forward to and wonder about.

Thanks for joining me again and I promise not to write every day. I wonder if I’ll keep that promise.