Tree Spirit Mondate

Four days ago I happened upon a set of fresh coyote tracks, which didn’t surprise me for I’d seen so many of the same in that particular area all winter. But it was the color of scat left beside one print that stymied me.

I wanted to know what had been on the menu for breakfast. Noting hair as a component, I wondered: red squirrel? Didn’t think so. Red fox? Maybe. White-tailed deer? A possibility.

What to do? Backtrack the track, of course. Which worked well for a bit, until I realized it was going to lead me up a hill and across the street and snow was falling and I needed to head home. But . . . despite the fact that the prints would get filled in by the flakes, I promised myself a return venture in search of the main course. And I was pretty sure I could convince my guy to make the journey with me.

The moment we stepped onto the trail, I chuckled for even if I hadn’t known that some friends who had seen the photo I’d posted of the scat and prints had gone in search of the same meal over the weekend, I would have known by their tracks left behind where they had traveled. Well, especially his. Pretty cool when you can look at snowshoe tracks and identify the gender, don’t you think? But I know the pattern of Tom’s wooden snowshoes and can spot them in an instant. Paula’s are more generic, but he followed her wherever they went except for a few times when they split up like a fox or coyote would do when trying to surround prey (or figure out the maker of the prints as Tom and Paula had done), the imprint of his shoes covering hers both on and off trail.

Their journey and ours followed a certain brook where noon sunshine gleamed upon the snow and ice as the water flowed forth.

In a spot where two weeks prior I’d noted bobcat tracks crossing the brook via a log, there were fresher tracks today, though not so fresh to determine feline or canine.

Eventually, because we were close to the spot where I’d first made my discovery, and it was time for a meal of our own, my guy and I climbed up the stairs to a treehouse and sat down to dine.

We unwrapped our sandwiches while taking in the view of a bog beyond. Maybe as we ate we’d spy some action in the bog beyond. Maybe we wouldn’t. We didn’t.

Finally, we were ready to pick up where I’d left off on backtracking the coyote four days ago. Because of snow over the weekend, the prints were filled in, but still the pattern was visible, making them easy to follow. We could see that in the more recent past, a fisher had crossed over the track in search of a meal of its own.

The coyote tracks took us uphill, and eventually forced us to cross the road upon which we’d parked.

Crossing over, we followed them until they led to an area near a stream and again fisher prints entered the mix and we suspected something of importance had happened here, but couldn’t be sure what, and beyond this point the fisher went one way and the coyote crossed onto a private property and we decided we needed to give up the hunt. Drats.

In the midst of it all, however, deer tracks led the way. And so we followed those to see where they might lead.

And bingo. A feeding area where the disturbed snow indicated the deer had been seeking acorns.

Not only was it a feeding area, but also where the ungulates had bedded down, such as this youngster. Can you see its head, rounded back and legs tucked beneath?

We found at least seven beds in this spot and actually another bunch in a second spot later in our journey and gave thanks to know that the land through which we ventured is a deer yard.

A deer yard frequented by predators including the coyote we’d tracked earlier and this fisher.

Eventually, we made tracks upon a different trail for though I was there in search of someone’s meal source, my guy had a destination in mind.

Upward we climbed upon rock ledges hidden beneath snow.

A look back revealed the mountains beyond and horseshoe-shaped pond below.

It was there that white and red pines showed off their bonsai form among brothers and sisters who grew straight and tall.

Cones galore presented themselves as we reached the summit, such as these upon a red pine.

High upon the White Pines the same.

And the spruce trees didn’t want to be left out of the offerings.

We could hear the sweet chirps of birds and finally focused in on our feathered friends, puffed up as this chickadee was in response to the chilly wind. Four or five layers kept us warm, while the birds depended upon air they could trap within their feathers to feel the same way.

At last we reached an old mine and peeked within, thinking perhaps a critter or two had taken advantage of a cave to take refuge. If that was the case, we weren’t cognizant of it.

But we did enjoy the layers and reflections and colors of the mica, quartz, and feldspar for which this spot is known.

Eventually it was bear trees that captured our attention. Imagine this–your right paws grasping the beech as you climb in search of its nutritious nuts.

Simultaneously, of course, your left paws did the same as you shimmied up the trunk of the tree.

Some bears chose to leave their signatures with claw marks, while others preferred to leave their initials behind.

Either way, the bears had visited. As had fishers, deer, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mice, squirrels, birds, and who knows how many others. Oh, and Tom and Paula–whose tracks twisted and turned like the mammals they followed.

The tree spirit knows as we learned on this Mondate. And he shows it in his heart which is filled with hope within colored green for all that has passed this way and all that is yet to come. The fact that we didn’t discover what the coyote ate didn’t matter. What mattered more is that this is a place for all to be and become.

Winter Wild Out My Door

Winter Storm Harper left its mark in the form of snow and wind upon our little spot in the universe.

And I was certain that any tracks I might encounter in the woods would have been erased by dervishes that whirled across the field yesterday, overnight, and into today.

Consequently, it was a pleasant surprise to discover porcupine tracks leading to and fro our barn and woodlot in their typical pigeon-toed pattern.

As delighted as I was, I was equally dispirited as I noticed that the tips of my favorite hemlock had been nipped to oblivion.

But, the porcupine had moved on from that tree, crossed over a stonewall, and visited several other trees in our woodlot, as noted by the downed twigs that decorated the snow’s surface. Like the tracks, the twigs were freshly cut in the past twenty-four hours or less actually.

Of course, I couldn’t overlook the woody commas amid the debris, much as they break up a sentence such as this, that added to the list of evidence that a porcupine had been present. Some call them scat.

And then, as I continued onward, I followed the tracks of two others that frequent our yard. Even as I delighted in the winter structure of a Queen Anne’s Lace florescent, did I notice the red fox prints on the snow below.

The tracks led me to Stevens Brook, which has a journey of its own to trace.

I went to look because I felt the need to add a bit of color to this wintry day and knew that the local congregation of Mallards would contribute not only that, but sound as well.

And then, as I snowshoed beside the trail that follows the brook, I began to notice tracks made by another–this one a member of the weasel family with tear-drop shaped toes of five on each foot.

The more I followed it, the more I realized it had walked and then loped and appeared to drag something along the way.

Sometimes it chose to slide on the downhills.

And equally left an impression as it journeyed up and over a stonewall.

Meanwhile, within the wall, I surmised another of a different species quivered as silently as possible so as not to attract attention, with the hope of creating hoar frost for another day.

Wherever I went, the weasel had also trekked. And frequently I noticed signs of blood as if something had been dragged and the life dripped out of it.

In some places the frozen vital fluid bespoke a meal perhaps waiting to be cached–the perfect sacrifice of one to nurture another.

So few were the tracks of mankind on the virgin snow and so abundant the weasel.

Soon I found myself beside another brook, this one named Willet, and I glanced about expecting to see evidence of action, but instead found ice and snow and shadows disappearing into the bend.

And then . . . upon the edge of the brook’s high bank, a sudden turn my weasel had made, choosing to not slide downward.

A bit further along, I was following its tracks again when I spied fresh woody debris upon the snow’s surface and knew that a pileated had been at work this day.

Rounding the tree, I discovered a series of holes made over a series of days or weeks or years.

From the woodpecker tree, it took a few minutes, but again I found the tracks of one very busy fisher. I never did find any kill sites, but suspected that it had a cache somewhere and let its fresh groceries dangle from its mouth as it carried them back to the pantry.

Making my way toward home, I didn’t need to rest, but had I intended upon such, it wouldn’t have been at the bench for so deep was the snow.

That was okay, for my movement kept me warm and I knew that I’d soon be stripping off my winter layers once I reached our kitchen. But first, there was a pasture to pass through, and while I seemed to have left the fisher behind, I came upon the tracks of the two red foxes I’d met earlier.


In typical red fox behavior, one of them had paused at the tip of a downed tree and urinated. One of these days perhaps it will finally get lucky.

In the meantime, I felt lucky for I’d seen the prints and tracks of so many on this day when I wondered if I’d see any–including those of the Mallards beside Stevens Brook.

And of all the winter wild out my door, today the ducks were my favorite because I not only got to watch them for a while, but I also appreciated the colorful display they added to the landscape.

My Need To Get A Life

About two weeks ago a friend and I exchanged e-mails about mammal tracks we’d spotted that day. His big find was plenty of bobcat tracks at Bald Pate Preserve, while mine was mink tracks by Sucker Brook in Lovell. And that’s when he commented, “We need to get a life.” 😉

Yup. So today I did just that. With a friend in tow, I revisited the Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain Road in North Conway. Our mission was to move slowly through the landscape in search of signs of nature in winter.

Oh my. Such a boring task. What could there possibly be to see? Everything is brown and gray and ever so drab.

mouse

From the start, mouse tracks show the suicide mission these little guys make each night as they scramble this way and that in search of food . . . and cover. Mice are nocturnal bounders who travel above ground for long  distances–risky behavior since they are tasty treats for most predators. White-footed and deer mice have similar-sized feet and bodies, so their prints are difficult to distinguish from each other. Their print pattern reminds me of that made by squirrels, only in miniature and their long tails often leave drag marks in the center.

vole 4vole 3

Here’s another favorite meal for many predators–evidence that a vole lives nearby. We were in an old logging area when we found this. While a vole is similar in size to the white-footed and deer mice, its tail doesn’t show in the track. Plus, two other things stood out to us. The tunnel in the first photo is typical vole behavior. While we received 6 inches of snow in western Maine on Tuesday, North Conway only has about two inches on top of ice. Voles are shy of sky space, so tunneling is one of their behaviors. With ice below the snow, this tunnel was exposed and reminded us of spring when vole tunnels become visible in melting snow. The other behavior of this little brown thing (LBT) that is different from its cousins, the other LBTs like mice and shrews, is the zig zag or alternating pattern when it walks. Voles vary their walking pattern, but they don’t bound like the others. The pattern is visible for a few steps above the ruler.

mink 1Mink 2

And who might those predators be? We found the diagonal pattern typical to the weasel family. We thought that this one was a mink, but now that I’m in my cozy den, I’m questioning our ID. It may have been a short or long-tailed weasel. (1/15/16: Changed my mind back to mink. My ruler kept sliding, but the measurements we took, and we took several, clearly indicated mink, so that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

weasel 2

Further up the trail, we were more certain that this one was a weasel, though, again, short or long-tailed is the question. Suffice it to say–weasel.

Fisher 1  Fisher pattern

And still another family member–only a bit larger in size. Notice the tear-drop shaped toes. And the loping pattern. A fisher had recently crossed the trail. We followed its tracks for a bit and then bushwhacked back. On our return we came across a second set of fisher tracks. And then, as we backtracked beside our own snowshoe prints, we realized they’d traveled together and then split apart–perhaps hoping to find some good chow.

Kearsarge River

As we moved beside and away from the river, we also saw deer, snowshoe hare, coyote and fox tracks.

Winding our way up through the switchbacks, one other critter left a calling card.

wing

Based on the behavior, I want to say it’s a ruffed grouse. I must admit that we didn’t follow the tracks, but grouse are also tunnelers and there’s a bit of a tunnel here. Usually I find their scat.  By now, you are probably thinking that I really do need to get a life.

ground litter

hemlock seed and scale

yellow birch

We laughed about how we used to not even notice everything on the ground–dismissing it as  tree litter. Ah, litter it is. But more specifically, we were in the land of hemlocks and birch trees. Hemlock cones, cone scales and winged seeds (samaras) are part of the array. And the yellow birch catkins have released their fleurs-de-lis scales and seeds as well.

beech scale 3

One of the things we weren’t thrilled to discover–the white, wooly and waxy coating that the beech scale insects secrete to cover themselves. Oy vey. This beech tree doesn’t stand a chance.

polypody frozen

So back to happier thoughts, including the polypody that let us know it was time to head home and curl up by a warm fire–the temp was in the low teens.

ice skirt

Even the river rocks wore several layers.

artist 3

artist conk

Just before we arrived at my truck, we stopped to admire this mighty fine artist conk. It will still be there on Saturday–join me and the wonderful folks from the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for a walk on the trail–weather permitting. I’m not so sure it will actually happen this week given the forecast.

No matter. These were only a few of our finds. There’s so much to see and wonder about and every time I visit, I’m in awe of this special place. And thankful for the life I’ve got.

Mustelids, Oh My!

kiosk sign

This morning I drove to the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Sucker Brook in Lovell. This is a Greater Lovell Land Trust property.

Station !

My mission was to photograph the eight station signs along the nature walk so another docent and I can spend some time this spring updating them.

station 2:a

Before I even reached Station 2, I realized I had a bad case of NDD. Nature Distraction Disorder. OK, so I think I just coined a new term and acronym, but maybe I heard it somewhere else and had it tucked away in my mind. (NawDee for short?–corny joke alert and I might be the only one who gets it) Anyway, what it boiled down to was what you see on this sign and then some.

Fisher

Fisher tracks were all along the brook and through the woods. I’m almost certain these are fisher. I was beginning to question my “I’m always 100% correct when alone” statement. These were quite fresh.

mink1mink slide

Mink tracks and slides were also visible, especially in and out of Sucker Brook.

otter

And then I found these. River Otter.

Silent and graceful are the weasels. From them I should learn so many lessons as they move about quietly observing and discerning what is important. I always think of them as fun loving with all the sliding some of them, like the mink and otter, do. But . . . they are carnivores who have to consume a lot of food to keep warm in the winter.

hole activity

This hole was one of several that I saw. It was across the brook, so I don’t know who entered here. Perhaps they all checked it out. Or maybe it’s a sleeping space for these nocturnal animals.

little brown thing hair

And I found what remained of hair from a little brown thing–either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse. There were tracks leading up to it, but it’s difficult to discern the difference between the two. Who had dinner here? The fisher, I believe.

pinecone tracks

It wasn’t only mammal tracks that I found. Look at the trail left behind by this pinecone.

morning lightbrook 1brook 2

The morning light was beautiful–the beginning of a crisp, clear day.

water and ice 2

Movement frozen in time. water and ice 3

tranquility

And then the brook calms down. Chickadees sing their cheeseburger song while white-breasted nuthatches call, “Yank, yank,” over and over again.

platform

Finally I reached the platform–a hidden oasis that encourages us all to take time to pause and wonder.

bog

And search the brook and bog for signs of wildlife. One of these days, I’m going to see a moose. I think I heard a river otter here either last summer or the previous one. And I’ve been on owl prowls to this very location–occasionally even heard them respond to our calls.

false tinderhoof

Now for some other fun stuff I saw along the way–false tinder polypore. I love that I can now identify this one by its hoof-like appearance on top, but also the way the pore surface angles down toward the tree’s bark. And it’s a perennial, growing taller with the years. I sound so smart, but I’m only just beginning to understand woody fungi. Only a very wee bit.

Some signs that spring is around the corner . . .

wintergreen

Wintergreen appearing where the snow is melting. You may know it as Checkerberry and Tea Berry. We used to chew teaberry gum when we were kids. You can purchase it at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, New Hampshire. Today, however, the wintergreen extract is produced synthetically.

Hobblebush 2Hobblebush

Hobblebush! While most of the buds we see in the winter landscape have scales to protect them from the weather, hobblebush buds are naked. How do they survive? They are hairy–maybe that helps. I can’t help but wonder. I do know that it won’t be too long before the flat heads of flowers the size of my hands will bloom.

One last thing to share about today’s wander. I thought I was seeing the tracks of this true hibernator and then I saw the real McCoy.

chipmunk

Actually, I saw two of them. It may snow tomorrow, but methinks spring will make  an appearance this year.

Thanks for wondering along beside me on today’s wander. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.