The Old and New Friends of Mountain Pond

Friends Pam and Bob Katz, whom I haven’t known forever but feel like it’s been at least a lifetime, invited me to join them to circle Mountain Pond outside Jackson, New Hampshire today. The trailhead is located off Town Hall Road that follows Slippery Brook.

At the sign we turned in to the parking area and began our journey on foot.

Only a few steps in, we were stopped in our tracks by the wooly growths upon the Speckled Alders. The soft, fluffy fibers could have been cotton plants. But then they moved. In a creepy sort of way.

As we looked more closely we began to see that some were winged in form, a sight new to our eyes and understanding. Meet the Wooly Alder Aphids.

Much more to our liking were the tracks we found in mud, including Bobcat and . . .

a small Moose. The Bobcat had crossed perpendicular to the trail as one might expect for its preferred corridor is about forty feet wide and doesn’t necessarily follow a man-made path. The Moose wasn’t so particular and we followed its prints for a while before it disappeared into the wildness of this place.

While we loved seeing the mammal tracks, it was the insects and flowers that really pulled us in, including a Flower Longhorned Beetle.

And the ever delightful and dainty Wood Sorrel that makes me think of the Candy Strippers who worked as hospital aides in the books of my youth.

If the Candy Strippers needed slippers, they’d come to the right shop for there were moccasins available nearby in the form of white Lady’s Slippers surprising us since they still looked a wee bit fresh.

At last we began to catch glimpses of the pond for which the trail had been named. But really, a Loon sounding a distress call pulled us toward the water’s edge. We only saw one in an aggressive mode, it’s body extended across the surface as it moved forward, but still heard the wild call of the other and assumed they were protecting a nest.

Our wildlife sightings continued as we continued and took turns spotting the wonders of the path, including a Garter Snake slithering away from us.

Once we were close to the water, our dragonfly sightings increased significantly, as did the bug detail and insect bites decreased giving us reason to celebrate these winged warriors, such as the Chalk-fronted Corporals that made a point of being our guides as they often paused in front of us and then flew a few feet ahead at our slightest movement.

The fact that I can occasionally sneak up on one and capture a close-up photo is always amazing.

Our next source of wonder, a lodge built by beavers beside the bank. It was one that didn’t appear to be currently in use, but had been mudded last fall.

Eventually we found a second lodge with a huge hole on the back side of it. The hole wasn’t necessarily a vent, but it did provide us a glimpse into the inner workings of the pond-side inn. This one hadn’t been mudded and so we suspected it had been abandoned, maybe due to the presence of parasites. Perhaps in the near future it will again host guests.

It was near the lodge that we began to spy Bullfrogs, their Ga-dunk voices every once in a while rising in a chorus.

Notice the tympanic membrane or eardrum located behind the eye–it was bigger than his viewfinder, thus indicating his gender.

Not too far away a few ladies-in-waiting hung out on a log.

And in the water, two year old tadpoles, their bodies extra chunky, swam.

And morphed. Can you see the hind legs that had formed?

At last we pulled away from the water and continued on our way, when the Fly Honeysuckle gave us pause with its flowers of orange and yellow.

We weren’t the only ones in awe of it, for we spent some time watching this Canada Tiger Swallowtail flutter in a rather drunken way from one blossom to the next.

Because the flowers had been pollinated, some had already turned to their shiny red fruit form.

The butterflies were numerous and all the way around the pond we saw White Admirals either in flight or on the ground puddling, the latter a way of seeking nutrients from the damp soil.

An Atlantis Fritillary also graced us with its presence.

Another flyer insisted upon being noticed and I handed Pam a field guide to determine its name. A second or two later she announced it was a Powdered Dancer Damselfly, based on the coloration of its eyes, thorax, and abdomen.

My favorite flyer of the day, however, was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly with its thorax so red and abdomen a combination of green-black.

Even when we paused to gaze upon the lake and mountains in the distance, the Crimsons flew.

And landed–showing off their white faces for which they were named.

One couple even chose Pam’s arm and bracelet upon which to land and canoodle, appearing oblivious to our gawking eyes and awe-filled conversation.

I travelled around Mountain Pond today with “old” friends Pam and Bob and recognized others I’ve met numerous times before like the Bobcat, Moose, Garter Snake, and Wood Sorrel, but new relationships were also formed and I hope I’ll soon move from being a Crimson-ringed Whiteface’s acquaintance to a life-time friend.

Babe in the Woods

This morning dawned bright and brisk and offered a brilliant background for a journey through the almost Peabody-Fitch Woods that Loon Echo Land Trust hopes to add to their holdings. The 252 acres of the proposed project surrounds Bridgton Historical Society‘s Narramissic Farm.

Jon Evans, Loon Echo’s Stewardship Manager and board member of the historical society had asked me to join the walk that would highlight the Peabody-Fitch Homestead built in 1797 and introduce Loon Echo’s new executive director Matt Markot. In the morning light, we circled the house as Jon shared some of the farm’s story.

On the northern side of the house, we paused to enjoy the view, including Pleasant Mountain just beyond the trees to the left of the field. The land trust also owns and protects over 2,000 acres of the mountain that defines this area of western Maine.

Measuring the effect of the cold on the hike’s participants, Jon chose his stop points, where he shared his keen knowledge of the farm and the lands that surround it. For me, it’s always a joy to tramp with him because his connection to the land is personal, and this particular piece even more than most for Jon’s family long ago farmed an adjacent acreage and he grew up traipsing through the very woods we snowshoed today. (And this photo includes Margaret Lindsay Sanborn, mother of Matt Markot, LELT’s new ED who stands to his mom’s right.)

As we circled behind the barn I shared with Jon a bit of knowledge that adds to the lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Happy Holidays! Rebecca Monroe

It turns out that wasn’t the only story that had more to offer than I’d originally thought to be true. As we were about to pass through a stonewall behind the barn, my eyes cued in on debris below some trees. Certainly it was the work of woodpeckers and I stepped onto the wall in search of scat. Nada.

Looking up at the pin cherry tree, I found not pileated works, but the incisors of another that gave a clue.

And below, pigeon-toed tracks. Between the incisor marks and tracks I knew the creator, but it didn’t make sense to me, for though I find hemlock twigs below such a tree when a porcupine has clipped them, I couldn’t recall ever seeing bark chips below a porky tree. In my brain, the rodent ate the bark as it sought the cambium layer within. I dismissed it as a lesson to be considered and we moved on.

Jon led us along a colonial road from the historical society’s property to a stonewall that delineated the Peabody-Fitch Woods. We turned onto a trail I’d never traveled before and made our way along another farm road. Periodically, Jon, Matt, and I bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge about the trees and forest succession that had occurred since the farm was last a working land. We also spied a few mammal tracks, including those of a bobcat.

At last, we circled around and found our way back toward the border between the P-F Woods and farm.

Close to the Temperance Barn again, porcupine tracks crisscrossed to the stonewall where we’d seen their activity at the start of our journey.

Near the parking lot and Blacksmith Shop, more porcupine works made themselves evident–by their tracks and the debarked trees.

Incredibly debarked trees. I’m always amazed by the fact that porcupines, given their size, can find support on trees and limbs that seem so flimsy. I’ve been told that they’re known to have many broken bones and it makes sense given the precarious choices they make to seek winter nutrients.

Once again, there was bark debris. In the past I’ve always said that beavers leave wood chips, but porcupines eat the bark and cambium layer.

The evidence was obvious given the prints and comma-shaped scat. But the bark debris proved me wrong today.

And I loved that. When Jon first introduced me as a Maine Master Naturalist, he asked how long I’ve been such. “Six years,” I said. And though I’ve spent my sixty years wandering and wondering in the woods and along the coast of southern and northern New England, it was the Master Naturalist class that taught me how to take a closer look.

Do you see the green of the cambium layer? And those incisor marks–how they are at opposing angles? Those I recognized.

But . . . the porcupines taught me something new today.

Six years–I’m still a babe in the woods.

What the Bobcat Knows

As I drove down Heald Pond Road in Lovell today I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But isn’t that the point? Every venture into the great outdoors should begin as a clean slate and it’s best not to arrive at the trailhead with expectations.

f1-Heald Pond Road barn

And so I didn’t. Well, sorta. I really wanted to see a porcupine. And maybe an otter. And definitely an owl. But I knew better and so I passed the last barn on the road and then backed up and stepped out, captivated by the colors in the scene before me.

f2-trail signs

A few minutes later, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. My plan–to climb to the summit of Flat Hill at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve and then circle around Perky’s Path upon my return.

f3-trail up flat hill

Breaking trail was my job in the rather deep snow given recent storms, but easy to move upon and so I sashayed up. What surprised me, however, was the lack of tracks left behind by the mammals that I know live in these woods.

f4-pine cone bird feeders

I did stop at the balsam firs decorated by a local 4-H club in December as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt. The dangling pinecones once sported peanut butter and birdseed, but today that was all a memory so I knew birds and deer had stopped by in the last few months.

f5-bobcat 1

And then, as I neared the flat summit, I found tracks of a mammal that had checked out the base of every tree and under every downed limb. In fact, as I soon realized, it was more than one mammal that I followed as I went off trail. Bobcats. Indeed. Though typically solitary, these two traveled together. It is mating season and males and females will travel together during courtship.

f11-bobcat print

Though the prints were difficult to photograph given the glare, by the toes, ridge and overall shape, I knew them.

f12-bobcat scat and print

And scat! Filled with white hair. I have close-up views should you choose a closer look, but chose to give those who find scat to be rather disgusting a break. 😉

f6-porcupine and bobcat

And then I found another set of tracks and knew that besides squirrels and little brown things, the bobcats were also searching for a bigger dinner. On the left–a porcupine trough, and on the right, the bobcat trail.

f8-porky work

Ever since I’ve traveled this trail, I’ve seen the work of the porcupines at the summit. And sometimes I even get to see the creator. In winter, porcupines eat needles and the bark of trees, including hemlocks, birch, beech, aspen, oak, willow, spruce, fir and pine. And they leave behind a variety of patterns.

f7-porky work

If I didn’t know better, I could have been convinced that this ragged work was left behind by a chiseling woodpecker, but it, too, was porcupine work.

f9-porky work

All about the summit, recent chews were easily identified for the inner bark was brighter than the rest of the landscape. And below these trees–no bark chips such as a beaver would leave, for the porcupine consumed all the wood.

f10-flat hill view

While snow flurries fluttered around me, the summit view was limited and it looked like the mountains were receiving more of the white stuff. (Never fear–we’ll get more as our third Nor’easter in two weeks or so is expected in two more days. Such is March in Maine.)

f13-script lichen between pine lines

From the summit, rather than follow the trail down, I tracked the bobcats for a while, first to the north and then to the south. I had hoped to find a kill site, but no such luck. Instead, the writing on the page was found upon the pines where script lichen, a crustose, was located between the lines of bark scales.

f14-ulota moss and frullania

I also found plenty of Frullania, that reddish brown liverwort that graced so many trees. And among it, a moss I’ll simply call an Ulota. As I looked in Ralph Pope’s book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts , upon arriving home, I realized I should have paid attention to capsules for that would have helped me determine whether what I saw was Ulota crispa or Ulota coarctata. Another lesson for another day.

f15-beaver pond on Perky's Path

At last I reached Perky’s Path, which may not seem like a major feat if you’ve been there, but actually I’d explored off trail for quite a ways and it took me a while to get down to the wetland.

f16-maleberry

And because I was in the wetland, maleberry shrubs bordered the edge and showed off their bright red buds and woody, star-shaped seedpods.

f16a-bobcat across wetland

After focusing on them for a while, I looked down at the snow’s surface and the most subtle of prints appeared before my eyes. My two bobcats. The curious thing–at the summit the mammals had sunk into the snow and the prints were a bit difficult to decipher. I assumed those summit impressions had been made about two days ago. But on the wetland, the bobcats walked atop the snow–when conditions were firmer and I suspected they’d been created last night.

f17-brook toward Bradley Pond 1

I followed the edge of the wetland to the bridges that cross a brook that forms at the outlet of Bradley Pond, constantly on the lookout for the bobcat tracks again.

f18-more bobcat

And I found them! Beside the brook.

f19-beaver pond from bridge

What had they found on the wetland, I wondered?

f21a-beaver trail

Continuing on, I found that they’d checked on the woodwork left behind by another critter of these woods who had also moved about last night.

f20-beaver works

Beaver works. And their piles of woodchips. Unlike a porcupine, a beaver doesn’t eat the chips. Rather, it cuts down a tree for food or a building material. The chips are like a squirrel’s midden of cone scales–the garbage pile of sorts.

f22-beaver trail to water

I noted where the beaver had moved into the brook . . .

f23-beaver treats

And left some sticks behind. For future food? Future building? Stay tuned.

f27-brook to Bradley pond

Typically in other seasons I can’t move beside the edge of the brook, but today I could. The lighting kept changing and water reflected the sky’s mood.

f24-Diamesa sp. and snow flea

And because I was by the water, I kept noting small insects flying about–almost in a sideways manner. Then I found some on the snow–a member of the Diamesa species, a midge I believe. And do you see the small black speck below it–a snowflea, aka spring tail.

f25-Diamesa sp.:haltere

And do you see the two little nobs on the fly’s back, the red arrow pointing to one? Those are the haltere: the balancing organ of a two-winged fly; a pair of knobbed filaments that take the place of the hind wings.

f29-beaver pond wetland low

Eventually, I followed the eastern edge of the wetland back to my truck, wondering if there was any more action but found none. In fact, the water was low so I knew the beaver works weren’t to rebuild the dam. Yet. Nor did I find any more bobcat tracks. But I’d found enough. And I think I know some of what the bobcat knows.

 

 

Marathon Mondate

As he’s done every year for the past however many, my guy is training for the Moose Pond Half Marathon, a race around Moose Pond in Bridgton and Denmark that supports the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program. The race is only two weeks away and so this morning he headed off to run ten miles. And afterward, he said he felt like he could have run the additional 3.1 miles that would complete the race. That being said, we headed west to join our friends, Pam and Bob, on a hike at a new preserve in New Hampshire.

The plan was to meet at the trailhead near Hurricane Mountain Road on the Chatham/Conway town line. We knew the road, but not the spot, and were racing to get there, so of course I drove right by. But . . . I spied Pam sitting in their car in the parking lot and probably burned some rubber as I came to a screeching halt and then quickly put the truck into reverse. Fortunately, my guy didn’t get whiplash. It’s a back road, so not well traveled, thus I could drive backwards for a hundred feet or more without any problem–thus is the way ’round these parts. And one of the reasons we love it so.

m-sign 1

Another is that local land trusts preserve land for the benefit of the species who call this place home, both flora and fauna–and for us so that we, too, may benefit from time spent tramping along trails, making discoveries and forging friendships. The preserve we visited today isn’t quite open, but Pam said she’d heard they plan to open on November 4th. There were no signs on the kiosk or trail maps, but we quickly learned that none were necessary for the route was easy to follow. We were at the Monroe-Lucas Preserve, a 62-acre property donated to the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

According to their website: “The land was given to USVLT by Barrett Lucas in honor of his wife, the late Leita Monroe Lucas. Leita’s family has deep roots in East Conway and Redstone, and her father, Ernest “Red” Monroe, also wanted to see the land preserved. Adjacent to the Conway Common Lands State Forest, The Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, and the White Mountain National Forest, this parcel builds on an existing network of preserved land, and has wonderful opportunities for future trail development and increased public access. A branch of Weeks Brook also runs through the property, and the property lies within USVLT’s ‘Green Hills’ focus area. The site is also remarkable as the one-time summer residence of the American Impressionist painter Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and his fellow painter and wife, Maria Oakey Dewing. Their cottage, built in the late 1800s, fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s. Now only the chimney remains onsite.”

m-puff ball fungi 1

With Pam in the lead, we started up the trail and within minutes the fun began. She spotted a large patch of puff balls begging to be poked. The spores wafted up and away with hopes of finding the perfect place to grow nearby. We assume they will be successful, for within a fifteen foot area, we found patch after patch and knew we weren’t the first to encourage their spores to blow in the breeze.

m-bobcat print

And then Pam began to spy prints in the mud. First, a moose. Then this bobcat–if you look closely, as we did, you may see the hind pad matted down; above that a raised ridge in the form of a C for cat; and four large toes, the two in the center being asymmetrical. Because it was a muddy substrate, we even saw nail marks, especially above the two center toes. Five feet further, we found deer prints. And so we rejoiced in the foresight of the Monroe-Lucas family to protect this land.

m-Weeks brook flowing 1

A bit further on, we heard the brook before we saw it–a branch of Weeks Brook that borders the property. We all stood beside and let it mesmerize us.

m-weeks brook 1c

We thought about its forceful action each spring and the eons it took to carve into the rocks along its banks.

m-weeks brook baths

We shared visions of a summer day spent sliding down its smooth channels and slipping into the pools below.

m-weeks brook between the rocks

And we marveled at the way it split the granite above . . .

m-weeks brook between 3

and flowed between the shelves.

m-weeks brook bubbles

All the while, it raced to the finish line and we could only assume it made good time.

m-hobblebush flower?

It was beside the brook where the hobblebush grew prolifically and offered a myriad of colors among their leaves and clasping or clapping hands among their buds. Because we were looking, we noticed one flower forming into its globe shape as it usually does in late winter. Was it confused?

m-hobblebush new leaf

And on another, a new leaf.

m-hobblebush 2

Fortunately, most behaved as they should and gave us an autumnal display worth celebrating.

m-hobblebush:hemlock shadows

One even added some shadow play.

m-mount kearsarge

Eventually, we turned away from the brook and followed the trail down. A peak through the trees and we could see Mount Kearsarge across the way.

m-slime mold 1

On a tree stump, we found a couple of fascinating fungi including a slime mold all decked out for Halloween.

m-jelly fungi

And on the same stump, a display of jelly ear fungi.

m-old moose scat

Around the corner was more evidence of moose traffic, though since it was moss-covered, we decided it was a couple of years old. None of us could ever recall seeing moss grow on moose scat before, but it made perfect sense that it would be a suitable substrate. I did wonder how they’d categorize that on a moss ID key–grows on rock, tree, ground, moose scat?

m-pippsisewa

Our moments of awe weren’t over yet. We sent up three cheers for the pipsissewa and its seedpods (Bob, did you take one?),

m-red-belted polypore

and red-belted polypore.

m-frullania 2

And then Bob spied the frullania. The smaller, spider-webby display in the lower right hand corner is Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name. But the larger mass is known as Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

m-frullania

We all went in for a closer look at its worm-like leafy structure.

m-frullania and muy guy

Even my guy got into the act, much to his reluctance. And he was certain he didn’t need a lesson on how to use a hand lens. Thankfully, he doesn’t read these blog posts, so I can get away with this. Shhhh.

m-uprooted pine 1

Around the next bend, for the trail has enough S curves to make the descent easy, we came upon a white pine long since uprooted. Did anyone hear the crash?

m-uprooted picture frames

It offered a wonderful view–of more red-belted polypores, the root system and rocks, plus several windows on the world beyond.

m-photo frame hand

If you go, watch out . . . Thing of The Addams Family, might be lurking about.

m-Pam holding a huge striped maple leaf, Bob photobombing

Continuing on, we moved out of the hemlock and pine grove and back into the land of the broadleaves, including one with the broadest of them all–a huge striped maple leaf that Pam spotted; and Bob made sure to photo bomb the Kodak moment.

m-cottage sign 2

And then, as the trail evened out, we crossed a narrow gangplank to the location of the original cottage. According to a sign posted there, “Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) and Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927) were 19th century American painters based in New York City. Maria often painted flowers and garden scenes, while Thomas is known for his figure paintings of aristocratic women, notably ‘Lady in Yellow’ hanging at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. The couple spent their summers at a popular artists’ colony in Cornish, NH, during the early 1900s. The Dewings also lived and painted in a cottage located here on the Monroe-Lucas Preserve for several years.

m-site of Dewing cottage 1

All that’s left is the chimney.

m-cottage stove

And some artifacts.

m-toilet

Including the john.

m-pokeweed

Our final view was a pokeweed still in flower and fruit. Again, we wondered about its timing, while appreciating its offering.

With that, we were back at the parking lot, where Bob informed us that our distance was just over a mile and time two hours–hardly record breaking. And hardly a “quickest to the destination hike” for my guy, but he kept finding stumps to sit upon as we gazed more intently on our surroundings; I think he secretly appreciated our slow pace and the opportunity to rest his legs.

If you want support his effort to raise funds for the Shawnee Peak Adaptive Ski Program, stop by and see him. Any and all donations are most welcome.

Moi–Bull in a China Shop

Several inches of fresh snow topped with freezing rain two days ago and the world is transformed. I couldn’t decide whether to wear snowshoes, micro-spikes or neither. I choose micro-spikes, which seemed a good choice at the start, but not long into my 3.5 hour tramp through the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge off Farrington Pond Road, I wished I chosen the snowshoes. At times the snow was soft, but other times it sounded as if glass was breaking as I crashed through it. Broken shards slide across the glazed surface. I was the bull in a china shop.

SB-sweet fern begin blue trailFrom the parking lot, I decided to begin via the blue trail by the kiosk. It doesn’t appear on the trail map, but feels much longer than the green trail–possibly my imagination. Immediately, I was greeted at the door of the shop by sweet fern, aka Comptonia peregrina (remember, it’s actually a shrub with foliage that appear fern-like). The striking color and artistic flow of the winter leaves, plus the hairy texture of the catkins meant I had to stop and touch and admire.

SB-bobcat1And only steps along the trail another great find–bobcat tracks. This china shop immediately appealed to moi.

SB-bob 3My Trackards slid along the glassy surface, so it was difficult to show the print size. But . . . it is what it is. The bobcat crossed the trail a couple of times and even came back out to explore squirrel middens.

SB-rocksWhen I got to a ledgy spot, I decided to explore further–thinking perhaps Mr. Bob might have spent some time here. Not so–in the last two days anyway.

SB-red squirrel printThe best find in this spot–red squirrel prints. A few things to notice–the smaller feet that appear at the bottom of the print are the front feet–often off-kilter. Squirrels are bounders and so as the front feet touch down and lift off the back feet follow and land before the front feet in a parallel presentation. In a way, the entire print looks like two exclamation points.

SB-bear 1As I plodded along, my eyes were ever scanning and . . . I was treated to a surprise. Yes, a beech tree. Yes, it has been infected by the beech scale insect. And yes, a black bear has also paid a visit.

SB-bear 1aOne visit, for sure. More than one? Not so sure. But can’t you envision the bear with its extremities wrapped around this trunk as it climbs. I looked for other bear trees to no avail, but suspect they are there. Docents and trackers–we have a mission.

SB-beech nut1And what might the bear be seeking? Beech nuts. Viable trees. Life is good.

SB-right on red maplesExactly where is the bear tree? Think left on red. When you get to this coppiced red maple tree, rather than turning right as is our driving custom, take a left and you should see it. Do remember that everything stands out better in the winter landscape.

SB-nest 2As delicate as anything in the china shop is the nest created by bald-faced hornets.

SB-nest 3Well, it appears delicate, but the nest has been interwoven with the branches and twigs–making it strong so weather doesn’t destroy it. At the bottom is, or rather was, the entrance hole.

SB-witch hazel flowersWitch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows abundantly beside younger beech trees. Though the flowers are now past their peak, I found a couple of dried ribbony petals extending from the cup-shaped bracts. China cups? No, but in the winter setting, the bracts are as beautiful as any flower.

I have to admit that I was a wee bit disconcerted when I reached a point where the blue trail and green trail split and it wasn’t at a point that I remembered. But I lumbered on and was pleasantly surprised when I reached the field I recognized–approaching it from the opposite side than is the norm. And later on, I realized that where the blue trail again joined the green trail was a shortcut. We need to get an accurate map made of this property, but I also need to spend more time familiarizing myself with it. At last I reached Sucker Brook.

SB-lodges and Evans NotchWith the Balds in Evans Notch forming the backdrop, the brook is home to numerous beaver lodges, including these two.

SB-lodge and layersLayers speak of generations and relationships.

SB-two lodges 1Close proximity mimics the mountain backdrop.

Old and new efforts mark return attempts.

SB-cove beaver treesAnd sometimes, I just have to wonder–how does this tree continue to stand?

SB-near outlet leatherleaf fields foreverLeatherleaf fields forever.

SB-leatherleaf budsSpring is in the offing.

SB-wintergreen 2Wintergreen offers its own sign of the season to come.

SB-hemlock stump et alIn the meantime, it’s still winter and this hemlock stump with a display of old hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) caught my eye. By now, I was on the green trail.

SB-grouse 2But it’s what I saw in the hollow under the stump, where another tree presumably served as a nursery and has since rotted away, that made me think about how this year’s lack of snow has affected wild life. In the center is ruffed grouse scat. Typically, ruffed grouse burrow into snow on a cold winter night. Snow acts as an insulator and hides the bird from predators. I found numerous coyote and bobcat tracks today. It seems that a bird made use of the stump as a hiding spot–though not for long or there would have been much more scat.

On the backside of the stump, more ruffed grouse scat white-washed with uric acid.

SB-hemlock grouse printsApparently it circled the area before flying off.

Moments later I startled a ruffed grouse in a tree while I observed turkey tracks. Though their prints and scat appear to be similar–turkeys are soooo much bigger in all respects.

SB-sweet fern end of green trail

My trek ended in the same manner that it began–with sweet-fern offering a graceful stance despite my bull in a china shop approach.

 

Nature’s Never Static

Mid-morning found me slipping into my smiling place where I decided to follow a route I usually save for snowshoe season.

slipping into the woods

I know it will come eventually, but the realization that we can’t predict when the first snowstorm will arrive or how much snow we’ll get over the course of the year reminded me that nature is never static.

trail boggy

I, for one, am looking forward to snow and hoping for lots of it because it will be so much easier to make my way through this boggy area.

creeping snowberry

In the meantime, I focused my attention on the ground–checking each step as I went. It’s easy to get caught on the slash the logger left behind. And when I looked down, I noticed things I don’t get to see once the white stuff falls, like the creeping snowberry that grows abundantly here.

hawk 1

Pausing frequently to look around, I suddenly noticed I had company.

hawk 2

The curious thing–this sharp-shinned hawk slowly made its way east, while further down the trail

bird flock 2

a flock of birds chitted and chatted as they moved among the tree tops.

chickadee

An ever curious chickadee landed nearby to check me out. And visa versa.

goldfinch

A goldfinch sporting its winter coloration also paused to peek. Lucky for all of them, the hawk was headed away rather than closer. Maybe it had already feasted.

mud

Eventually I found mud. I LOVE mud. With each step it squelches and squerches as it sucks my boots in and I pull them out. (And takes me back to Clinton Harbor at low tide, where my father always insisted that people paid millions of dollars to sink their feet in mud.)

my tracks

The beauty of mud here in western Maine is that prints are well defined and easily identified–homo sapien, female, average height and weight, just over middle age, blue eyes–wait a second. I wish I could read that much information in the prints I find, but I’m satisfied to be able to identify the animal to species.

coyote 2

Reaching into my pocket, I discovered I had my trusty six-inch ruler–left there since early spring. It helps to give perspective of a print–in this case a coyote. Middle toes parallel, nails leaning inward, 2 inches across, x-shaped ridge between toes and heel pad.

coyote and bobcat

I love it when nature happens side-by-side. Coyote on the left and bobcat on the right. The coyote had passed this way more recently, when the ground was softer and moved through quickly as evidenced by the slide into position. The classic C of the bobcat’s ridge between toes and pad is clearly visible.

 moose 2 directions

Moose frequent the area and I’m not sure if this is the same one passing to and fro or two different moose. It’s obvious that the first print was made as the animal moved in the direction of the ruler and the second shows the moose moving away.

deer, direction change 1

And then there was the deer that decided to change directions. Did it hear the mighty hunter coming along? Or another predator? Maybe me, though I suspect these prints were fresh last night and not this morning.

ice-mud

The other thing about mud–combined with ice it becomes nature’s artwork.

ice ground 2

Sometimes it sits upon icy pedestals begging to be noticed.

ice puddle abstract art

And ice itself is ever forming, ever changing. That’s the thing about nature. It isn’t static. Nor am I. Growing. Evolving. Seeking. And thankful for the opportunity.

 

 

Three-Season Mondate at Back Pond Reserve

OK, so it wasn’t three seasons all packed into one Monday date, but walking up the   Mountain Trail at GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham today brought back memories of previous visits by my guy and me.

yellow

The woods are awash in golden-green yellows right now, especially where the trees include beech, big-tooth aspen and striped maple.

a dose of red

Climbing higher, variations of red join the carpet display.

summit 3 of 5 Kezars

We were surprised by how quickly we reached the summit, which is what got us recalling previous visits.  Today, the water of three of the Five Kezars sparkled while Pleasant Mountain stood watch in the background.

summit, summersummit, winter

As I looked through my photo files, I realized we have never hiked this trail in the spring. In the summer there are wildflowers to make us pause, and winter finds us exploring mammal activity–thus our treks are slower.

summit, Mt Washington

Today’s view included snow on Mount Washington, the grayish-white mountain located between the pines.

Ganong chocolates

As we enjoyed the view, we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with the last couple of truffles we had purchased at Ganong Chocolatier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, earlier this month.

water bottle 2

And water, of course.

which way do we go?

Instead of letting the arrows confuse us, we turned 180˚ and followed the connector trail between the Mountain and Ron’s Loop. It’s not on the map yet and still needs some work, but it’s full of surprises–only a few of which I’ll share right now.

winter, connecting trail

We’ve always enjoyed this trail and today realized that though it’s much easier to follow than it was a few years ago, many trees have blown down along the way.

numerous trees 2

They’re easy enough to climb over. If you go, do know that there are two or three mucky spots along this trail as well, but again, easy to get around.

lone red pine, connecting trailred pine, winter

This lone red pine always makes us wonder. Perhaps it found its way here via a seed on a skidder?

winter bobcat prints

Today we found moose tracks, plus red fox and coyote scat. If there was bobcat scat, it was obscured by the leaf litter, but we know they frequent this area.

winter, snowshoe hare

We also know the bobcat’s favorite meal lives here–we saw this guy in early March and of course, always see his prints on winter treks.

artist's conkcrowded parchment, connecting trail

Lion's Mane past peak

A couple of fun finds along the way–artist’s conk, crowded parchment and an old lion’s mane.

the bridge on Ron's Loop

winter, the bridge at Ron's Loop

The bridge on Ron’s Loop is all decked out with autumn colors–a contrast to its winter coat.

honoring Ron

We’re forever thankful to Ron for his leadership and foresight,

bench on Ron's Loop

even when we can’t see the plaque that honors him.

Kendra and Jewell

We met no other people on the trail today, but one of my fondest memories dates back two years when one of GLLT’s interns, Kendra, offered her arm to Jewell for a safe journey. Once upon a time, Jewell was Kendra’s Sunday School teacher and on this summer day, Kendra was Jewell’s guide.

water bottle by Ron's Loop

As we walked into the parking area of Ron’s Loop, we noticed that someone had left behind a water bottle. If it’s yours, it’s still there.   wasp nest Ron's Loop

Each time we visit, we take a moment to check out the wasp nest at the kiosk.

Ron's Loop kiosk, Jan 2015

We can’t remember when we first noticed it, but it’s been there for a while.

coffee sign

One last thing to note before we walked back to the Mountain trailhead where our truck was parked–Magnolia coffee. Wish I’d ordered more than one this past year. Dark roast.

One Mondate–three seasons. And now the quest is to turn it into a four-season destination. Stay tuned.