Milling About

snow waves

Today’s tramp found us heading north on Moose Pond again. The pond is covered in snowmobile tracks and snow swirls like these.

coyote print

Though we sink into the snow, this coyote had no problem moving along.

snowshoes

Snowshoes were a must for both of us. Our intended destination was Rueben Bennett’s saw mill–or at least the remnants of it. I’d been there about a year and a half ago with the current land owner and another friend, and wanted to show my guy. A couple of men who lived in the Old City neighborhood I wrote about yesterday, may have worked at the mill.

beaver lodge

We were almost to the outlet of the brook when we saw that this beaver lodge is active. Notice the breathing hole at the top. We moved away quickly so as not to add any more stress to them.

 cat tails

It looks like the fluffy seeds of these cattails are still emerging. It won’t be long before the Red-winged Blackbirds are perching on them.

stream

Following the stream, we kept looking for the rocks left from the mill site.

liverwort

Along the way, I spotted this lungwort or lung lichen. It’s one of my favorites because when it’s dry like this, it’s light in color and very brittle. But after a rain storm, it turns bright green and is quite pliable. And it’s got that lettuce leafy look to it. Some describe it as a lung tissue appearance. I’ll stick with the lettuce, thank you very much. Lungwort is an indicator species for a rich, healthy ecosystem. Always a good find.

chaga

I’m not a mushroom expert, but I do know that this is Chaga. Another good find.  Unlike most other  hard, woody fungi, Chaga is coveted for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. If you want to know where this one is, you’ll have to follow our breadcrumb trail. I recently learned that the Siberians call it the “Gift from God” and the “Mushroom of Immortality.” To the Japanese, it is “The Diamond of the Forest,” and for the Chinese, “The King of Plants.” A mighty good find. It’s still there.

red maple swamp

We looked high and low for the mill site. At last we came to this Red Maple swamp and decided that perhaps it was Duck Pond, and we’d gone too far.

old City up the hill

Old City is located right up the hill. I was almost certain we were in the right place, but our search turned up nothing.

examining the erratic

We examined this rock to see if it was a glacial erratic or had been moved here for some reason. I vote for glacial erratic.

slush

After three hours of tramping about, we started for home. The wind was cool at our backs, but someone took of his snowshoes and you can see that it’s getting a bit slushy on the pond.

heading home

What’s that line about walk beside me and be my friend. I know it looks like I’m always following, but that’s not the case all the time. I do like to pause frequently and take photos to remember and ponder at a later time.

It turns out that we were milling about in the wrong area. I should have looked at my friend’s Web site prior to today’s adventure. She almost always has her GPS handy and had posted the exact location. I knew it didn’t feel quite right, but I was so certain it was closer to Old City than it actually is.

Oh well. A destination for another time.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled discoveries.

Looking At This, That and the Other Thing

boundary

I’m not the only one to cross boundary lines. You can see a deer run passing between the trees.

Acres and acres of land behind us are maintained under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law that was enacted in 1972. This law allows landowners to create a productive woodland, while supporting the wood products industry. They must develop a management plan, which includes periodic harvests. For the last two years, a lone logger has been harvesting trees on much of the land which is owned by one person. While I complain about some timber projects, this one seems to be well executed. And the deer love the opportunity to find lots of browse as a result.

deer browse

Red Maples that have been cut will stump sprout, thus providing lots of munching opportunities.

red maple bud

They don’t all get consumed in one day, fortunately. These Red Maple buds are beginning to swell. If the deer don’t eat them, it will be fun to watch the transition over the next two or three months.

another boundary marker

While poking about looking at this, that, and the other thing, I found more evidence that this land once had an agricultural use before reverting back to forest. Barbed wire served as a boundary beginning in the late 1800s.

balsam 1

In parts of the woodland, the evergreens are now the most abundant trees. The needles on the balsam firs caught my eye today. Normally, they lay rather flat, but suddenly I noticed that some were standing upright, showing off the two white lines or stomata on their undersides.

balsam 2

Typically, balsam fir has dark green needles that are blunt-ended and about an inch long. Some of the ends feature a small divot or notch. The silvery whitish lines on the lower surface are the stomata (pores). In today’s sunlight, the needles had a bluish hue as they stood up. What’s up? Why are they standing on end?

spruce 2

Spruce, on the other hand, have shorter needles with pointed ends. They feel prickly to the touch. Everything seemed normal with them.

hemlock

And then there’s the ever dainty hemlock with its half-inch long needles. Guess what? It also has two lines of stomata on its underside. So . . . don’t let that be the defining factor when you are trying to figure out what tree you’re looking at. Notice how the needles are attached, their length, their feel and the overall look (GISS) of the tree. Oh, there’s more, but save it for another day.

sugar maple

I was excited to find this Sugar Maple. The bark on a Sugar Maple tends to twist as you look up the tree. At least to my eyes.

sugar maple borer

And when I walked around, I found evidence of the sugar maple borer–the line that is left looks like a frowning mouth. I know I’d certainly frown if something named a borer attacked me.

pileated1

Whenever I see a fresh pile of wood chips created by a pileated woodpecker. I have to investigate.

pileated scat

And I wasn’t disappointed. Pileated woodpecker scat! 🙂 It’s filled with insect exoskeletons, since that’s why the woodpecker excavates the tree.  A few weeks ago I spent some time at Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton with a fourth grader who was working on a school project. We found some of this scat. She wasn’t particularly impressed but took it to school anyway. I hope she wowed her teacher and classmates. This morning, I met with a GLLT docent and the first thing I did was pull out my scat collection. After she guessed at each one, which I keep in separate petri dishes, she looked at me, grinned and said, “I don’t think anyone has ever shown me their scat collection before.” What can I say. My social skills are . . .

deer and squirrel, hemlock cover

I’ll end with this photo. Life happened here. A deer bedded down under a hemlock tree. And sometime later, a red squirrel climbed the tree while holding an Eastern White Pine cone, which it proceeded to strip in order to eat the two little pine nuts at the base of each scale on the cone. And you thought I was showing you more scat, I bet.

Thanks for joining me today on this wonderful wander.

You’d Better Look Out: Santa’s Reindeer May Be Watching

santa

Apparently, Santa’s reindeer frequent the area. Of course they do. Isn’t he always making a list and checking it twice because he needs to know if I’ve been naughty or nice?

Cape

This morning, I revisited Robinson Woods, owned by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, with two other Maine Master Naturalists. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum . . . as we stood in the parking lot looking at materials in my tree notebook, two other women who had just completed a nature walk with elementary school students, came over and asked what we were doing. Feeling rather smug, I replied, “We’re Maine Master Naturalists.” I was about to go on when one woman immediately said, “So am I.” Gadunk. Turns out she was in the first class of the program, which graduated in 2012. We’d found another member of the tribe.

shagbark hickory

Last week, my friend and I found this young tree with buds. We keyed it out and were pretty sure it was Shagbark Hickory, but we couldn’t see any parent trees. Well, today we found them not too far away.

shagbark

Shagbark hickory is found most frequently in southern Maine. Those who named this one got it right–certainly shaggy with those long, loose plates.

shagbark 1

Because it is strong, tough and flexible, historically it was used to manufacture tool handles, carriages and wagon wheels. My hardware store owner husband tells me those are made of resin today. Shagbark Hickory is  now used for wood pallets, pulp and firewood.

lighthouse

After leaving the preserve, I drove down the road to Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Headlight, to eat my PB&J. I do eat other food occasionally–honest. Popcorn. With grated cheddar cheese.

According to the Cape Elizabeth town Web site, “On April 13, 1899, President McKinley named the one-time subpost of Fort Preble, Cape Elizabeth’s first military fortification, Fort Williams. Named after Brevet Major General Seth Williams, Fort Williams grew to be a tremendous military asset during World War II. Besides protecting the shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, the infantry and artillery units provided the Harbor Defense for Portland. After the war, many of the forts in Casco Bay were closed, including Fort Williams, which traded in its defense of the coast for caretaker status and Army Reserve accommodations. Fort Williams was officially closed and deactivated on June 30, 1963.” I was four and a half years old.

castle

The Goddard Mansion still stands on the property. It’s not in great shape certainly, but was the home of Colonel John Goddard and his family during the 1800s. As youngsters, our boys loved to explore the nooks and crannies of this property that overlooks the fort.

hideaways

More remnants of the fort. You’d better watch out, because Santa might be hiding in there.

water

One last look at the water before heading west.

Thanks for wondering along with me today . . . and Santa.

My Smiling Place

gateway

Hemlocks and beech trees create the gateway to my special place where few others wander and wonder. I’ve intentionally left these trees as is at the edge of the snowmobile trail so I can pass through and disappear into my own world. It never ceases to amaze me that I suddenly feel alive as I step into this section of the woods.

I spent this morning at the Maine Milfoil Summit and thought it was one of the best I’ve ever attended. And then a friend and I enjoyed lunch at Fishbones in Lewiston before I drove back to western Maine and she returned to her home closer to the coast. All in all, it was a wonderful day, but the moment I stepped through those tree branches, I was home. I was in my smiling place. It’s a feeling that I don’t think I can put into words. Some things are best left unsaid.

saplings

Part of the woods that I explored today had been logged about ten years ago. The openings created a nursery for hemlocks, pines, fir and spruce to spring up. Who will be the winner in the end? It’ll be a while before I know the answer to that one.

white pine whirl

Eastern White Pine trees win the prize when it comes to the kitchen growth chart, which, by the way, I finally painted over in our kitchen this winter and no one seems to have noticed. Each year, a white pine produces a whirl like the one you see here. A whirl is a group of branches that radiate out from the tree’s trunk.

white pine growth

So, our boys never had a growth spurt quite like this one–thank goodness. I should have measured it, but this white pine grew about two feet in one year as evidenced by the distance between one whirl and the next. Why? Because it’s in an area where most of the canopy or taller trees that would have blocked the sun and prohibited its growth, were taken down. Ample sunlight will do that to you.

snow tree 1

Snow ghosts! Even my computer suggested there was a person hiding under this snow costume–it wanted me to provide a name. Was someone in there? What would you name it?

snow tree creature

And a snow creature. Snowzilla?

deer run

The snow is quite deep, but the deer are moving about more and more. I found numerous deer runs like this one today–trails that they use over and over again. Sometimes other mammals follow them as well.

in my tracks

And sometimes the deer follow in my tracks as is the case here. The prints to the left indicate that a deer was traveling toward you as you read this. And the print to the right indicates that another was traveling in the opposite direction.

track

Deer prints are heart shaped. The point leads to the direction of travel.

deer beds

I’m always thrilled when I find deer beds. These two were quite large. And filled with scat–all I can say is, scat happens! The curious thing to note about deer beds is that when two or three are gathered, they tend to sleep with their backs to each other so they can keep an eye out for predators.

another bed

You can see where this deer pawed at the snow to get comfy for the night. Oh yeah, and more scat 🙂

print with dew claws

So some say that when you see the dew claws in a deer print, those two small toes above the foot that look like two dots at the back, you have a buck. Maybe. Or maybe the snow is soft and deep and more shows in the impression.

oak leaf phenom

I was thrilled to find this young oak tree, one of the few that has grown in this area since the logging event. I don’t know if you can see from this photo, but there are frayed ends along the branches. I’d never noticed this until about a month ago when exploring a property in Lovell, where it seemed that every oak tree surrounding a field displayed these frayed ends. That field was near a porcupine condominium, so my first thought was porcupine activity. But there were no tracks to the trees. Then I thought of squirrels. But again–no tracks.

oak leaf phenom1

It wasn’t until recently that a friend who is a retired forester showed me it was a wind event that caused this. Like beech trees, oak leaves are marsescent. During wind events, and we’ve had plenty of those this winter, the leaf may get ripped from the tree–leaving a frayed stem or petiole. It makes perfect sense now. And the tree I found today, which displayed this phenomenon, is in the open, leaving it vulnerable.

vole

I was almost home when I discovered these tracks. Notice that they are a bit erratic.

vole2

Not a big mammal.

vole 3

Sometimes it exhibits the zig zag or alternate pattern of a perfect walker like a coyote, fox, deer, but . . . it’s a great deal smaller. A great deal smaller. And other times, it tunnels a bit.

vole hole

And leads to a small hole. A vole hole! I was excited because I found this in the same area where I found vole tracks last year. Voles are highly delectable treats for some predators. Ah, the food web.

snowmobile

And then I was back at the snowmobile trail and this traveler never saw me. Yup, I like it that way. Rather like the mammals that I know are out there. I can’t see them, but I have to assume they know I’m about and watch me from their hidden spots. Maybe they share a smile with me.

I can only wonder as I wander. Thanks for joining me.

Wondering Among Giants

Robinson Woods

It’s not every day that I get to wander and wonder among 300-year-old giants, but such was the case today. A friend and I met at Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth. It was a reconnaissance mission for me as I’ll be leading a senior college class there next month. And for both of us, it was a delightful way to spend three hours snowshoeing on and off the trail, with frequent pauses to look, listen, touch, smell and learn.

Because the land was not suitable for farming (terrain rocky and uneven), it was left unchanged for all these years. Actually, we met the executive director of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust along the way, and he told us that the Robinson family was a paper company family, but they left this piece untouched. Thanks go to them. And to the land trust for preserving the land so that it will remain in its natural state.

feeding cone

We could hear the birds sing and call as we moved along. Someone apparently wanted to make sure they have enough to eat as we found a couple of these “bird-seed” pine cones dangling from trees. (Separate note: back at home, for the second day in a row, I’ve had chickadees landing on my mitten to eat crushed peanuts–well, they don’t actually eat them on my hand, they just grab and fly to a nearby branch, where they use their feet to hold the nut or seed and then peck away at it.)

porcy trail

We followed this porcupine trail for a bit. As we backtracked our way toward the people trail, something caught our attention:

bear claws

Yes, even in Cape Elizabeth, and only steps from the ocean, you can find bear claw sign on beech trees.

bear claws2

We showed these photos to the executive director of CELT–he had no idea they were there. I’ll be curious to see if he adds black bears to the list of mammals that frequent the property. I did see that they have pine martens on the list–that surprises me.

gnarly tree

I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about beech trees, but this one looks like a totem pole of gnarly faces. Think gargoyles. Was the beech scale disease initially responsible for this? I wonder.

gnarly face

more gnarliness

Very gnarly indeed. In the center, you can see where a branch broke off.

burls on a maple

This Red Maple had some serious burls. Perhaps they were caused by stress or injury, though researchers don’t know for sure why they occur. Despite the bumpy, warty growths, the tree appears to be healthy. You can see that there is new growth–young red branches sprouting from the burls. Removing a burl causes a large wound that could eventually harm the tree, so they’re best left alone–though I know woodworkers covet them.

walnut?

We were almost back to our trucks when we came across this tree. It’s a young tree and we tried to key it out. We’re pretty sure it’s Shagbark Hickory, but if you know otherwise, please enlighten me.

Thanks for wondering along with me on today’s wander through the woods.