I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.


And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.


Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.


Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.


But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.


As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.


And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.


For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!


It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.


As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.


Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.


Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.


It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.


Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.


And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?


We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.


Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.


And what does it smell like? “Wood.”


The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.


“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.


Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.


We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.


At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.


This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.


And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Winter clothing? ✓

Hand warmers? ✓

Camera and extra lenses? ✓

Water? ✓

Trackards? ✓

Scat shovel? ✓

Snowshoes? Oh no. I didn’t realize until I met up with two fellow trackers for today’s Tuesday Tramp that I’d left my snowshoes home. “I’ll be fine,” I said. “Other’s have probably walked the trail before us.”

Indeed, they had. But I also knew that because we were tracking, we’d wander off trail. Indeed, we did.

It’s a good thing I had warm snow pants and tight boots on and brought along my sense of humor and adventure.


We began at the kiosk of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford property, where an Eastern Phoebe’s moss-lined nest awaits the return of its residents. Perhaps the funnel spider who took advantage of the nesting site is keeping the home fires lit amid the grasses and mud therein.


And then we reached the former log landing and the current site of Speckled Alders. We’d only seen squirrel evidence at that point, but knew to check on the fuzzy little woolly alder aphids who inhabit these shrubs.


We were surprised to see a black coating that seemed associated with the aphids and reminded us of black knot on fruit trees. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the aphids were covered in black.

When I arrived home, I looked for more information and of course, Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious, came to the rescue:

“Once leaves start to fall, one often observes white, fuzzy patches along the branches of Speckled Alder (Alnus incana). These fuzzy patches consist of colonies of aphids feeding on the sap of the shrub. In order to get enough nitrogen, they must drink volumes of sap, much of which is exuded from their abdomens as a sweet liquid called honeydew. The honeydew accumulates and hardens onto the branches as well as the ground beneath the shrub. Yesterday’s Mystery Photo was the honeydew of Woolly Alder Aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellates) which has been colonized by a fungus known as black sooty mold, a fairly common phenomenon.

Fairly common means we need to pay more attention. That’s how it is in the natural world–you see something for the first time and then realize it’s everywhere, you’ve just missed it all your life, or at least up until now. I love the noticing.


In places we predicted, we found snowshoe hare runways. Typically, I give thanks to them for the technology that holds us up closer to the surface of the white fluff that covers our winter world.


Where the trail splits, we were greeted by the keeper of these woods. It was here that we also found porcupine tracks, the prints a bit muted but the sashaying pattern easily decipherable. We followed its trail for a while, me making post holes, but moving with relative ease. Winter hiking is so much easier even when the snow is deep.


We’d come to track mammals despite the freezing rain, sleet and snow, but other things also drew our attention, like the lines that decorate a beech tree. Usually it seems obvious that they are made by either a formerly attached vine or branches from other trees that scratched in the breeze. We couldn’t say for sure with this one, despite taking a closer look.


At the scenic look out, other young beech trees provided a hint of light in the gray of the day as we took in the sight of Lower Bay below.


A turn to the right and we noted a number of artist conks decorating a tree.


And beside our feet, evidence that a Ruffed Grouse had passed under low limbs.


For a while, our tracking seemed limited to squirrels and then at the old foundation, we noticed a bounding pattern. Of course, we needed to follow it, up over what was probably a rock and then noted where it had passed under a branch close to the snow. It was under the tree that its prints gave us a few more clues and we determined it was a fisher. (Note: Fisher, not Fisher Cat. They are members of the weasel family, not feline.)


As we rounded the bend below the foundation, snow snaking across the limbs of a downed tree made us pause and admire.


And then we paused again–at The Rock. In the summer, it’s a great place to admire “Life on a Rock,” and in the winter we always expect some small mammal to take advantage of its protection. One of these days maybe we’ll be rewarded with evidence.


It was just beyond The Rock that we decided to go off trail again and further explore the porcupine’s trail. It led us to its home and then climbed upward. My two companions went first, making their way across what we soon realized was an old stump dump.

Seconds later, I disappeared . . . down a hole . . . well, at least up to my waist! Our first thought as I pulled my body out–would I discover quills on my boots? Thankfully no. I maneuvered  and my friend, Joan, who is half my size, pulled me up as we laughed about the possibilities.

We skedaddled across the rest of the dump and bushwhacked back to the alder trees.

So maybe I didn’t exactly disappear down a rabbit hole, but for a brief moment it felt like such. And will become part of our memory of a snowy, icy day spent on the prowl.




Trending Blaze Orange

Donning our blaze orange, eight of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s docents joined me today for an exploration along the trail to Otter Rock at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

Our destination was the Otter Rock spur, not very far, but it’s amazing how long it can take us and we were impressed that we actually reached our goal.

grape fern 1.jpg

Along the way we stopped to admire the blunt-lobe grape ferns and their separate fertile stalks, some still intact.

4 birches.jpg

And then we looked up. We’d been talking about tree bark, and right before our very eyes were four members of the birch family.

paper birch

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) features chalky white bark that often peels away in large sheets. The peeled bark reveals pink or orange tints, only partially visible here, but evident on other trees in the neighborhood.

yellow birch

To the left of the Paper Birch stands a Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), with its curly ribbon-like strips of bronze or yellowish-gray bark giving it a shaggy appearance.

black birch

And to its left the one that excited us most, Black Birch (Betula lenta), sporting gray bark with long, horizontal lenticels. All trees have lenticels, but they are more obvious on some than others. These slits allow for the exchange of gas so the tree may breath.


gray birch

Last in the family line-up, a Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) showing off its almost dirty appearance and chevrons below the former branch sites.

dragonfly nymph 1

At Otter Rock, we found dragonfly nymph exoskeletons still clinging to tree bark

df 2

and rocks.

shell remnants

Our discovery of shells made us wonder and smile about others who have passed this way.

wh b

Now that the leaves are gone, we delighted in the knowledge that there is so much more to see, including Witch Hazel.

witch hazel gall

We examined one of the few remaining ribbony flowers, the scalpel-shaped buds, fruiting bodies, asymmetrical leaves and a spiny gall all on one branch.

witch hazel Bob.jpg

Our very own Witch Hazel Expert, Docent Bob, demonstrated the way the seeds pop–referencing Henry David Thoreau’s discovery of this phenomenon.

docents 1.jpg

Before we headed back to the main trail, the group posed for a photo call. They all look so sporty in their blaze orange.

wild raisins

A few more finds as we walked back to the parking lot: remnants of a wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides), so named because the shriveled fruits that remain look like raisins;

black cherry bark.jpg

Black Cherry bark (Prunus serotina), easily identified by the small scales that curl outward like burnt cornflakes or potato chips;

red oak leaves

and Northern Red Oak leaves displaying holiday colors.

Mill Stream

Though most of us parted company just beyond the mill stream, a couple of us continued on to the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge off New Road.

Heal All

We focused our attention on winter weeds, a topic for our January 9th walk. On this old logging road, some of the Selfheal or Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) stands at least a foot and a half tall. As pretty as it is in the summer, it’s still a sight to behold in its winter structure.

evening primrose

Another to look forward to is the Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennia). Its fruits are four-parted capsules arranged in a spike at the tip of the stem, looking rather like flowers themselves.

There’s more to see, but I don’t want to give it all away.

CS view 1

My last stop for the day was a loop around the Chip Stockford Reserve. I wasn’t the only one trending blaze orange. The glow of the late afternoon sun cast an orange hue across the beech leaves.

November in western Maine. We’re happy to don our blaze orange and get out on the trails.


This Lady’s Delight

There’s something about the Chip Stockford Reserve on Ladies Delight Road in Lovell that keeps pulling me back. I think it’s the history associated with this property that fascinates me. And the questions it raises.

From the start, there is a cellar hole and barn foundation. foundtion 1

About seven years ago, during a visit to the Lovell Historical Society, I learned that  Eldridge Gerry Kimball had purchased 200 acres on January 31, 1880 from Abraham E. Gray.

Various journals from that time period include entries about driving cattle over to the Ladies Delight pasture, picking cranberries over by The Pond, as they called Kezar Lake, picking apples, driving sheep to pasture, picking pears, mowing oats and trimming pines.

large pines

Today, it’s the huge pasture pines, stonewalls and a couple of foundations that tell part of the story. I’ve also heard that this area was used as a cattle infirmary. According to local lore, diseased cattle were brought to Ladies Delight to roam and die, thus preventing disease from spreading to healthy cattle.

pileated condo

The big old pines provide investigation for others.

p scat

Who sometimes leave presents. Can you see the ant bodies?


Yup, that’s snow. I took this photo in December because I was impressed with the stock pile of cones a red squirrel had made.


It took me a few minutes to locate the tree today. I wanted to see what the midden looked like and wasn’t disappointed.  In trying to find the tree, however, I developed an appreciation for the red and gray squirrels who cache their food and then return to it. Of course, if a gray squirrel doesn’t remember where it stored an acorn, then a turkey or deer may find a treat, or a tree may grow. No matter how you look at it, it’s all good. As for me, I need to learn how to use our GPS.

Another story about Ladies Delight hill is that this is the place where people would come to picnic in the 1800s. Did the women get dressed up to enjoy a day out, a break from their farming duties? I have visions of them wearing long dresses and bonnets and carrying picnic baskets. But could they really afford a day away from their chores?

red spur

The blue trail loops around the 155-acre reserve, and a spur trail (red) leads to the vantage point–a view of Lower Bay on Kezar Lake and the White Mountains.

chip stockford

A bench at the outlook was placed in memory of Chapman “Chip” Stockford, a founding officer of the GLLT who lived in the neighborhood.


Spring color–more subtle than fall foliage.

white pine

On the short spur between the red arrow and the outlook, the variety of trees offers a study in bark. Eastern White Pine–with horizontal lines on the scales.


Flaky, cinnamony-gray (is that a word?) scales of Eastern Hemlock.


Ash’s diamond-shaped furrows.


And the smooth, silvery-gray American Beech–with some blotches of lichen adding a dash of green and white.

hop hornbeam

Hop Hornbeam’s shaggy strips.

red maple

And the bull’s eye target on Red Maple.

red oak

Finally, the flattened ridges of ski tracks that run down a Northern Red Oak.

pine age

Back on the blue trail, the sun poked through the clouds, shining on pines that represent a variety of ages.

found 2

I’m not sure who lived in the house above this cellar hole, but it’s always fun to visit and wonder.

In her book, Blueberries and Pusley Weed: The Story of Lovell, Maine, Pauline W. Moore wrote that Ladies Delight, “was not named for the view. Nor because it made a delightful walk for ladies to take on a Sunday afternoon or because it was covered with wonderful blueberries . . . (It was) named in sarcasm because women who tried to live in two houses built there could not endure the loneliness and isolation.”

Was this one of the houses?

found 3

It’s been a long time since any vegetables were stored in this cellar.

As I was told at the historical society,  the bridge across The Narrows wasn’t yet built when the ladies lived there, so the only way to get to the other side was walking across the ice.

the rock

No visit to Chip Stockford is complete without a visit to The Rock. Today, I startled two grouse that flew up from behind it.

grouse dust

Dust bath? Nest site?

sweet fern

A few more things to see as I headed out. Sweet fern, which is really a shrub.


Baubles on pine saplings.

paper birch bark

Young Paper Birch bark.

striped maple

Swollen Striped Maple buds.

phoebe nest

And a phoebe nest under construction.

This lady was delighted to have time to wonder and wander. Thanks for taking a look.