Insects of Lovell

To say the insects of Lovell are the insects of Maine . . .  are the insects of New England . . .  is too broad a statement as we learned last night when Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist at the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, Canada, spoke at a Greater Lovell Land Trust talk  Mike helped us gain a better understanding of the relationship between trees, invasive insects and climate change in our grand State of Maine.

And then this morning, he led us down the trail on land conserved through the GLLT as a fee property and one held under conservation easement work.

1-what's that?

From the get-go, our curiosity was raised and we began to note every little motion above, at eye level, and our feet.

2-not an insect

Sometimes, what attracted our attention proved to be not an insect after all for it had two extra legs, but still we wondered. That being said, the stick we used to pick it up so we could take a closer look exhibited evidence of bark beetles who had left their signature in engraved meandering tunnels.

4-leaf miner scat

A bit further along, Mike pulled leaf layers apart to reveal the work of leafminers and our awe kicked up an extra notch. Leafminers feed within a leaf and produce large blotches or meandering tunnels. Though their work is conspicuous, most produce injuries that have little, if any, effect on plant health. Thankfully, for it seems to me that leaves such as beech are quite hairy when they first emerge and I’ve always assumed that was to keep insects at bay, but within days insect damage occurs. And beech and oak, in particular, really take a beating. But still, every year they produce new leaves . . . and insects wreak havoc.

6-leafminer pupa

Leafminers include larvae of moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), sawflies (Hymenoptera) and flies (Diptera). I’m still trying to understand their life cycles, but today we got to see their scat when Mike pulled back a leaf layer! How cool is that?  Instantly, I recognized a new parlor trick that I can’t wait to share with the GLLT after-school Trailblazers program we offer through Lovell Recreation.

7-grandma and granddaughter

As for today, Mike’s mother-in-law, Linda, tested the wow factor on her granddaughter and we knew we had a winner.

8-hickory tussock moth caterpillar

Our attention was then directed to the tussock moth caterpillars, including the hickory tussock moth that seems to enjoy a variety of leaf flavors.

9-another tussock

And we found another tussock entering its pupating stage. We didn’t dare touch any of them for the hair of the tussocks can cause skin irritation and none of us wanted to deal with that.

11-leaf roller

Our next find was a leaf roller, and for me the wonder is all about the stitches it creates to glue its rolled home closed.

12-meadow goldenrods

Eventually we reached a wildflower meadow where our nature distraction disorder shifted a bit from insects to flowers, including local goldenrods.

12a-up close

There was much to look at and contemplate and everyone took advantage of the opportunity to observe on his/her own and then consult with others.

13-silvery checkerspot butterfly

One insect we all noted was the Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly. It’s a wee one and in the moment I couldn’t remember its name.

14-checkerspots mating

But . . . it remembered how to canoodle and we reveled in the opportunity to see such.

15-bees on Joe Pye Weed

Our final insect notification was a bumblebee on the Joe-Pye-Weed. A year ago we had the opportunity to watch the bumblebees and honey bees in this very meadow, but today there were no honeybees because a local beekeeper’s hives collapsed last winter.

15a-Beside Kezar River

Our public walk ended but the day continued and I move along to the Kezar River Reserve to enjoy lunch before an afternoon devoted to trail work.

15b-darner exuvia

Below the bench that sits just above the river, I love to check in on the local exuvia–in this case a darner that probably continues to dart back and forth along the shoreline, ever in search of a delectable meal.

16-Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Landing frequently for me to notice was an Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, its body all ruby colored and legs reddish rather than black.

17-milk snake

My goal was to slip down to the river level like the local otters might and as I moved along I startled a small snake–a milk snake. Not an insect . . . but still!

19-Mrs. Slaty Skimmer

Because I was there, so was the female Slaty Slimmer Dragonfly, and she honored me by pausing for reflection.

18-slaty skimmer dragonflies

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice her subtle beauty, for love was in the air and on the wing.

20-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Lovell hosts many, many insects, but I certainly have a few favorites that change with the season and the location. Today, Ruby Meadowhawks were a major part of the display.

21-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Note the yellowish-brown face; yellowish body for a female; and black triangles on the abdomen, and black legs.

Our findings today were hardly inclusive, but our joy in noticing and learning far outweighed what the offerings gathered.

Ruby, Slaty, Miner, Tussock, Checkerspot, so many varieties, so many Insects of Lovell, and we only touched on the possibilities. Thank you, Mike, for opening our bug eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Guided Tour of Sabattus Mountain

As stories go, Sabattus Mountain in Lovell offers plenty of lore. For starters, there’s the name of the mountain. I’ve heard at least two tales and seen three spellings, but basically the legend is the same–about a Pequawket named Sabatos, Sabatis, or Sabattus, who guided hunters and one day killed a lynx, or was it a mountain lion, before it sprang upon him.

In a July 14, 2017 article, Ed Parsons of the Conway Daily Sun wrote: “Sabattus was born in St. Francis, Canada, and with the influence of French missionaries, was named for St. John the Baptist, shortened to Sabattus. When Roger’s Rangers destroyed St. Francis in 1759, Sabattus was about 10 years old. He was kidnapped and went south with the rangers. Later, he went to Fryeburg with one of them, and spent the rest of his life in the area.

Sabattus had two children with the well-known area healer, Molly Ockett. In 1783, an earlier wife of his returned from a long trip to Canada, and claimed to be his spouse. To settle the dispute, Sabattus took them to the house of Mr. Wiley in Fryeburg so there would be a witness, and the two women fought, “hair and cloth flying everywhere.” Mrs. St. Francis, as Molly Ockett called the former wife, was stronger and won out. Molly Ockett left and moved to Andover, Maine.

There’s also the Devil’s Staircase, but that’s for another day.

s1-sign

Two Land for Maine’s Future program grants, along with funding from the Greater Lovell Land Trust, enabled the State of Maine to purchase 177 acres on and around Sabattus Mountain, protecting hiking access to Lovell’s highest peak. The trail is a 1.6-mile loop to and from the 1,253-foot summit. Sabattus Mountain is now owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The land trust, however, has taken a keen interest in upkeep of the trail system recently because there had been much erosion ever since Hurricane Irene and the State seemed to back off maintaining it. Last year, the GLLT’s three interns built numerous water bars, especially on the eastern trail.

s6-Brent's Loop Trail Sign

Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.

s2-self-guided nature walk

Today, a team of docents, associates and this year’s intern, under the well-organized leadership of GLLT Docent and Maine Master Naturalist Joan Lundin, installed informational signage along the loop.

s3-explaining the plan

The morning began as Joan divided the team into two groups. First she instructed Intern Isaiah (in red) and Stewardship Associate Dakota (in plaid), to take one set of signs up the western trail and leave them beside examples of particular species on the way.

s5-all smiles to go

Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.

s4-signs

All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.

s12-hi ho

And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.

s7-installing the first sign

Because she’d climbed the trail so often in order to prepare for today’s undertaking, Joan knew right where each sign belonged. At the start, she did most of the installing, showing off her muscle power on this steamy day, despite her petite physique.

s8-yellow birch

Each sign included common and scientific names, plus only a few key characteristics so not to overwhelm those who might stop to read them and look around to locate the particular species. It’s a technique decided long ago by the full team of docents who have undertaken this task each summer for years–always along a different GLLT trail.

s9-striped maple

The natural community along both trails on the loop system transitioned about two-thirds of the way up. For the lower portion, the community consisted of a variety of deciduous trees.

s13-hemlock

Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.

s14-sphagnum moss

Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.

s15-loop trail sign at ridge

As we hiked up the eastern trail, Dakota and Isaiah swung along the ridge line and came down to find us for they had only placed their signs along the western trail as instructed by Joan, and hadn’t yet pounded them into the earth. We chatted as we moved upward, talking about the turn ahead to the ridge, and Dakota told us we’d be pleased with how obvious it was since Brent had installed the new signs. Indeed!

s16-glacial erratic

Of course, we were a group that failed at following directions, and so off trail we went to check on the glacial erratic that we knew stood just beyond a downed tree.

s17-porcupine scat

We also checked underneath, for who doesn’t like to look at porcupine scat. New and old, though not especially fresh, it’s been a winter den for at least 30+ years that I’ve been climbing this mountain.

s18-Canada mayflower

And then Joan redirected us, pulling us back into the mission of the morning and finding a place to post the Canada Mayflower sign–between the granite slabs at our feet.

s19-window on the world beyond

Making our way across the ridge, we paused for a second to look out the window upon the world beyond. It’s from heights like this one that we always appreciate how much of Maine is still forested. At a recent gathering with District Forester Shane Duigan, he said that the state is 85% forested–down from 90% not because of urban sprawl, but instead increased farming.

s20-main summit signs

A few minutes later we reached the main summit, where Brent had posted more signs. They’re nailed to a White Pine and mark the intersection of the ridge trail and western loop, with a spur to the western-facing ledges and scenic overlook.

s21-white pine

That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.

s22-Keyes Pond and Pleasant Mtn

For a few minutes, we took in the wider view to the south–noting Keyes Pond in Sweden and Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, both part of the great beyond.

s23-scenic view

And then a quick trip out to the scenic overlook, where the sweeping view included the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake and pyramid outline of Mount Kearsarge in North Conway.

s24-scenic view 2

Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.

s25-chipmunk

On the way down, we continued, or rather, the rest of the team continued to install the signs while I watched, and one quiet chipmunk with a piece of a leaf dangling from its mouth looked on with approval. We assumed it approved, for it didn’t chatter at us.

s26-teamwork

It seemed the signs on the western trail went into place far more quickly than on the climb up, but maybe it was because there weren’t as many. We did pause for a few minutes as Isaiah and Dakota changed out one sign for another because the species Joan wanted to feature wasn’t as prominent as hoped. But, she was prepared with extra laminated cards and quickly produced a description of an alternate species.

s27-plank

We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.

s28-white admiral

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by the sight of pollinators upon the Staghorn Sumac, including a White Admiral Butterfly.

With that, our tour was done for the day, but we’d met several people along the way who were thrilled with the work we’d done. We hope you, too, will partake of the pleasant hike up Sabattus Mountain, and stop along the way to enjoy the self-guided tour. It will be in place until Labor Day weekend.

And be sure to stop by the office on Route 5 and make a contribution to the Greater Lovell Land Trust for we are a membership-driven organization and can’t do such work without your continued support.

P.S. Thank you Self-guided Tour Docents and GLLT staff, plus Property Steward Brent.

 

 

Morning Glory at Kezar River Reserve

Some mornings the hallelujahs spring forth from my being–and fortunately not from my vocal cords.

k-Kezar River sign

Today was one of those days as I ventured down the snowmobile trail, aka Parnes Landing Road, at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve. Just past the kiosk, I veered to the left to follow the GLLT’s trail into the woods.

k-jelly topside1

Within steps I was greeted by Auricularia auriula, a jelly ear fungus. The sun’s beams revealed veins reminiscent of stained glass windows and polished woodwork in an older church.

k-jelly under 2

Flipping the fallen oak branch to look at the underside revealed an equally, if not more beautiful design with its frosted outline.

k-wintergreen

On a steep hill beside Kezar River, actually the sloped side of a ravine I’d never hiked upon before, a southerly orientation presented lives past and present.

k-bench

Below, at the point where the trail, road and river meet, few have paused recently, including no sign of otter.

k-river view

But many have zoomed by with a need to reach the next destination as fast as possible.

k-ravine 1

I followed their tracks a little way out and peeked into the second ravine from a vantage point seldom celebrated.

k-big tooth aspen leaf

And then I headed back up the road to the next trail intersection. At my feet, form bespoke name, such is the manner of the big tooth aspen.

k-ravine 2

Down into the second ravine I tromped as I made my way to view the outlet from the other side.

k-otter 1

Because of the snow’s depth, I traveled to places less frequented and beside the stream I noted previous action. Lots of it.

k-otter activity1

And I spied evidence of the creator–whose prints were hard to distinguish, but other signs easily discernible.

k-my otterness

In my attempt to take a closer look, I practiced my inner otter and managed to find the water and leave my own set of muddy, though not quite webbed, prints. I laughed aloud as I pulled myself up and gave thanks for remembering to bring my hiking pole. Fortunately, the breakthrough was the only sign I left behind.

k-nature's snowball

Heading up the ravine, I smiled at the sight of the universe having fun–nature rolled her own snowballs–perhaps in preparation to build a snow woman.

k-pine cathedral

Through the cathedral of pines I continued–always looking up . . .

k-ice art

and down, where intricate patterns formed naturally in the ice offered a feathery look at the world below.

k-paper birch lateral bud

Sometimes, I stopped to spend a few moments with family members . . .

k-yellow birch

taking time to marvel in their similarities and differences as they stood side by side.

k-oak gall

And it seems there are many hosts throughout our woodlands that offer a spot for others to evolve.

k-oak crown

Despite or perhaps because of that, knowing they’d offered a helping hand, the oaks sported their crowns proudly.

k-pussy willow

Quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a picture of youth that warms my heart endlessly.

k-flowers in bloom

My journey wasn’t long, such is the trail. It’s decorated with small bright signs painted by local youngsters. Though I wouldn’t want to see these on every trail, they make me smile as I enjoy their colorful renditions of the natural world.

Not a picture of a morning glory, certainly, but a morning full of glory as I wandered and wondered and sang hallelujah along the trail at Kezar River Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Devil of a Mondate

Ever since I first saw a photo of a family donning their Sunday best and standing on rocks that form the “Devil’s Staircase” in Lovell, Maine, I’ve been intrigued.

d-historical-society

The photo and description on Lovell Historical Society’s Web site refers to a “staircase” on Sabattus Mountain. And so for years I imagined the staircase leading to that summit, but never located it. And then I learned that a section of trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Pond’s Reserve had earned the same name. Is there a staircase at Sabattus? Or was it accidentally misidentified? Whatever the case, when I suggested to my guy that we attempt the staircase off Route 5, he embraced the opportunity. (I’ve since learned from several friends that indeed, there is a staircase on Sabattus and the photo likely was taken there. The base of the staircase is apparently on private property and no longer a safe climb.)

d-trail-map

And so about noon we ventured forth and figured out a direction that would take us up the steep portions of the trail to the staircase and El Pulpito, and then down the easy trail–with hope that there was such a thing as an easy trail.

d-easy-trail

Actually, at the start it all seemed quite easy as I followed our Monday tradition of racing to keep up.

d-arrow-heavenward

We chuckled when he found an arrow that aimed heavenward–perhaps a sign that all would be well.

d-turning-the-arrow

My guy played spin the arrow to set it toward our destination. (Actually, on the way down, he spun it the other way. Note to GLLT–perhaps this arrow needs two nails.)

d-approaching-ledges

Minutes later, we approached the ledges and visions of bobcats danced through my head.

d-contemplating-the-climb

Acting as our scout, my guy contemplated the upward advance.

d-very-steep

We were forewarned and chose to bypass a bypass.

d-starting-up

He started up what we believed to be the same trail traveled by those Sunday venturers.

d-following-my-guy-up

I followed but not quite as speedily.

d-heading-up

My heart pounded in Edgar Allen Poe manner as I followed him up. I have to admit that there was a point where I wanted to turn around and climb down, but wasn’t certain that would be any easier. And so after pausing for a few moments, I tried to put mind over matter and placed my hands and feet in what seemed to be “safe” spots as I continued to climb.

d-view-from-above-staircase

Above the staircase we were rewarded with a vantage point of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains and a chance to slow down our heartbeats.

d-lunch-view

And later, at El Pulpito, the pulpit, the complete opposite of the Devil’s Staircase–a place to pause, eat PB&J sandwiches, and contemplate life in a relaxed manner.

d-water-at-summit

Within an hour we reached the summit of Amos Mountain and spent some time being.

d-hazy-view-at-summit

Though the sun was in our eyes, the view south was a bit hazier than one would expect on a clear November day. We later learned that a forest fire burned in Albany, New Hampshire.

d-trail-down

For our descent, we followed the blue blazes of the Amos Mountain Trail.

d-tree-across-trail

Though hardly as steep as the climb up, I was thankful for a few downed trees that slowed my guy–momentarily.

d-boot-disappears

The beech and oak leaves were over a foot deep in places and obscured rocks and roots, making for a slippery slide down.

Nevertheless, we did it. Devil’s Staircase up and a devil of a climb down–and yet, two hours later we knew we’d do it again.

 

 

On The Verge Of Change

Change is in the air. Stepping out the door this morning, I was immediately treated to the sight of wet mammal tracks on the deck.

b-raccoon tracks

The hand-like shape was hardly a surprise since at least two raccoons visit the bird feeders on their nightly rounds.

b-wintergreen

My next source of delight–frost embracing wintergreen berries and leaves.

vp1

And then I paid my respects to the vernal pool. While there, I spent some time reflecting on Bridie McGreavy, who celebrates her birth this day, and many moons ago introduced me to the sacredness of place–especially this delicate space.

Vp2

Feather ice formed after yesterday’s melt and last night’s cooler temps.

As I did last year, I intend to document the pool on a regular basis–noting its evolution over time. This year’s big question: Will Big Night happen earlier than normal? I’m already receiving reports from others of spring peepers singing their songs.

b-brook 2

And then I was off to the GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham. My friend, Parker, and I were on a quest to locate species that would be good indicators of rich soils. He’s much better at knowing about this than I am, so I tagged along–thankful for the opportunity to bushwhack beside the stream that eventually flows into Back Pond while learning from him.

b-bass 2

We found a dead tree that stymied us for a few minutes, but though it has some ash-like tendencies, we came to the conclusion that it was a basswood–one of those indicators we were seeking.

b-basswood bark

Only thing–during our entire search, we only found two.

b-bear tree

But that’s OK because there was so much more to see. Though I’ve spotted other bear trees in these woods, this one features the best sign. My guy will be jealous that he wasn’t with us to find this one.

b-crowded parchment

For many of us, Parker is our fungi guru. He and his brother became interested in mushrooms at a young age and have studied them extensively. They know only Latin, I speak only common. And so, I present to you crowded parchment (Stereum rameale). 

b-hemlock varnish shelf

Hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) grows prolifically in these woods. These old fruiting bodies are still beautiful in their offering.

b-panellus stipticus?

And though it didn’t get dark while we were there, Parker found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So  if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

b-magenta fungi

The fun thing about exploring with Parker is that he’s not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Such was the case with this magenta fungus we found on the inner bark of a rotting stump.

b-hemlock:hop hornbeam 2

I don’t know why I’m surprised every time I see two trees sharing a space,but I am–this time hemlock and hop hornbeam.

b-brook sans ice

We continued beside the stream for most of our climb and eventually came upon the trail that connects Ron’s Loop to The Mountain.

b-lichen on tree

A few things stopped us along the way, including this lichen that neither of us could conclusively identify,

b-rock lichen

what I believe is peppered rock tripe,

b-lungwort, lichens

and the glorious bright green state of lungwort. The thing that gave us pause about the lungwort wasn’t so much the lungwort as the lichen and moss garden that also decorated this tree.

b-mtn bog

And then we were literally stopped by water. Our intention to reach the scenic view over the Five Kezars was prevented by this boggy area. A vernal pool?

b-mtn bog 2

Certainly a wetland. We explored for a few minutes and wondered about the species that will appear here in the next few months.

b-boulder field

Then we returned to the stream, crossed over and paid a visit to the boulder field for a closer examination.

b-rock tripe 1

Like the lungwort, much of the rock tripe was also green today–a testimony to recent rain and yesterday’s hail.

b-tripe center

Two things to note–how it grows from the center umbilicus, like an umbilical cord, thus its Latin name: Umbilicaria mammulata; and the fact that it’s creating a garden on the up-rock side, where mosses and humus and seeds gather.

b-rock tripe water 2

I found a drier brown specimen that had captured several drops of water and held them still.

b-redbacked

Upon our decent, we stumbled upon a redback salamander–the first of the season for both of us. It seemed rather lethargic so we covered it with leaves and wished it a safe life. Redbacks are terrestrial and don’t have an association with vernal pools, though they are sometimes spotted on Big Night as we help the salamanders cross the road.

b-rose moss 1

A mossy display on several rocks in a seepage meant we had to pause again.

b-rose 2

We believe this is rose moss (Rhodobryum ontariense), but our ID was quick.

b-rose 3

Based on the description in  Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians, “the shield-shaped leaves are widest above mid leaf and end in needle point.” Yup.

b-wood sorrell

And then we realized we have to get our wildflower eyes back on. The wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves stumped us initially, but what else could it be?

b-wood sorrel 2

Other than a luna moth, that is! Doesn’t it remind you of one?

b-foamflower?

Without a flower, it’s difficult to ID a plant. My first choice: Foamflower or False Miterwort (Tiarella cordifolia), but my second choice based on the blunt-toothed leaves: Naked Miterwort (Mitella nuda). Time . . . and blossoms will tell.

b-orchid?

Our final find of the day left us with differing opinions. I said shinleaf (Pyrola elliptic). Parker said Corallorhiza maculate, which is a coralroot. A friend of his who is an orchid expert agreed. I guess we’ll have to revisit this place to confirm.

We’re on the verge of change and the seasons may collide with a Nor’easter in the offing.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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

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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.

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

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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.