I’m with the TREES

When Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association asked me to join her in co-leading and co-sponsoring a tree identification walk during Great Maine Outdoor Week(end) at LEA’s Highland Research Forest in Bridgton, I jumped at the opportunity. Alanna, you see, is a great joy to be in the presence of and I knew she’d make it a fun and unique experience.

I wasn’t disappointed; nor were the thirteen others who joined us this morning for a two-hour hike that turned into two and a half and even a little bit more.

Alanna had gone out ahead of us and placed hearts with tree-related information along the trail we’d travel. Our crew was a delightful mix that included young and old, with members of LEA and the Greater Lovell Land Trust, which I was representing, as well as a woman from North Conway and man from Portland. Yes, Linda and Henri–that would be the two of you.

The first heart provided information about hemlock trees and after she read it, we encouraged everyone to channel their inner hemlock and so they leaned as this particular evergreen does. Check out those smiles. Don’t you want to be a hemlock too?

Of course, because we were among the trees on this property that the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust donated to LEA several years ago, and the snow was super soft from yesterday’s storm, the mammal tracks were outstanding.

One of the favorites of the day–that of the snowshoe hare. It’s not often that one can see the hare’s toes so clearly, but today was the day. And as David Brown’s Trackards indicated, the footprint size depends upon the conditions.

When it came to demonstrating and identifying the action of the mammal there were two rock stars among our group. Alanna was one for she got down on all fours and demonstrated how a hare moves (before she sorta fell). And Pam Marshall was the other for she correctly identified and shared information about how to recognize all of the track and print patterns that we saw. Pam only began tracking this year with the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers, but she’s a quick study.

Onward we trekked, pausing whenever we saw a heart of red. And each time, Alanna’s voice came through in the message. Love at first bite! Indeed.

At a beech tree, we paused for a bit longer as we noted not only the twigs and buds that are beginning to swell, but also talked about how bear claw marks are most visible on them and how the beech scale insect has altered the once smooth look of the bark. The word marcescent, meaning withering but remaining attached to the stem, also entered the conversation.

After a bit of time, we emerged onto a wetland where only last week Alanna and a couple of people including one in our midst, Anne, had spotted a hole and lots of tracks and scat left behind by an otter. Today, no sign of that member of the weasel family, but still . . . we enjoyed the warmth of the sun.

And I took advantage of the time to dress Alanna as a twig. She was the perfect Miss Twiggy model and Henri took time to pose with her.

Back in the woods, we were stopped in our tracks by the tracks of another weasel–a mink.

And then as we retraced out steps and paused by a speckled alder to admire its male and female catkins and last year’s cones, someone honed in on something that wasn’t a remnant of yesterday’s snowstorm.

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated a couple of branches. As Alanna explained, in a symbiotic relationship, during the warmer months, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy. Today, there were no ant farmers about, but a few like Justin, did step forward to take a closer look.

After that, we were confronted with a math problem. And you thought we were just out for a walk in the woods.

Finally, well sorta, we made our way back to an opening and stood around enjoying hot cocoa and tea, plus some goodies, and each others company.

Sherpa Anne had been kind enough to haul the supplies to the opening for us as our trek began. I know she was thankful she didn’t have to pull the sled all the way out to the wetland. And we were thankful for the good tidings it bore.

You see, Alanna is a woman of many, many talents, and baking is one of them.

Did she get carried away with the cookie cutters?

We didn’t think so for we all love Maine.

And we also love trees, including red oaks with their bristly-tipped leaves and acorns.

That wasn’t all Alanna had created.

Her tree model was to be envied (at least by me). And she explained the different functions, from roots to leaves and outer bark to inner workings.

And just in case you are interested, I’ve come up with a new mnemonic, because we love memory aids.

Xylem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts water and dissolved nutrients upward from the root and also helps to form the woody element in the stem.

Phloem is the vascular tissue in plants that conducts sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves.

My mnemonic: Xy high (think upward); Phlo low (think downward).

Of course, that didn’t occur to me until several hours later.

Before we finished off our delightful morning, there was one last heart with tree information to read. Hmmm. Porcupines, bark, needles, scat, look up? “You might spot one dining!”

And so up we looked.

And down as well. We found some tracks and even took a closer look at some comma-shaped scat.

Because . . . the resident male was high up in the tree! Look at that handsome fella! We did. Over and over again. Henri was sure we had planted him and that he wasn’t real.

But he was. And if you look closely, you might see his orange teeth which one (like me) could almost mistake for a Valentine heart. Check out those toe nails. And can you see the rough soles of his feet, the better to grip the tree with?

Male porcupines are known to hang out on a tree during the day. I know we’re particularly thrilled about this one because he hasn’t let us down yet.

Think about this–while the male was hanging out in the sun, porcupines (like the one that lives under our barn) typically stay in their dens until dusk and then head off to munch on bark and needles in the darkest and coldest hours of a day. That’s to be admired.

So is the work of our two organizations, Lakes Environmental Association and the Greater Lovell Land Trust. Both of us are with the Trees and we loved sharing the trail together this day.

We’re doing the same again on Sunday at 12:30 in Lovell, where we’ll go on a Porcupine Prowl–will we actually see the rodent as we did today? Who knows, but we’ll have fun as we join together again to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Week(end).

I’m with the TREES. Are you?

From Lion to Lioness

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

h-lion

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

h-clothes-line

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

h-beaver-bog

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

h-bog-1

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

h-coyote-prints

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

h-coyote-trot

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

h-heron-nest-2

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

h-beaver-brook-meanders

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

h-beaver-lodge-1

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

h-beaver-lodge-2-opening

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

h-beaver-damotter

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

h-heron-nest-3

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

h-lungwort-brown-1

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

h-beaver-dam-approach

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

h-beaver-dam-3

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

h-beaver-brook-below-dam

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

h-beaver-trees

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

h-beaver-teeth-marks

on beaver works.

h-beaver-goddess

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

h-beaver-birch

And marveled at the amount of fresh works everywhere.

h-beaver-trail

Their path was well traveled and led us to more.

h-beaver-chew-stick

We even spied beaver chews, the snack of choice.

h-beaver-dam-small

And another smaller dam.

h-marita-and-joanne

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

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