The Wonder Tour

When my friend JVP and I made a lunch plan for today, I offered to take her to some of my more recent stalking sites, those places I’ve been frequenting of late because of the wildlife sightings. She liked that plan and I fear announced to the world (or at least one or two others) that we were going on an adventure and our finds would be many.

But . . . yesterday’s River Otter turned out to be only slushier ice today.

And the fairground fox was nowhere to be seen, though we did get to chat with Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair. Yes, the foxes have again taken up residence within the infield directly across from the Grandstand. I’ve yet to see the kits, and had hoped that today would be the day, but my day will come. For JVP’s sake, I was disappointed that she didn’t even get to see an adult. Our time spent with Roy, however, made it worthwhile and he shared stories and photos of last year’s fox families.

It seemed that I was striking out on the promised tour and it appeared I wasn’t alone.

But the views of Fryeburg Harbor, its fields flooded from the sudden snowmelt, with the backdrop of the White Mountains, was a treat to enjoy on this bluebird day.

And speaking of birds, we went to one area to see Kildeer, but only saw gulls . . . until we realized that American Kestrels were also part of the picture. Finally, things were picking up.

As we wound our way through the harbor, following the Old Course of the Saco River, we did catch a few glimpses of Wood Ducks, so I was feeling better about our wildlife sightings.

Once again, however, where last week I spent a while admiring a Great Blue Heron, we didn’t see anything of interest.

Until, that is, we noticed movement in the great beyond and realized a pair of Hooded Mergansers were swimming about.

I continued to strike out when I tried to show her the Sandhill Cranes, a pair I’d come to count on during my almost daily visits. Just yesterday another friend said she’d spied them in the field they’d been frequenting.

No cranes to speak of, but we did spy a pair of Canada Geese.

And a pair of Mallards in the flooded field.

Dabbling as they do.

And then, where the cranes had been previously, I spied what I thought was a lump of mud and snow, but JVP’s sight was keener and she said newborn calf. And she was correct.

As we watched, sweet nothings were whispered and no matter what we saw or didn’t see, our tour was worth a wonder and thankfully I didn’t have to reimburse JVP for the admission price.

Cranberry Memories

It’s amazing how a simple act such as taking cranberries out of the freezer and transforming them into a relish can take one back in time, but so it did today.

My family knows best that I’m not a foodie, and cook only because we can’t survive on popcorn alone (drats), but one of my favorite flavors brings a burst of tartness to any meal. And as I concocted the simple cranberry orange relish we so enjoy, moments spent picking them kept popping up.

On several occasions last fall, I bushwhacked toward the fen, stopping first to explore the kettle holes that dot the landscape.

And though I love tracking all winter, it’s those unexpected moments in other seasons when I recognize the critters with whom I share the Earth that make my heart quicken.

Especially when I realize that one of my favorites has also passed this way, stomping through the water . . .

and then onto the drier land. Yes, Ursus americanus had been on the hunt as well.

He wasn’t the only one fishing for a meal, though of a much smaller spidery-style scale.

And then there were my winged friends, the meadowhawks.

I remember the mating frenzy occurring as that most ancient of rituals was performed both on the leaf and in the air.

Other winged friends, showing off a tad of teal, dabbled nearby.

Eventually, I tore myself away from the kettle holes and tramped through winterberry shrubs filled with fruits and cinnamon ferns ablaze in their fall fashion.

After all, my destination was the cranberry fen.

And last year was a mighty fine year for those little balls of wonder that hid below their green leaves. I filled my satchel to overflowing before taking my leave, knowing that in the coming months I’d share the foraged fruits with family and friends and remember time well spent.

Not only did the abundant fruit make it so special, but on my way out I stumbled upon another kettle hole and much to my delight spotted two Sandhill Cranes, part of a flock that returns to this area of western Maine on a yearly basis.

While the cranes foraged on the ground, a Great Blue Heron watched them approach.

And then in flew a Bald Eagle who eventually settled in a pine tree beside a crow.

With that, the cranes flew off and a few minutes later so did the heron. And then I left, trying to find my way out, but I’d gotten a bit twisted and turned and ended up cutting through someone’s yard to get back to the road. Because I was a wee bit confused, I couldn’t find my truck right away, and in the process of looking I dropped a few cranberries. It was all worth it! And still is as we’ll enjoy that relish in our chicken salad sandwiches tonight.

Ah, cranberries. And bears. And spiders. And dragonflies. And birds. Ah, cranberry memories.

Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

j8-heron

We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

j9-heron

And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

j11-wings

When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

j16-feathers ruffled

And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

j19-next course

And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

h1b-rookery

In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

h1-wood duck

As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

h3-standing still

And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

h4-incoming

And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

h5-landing

The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

h6-begging for food

We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

Meals-on-Wings

I wasn’t sure how I would spend the afternoon, until that is, the phone rang. On the other end of the line (what line?) Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association excitedly told me about her adventures last evening exploring one of my favorite Lovell haunts. She’s an avid birder and is currently participating in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Maine Breeding Bird Atlas.

For this citizen science project, Mary has chosen several areas of Lovell as her block and so she’s getting to know one of my favorite necks of the woods. Last night, she explained, found her kayaking with her boyfriend on a river that passes through a Greater Lovell Land Trust property. As she talked, she started listing off the birds they saw that are not on the species list for that property, thus nudging me to make sure it gets updated. One in particular pushed her excitement button, and that’s when I knew where I was going to spend the afternoon.

She also told me about a most unusual sight that she caught on film–a porcupine swam across the river, passing in front of their kayaks. Who knew? She surmised it had been chased to the water and just kept going.

k7-kezar river

Anyway, within 45 minutes of the phone call, I was at the water’s edge.

k8-canada geese

The bird life was immediately apparent in the form of Canada Geese, their youngsters growing bigger by the day.

k10-mallard duckling

What rather surprised me was that I watched two Mallard ducklings, but never saw their momma, unless she was hiding under some shrubs. I could only hope that was the case.

k21-kingfisher

There were Red-winged Blackbirds, the males displaying their bright shoulder patches, and even a Belted Kingfisher who sang his rattling song as he flew above the water looking for a meal.

At last I had dallied long enough, for of course I admired the dragonflies and damselflies, but it was time to bushwhack over to a viewpoint where I could stay hidden as my eyes and ears filled with the sights and sounds of . . .

k11a-rookery

a Great Blue Heron Rookery. It had been on my radar to get there, but other events took priority until Mary’s nudge. The moment I started down the trail I heard the chorus of croaks and knew I was in for a treat.

k12-food

Up high in the pines, those massive birds stood, most upon their large platform nests made of twigs and sticks, and apparently lined with moss and pine needles to soften the interior. If you looked closely at the adult upon the nest, its curved throat appeared to bulge a bit.

k13-food

Both parents are known to provide a meal of regurgitated food. Can you see the adult bending down, its beak meeting the youngster’s? Soon, regurgitating the food will stop and instead small fish will be deposited in the nest and the “little” ones will learn to feed themselves.

k14-next meal

After one was fed, another begged for its share of the picnic. It seemed to look up and say, “Hey, where’s mine?” in true jealous sibling behavior.

k15-sentry

By now you may have noticed that the youngsters have black flattop haircuts. Adult Great Blues have thin black plumes that are swept back of the tops of their heads making for easy ID until the young fully mature. And at least one stands sentry, ever on the lookout for predators like eagles and raccoons.

 

k17-double decker

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies near wetlands such as this. The group of nests is called a rookery–so named for the colonial nests of the Eurasian rook, a bird similar to a crow, but called a rook because of the sound it makes.

k18-birds everywhere

With my eagle eyes, I had to really focus in on the trees, for not all of the nests were obvious from my vantage point on the distant shore. It’s best if you are to observe to keep your distance and remain quiet and hidden so the birds aren’t disturbed during this fragile time in their life cycle.

k19-i'll be back

With the kids fed in nest one, the parent decided to chat with a neighbor before heading off to gather supplies for the next meal.

k20-don't forget us

And the kids next door waited expectantly–ever anxious for the delivery of their own meals-on-wings.

 

Anybody Home?

Only a few days ago we felt like we were melting as we complained about the muggies and buggies, but those temperatures are now only memories and it’s beginning to feel like fall in western Maine. And so my guy and I bundled up before we followed a trail and did some bushwhacking this morning, exploring a property Jinnie Mae and I had visited only a week and a half ago.

m1-lodge

It was to the beaver lodge that we first made our way, noting all their old works near the water’s edge.

m2-lodge 2

But, we were disappointed that we saw no evidence of new work and it didn’t appear any winter prep was yet occurring. Were the beavers still about? Or had some parasites in the lodge forced them to move on?

m3-infinity pool1

We hoped not for they’ve worked hard in the past to create a home with an infinity pool that would be the envy of many.

m1a--otter scat

We did note that they’d had recent visitors who left behind a calling card in the form of a slide and scat–otter scat, that is.

m5-doll's eye

And we spied the fruits of a former flower that graced their neighborhood–doll’s eye, aka white baneberry.

m4-dam 1

As we circled around the pool, we commented that the dam seemed to be in excellent shape and held the water about five feet above the stream below. But again, no evidence of new wood.

m7-dam works

Despite that, it’s an impressive structure. While some landowners might be upset to have beavers changing the landscape, we happen to know this one and she takes great pride in their works.

m9-dam 2

We stood for a while, indulging in our own admiration while wondering where the beavers might be. Of course, it was close to lunch time for us, and not an active time for them if indeed they were home. Possibly we were misinterpreting the view.

m8-beaver pond

After some time of quiet reflection, we made our way back, crossing the stream just below the dam.

m13-quiet reflection

And then we continued along the old logging road (recently bush hogged, eh Brian? Well done), and bushwhacked some more, crossing another stream to find our way to another reflective spot along the brook.

m12-rookery 2

This time, our destination was that of another stick builder–great blue herons.

m11-rookery

Their spring/early summer nests are equally impressive. I hadn’t visited this spot since April, when the herons were actively setting up home. And I’m not sure it was a successful breeding season for them, but even if it was, they wouldn’t have needed these homes today. The nests will remain–available for grabs next year by those who return.

m16-jack in the pulpit

After a snack by the brook, we pulled ourselves away knowing it was time to head to our own home. Our wildlife viewings had been nil, but we spied a jack-in-the-pulpit in fruit, and that plus the doll’s eye were enough. And the time spent wondering about the critters.

m20-cosmos

Back at our truck, we decided to check on the insect action in the gardens at our friend’s home. Only the bumblebees seemed to be active.

m19-hickory feast

But we saw plenty of activity of another kind–a cache of hickory nut shells at the base of the tree, and really . . . everywhere nearby.

m18-hickory bark

Shagbark hickory is more common south of this spot, so it was a treat to take a closer look.

m17-hickory

Its alternate leaves are compound, consisting of five serrated leaflets usually (sometimes there are seven).

m18-hickory 2

And of those five, the three terminal leaflets on each twig are the largest.

m21-view of Balds

Once again, it was time to leave this beautiful spot where the fields and forest flow into the mountains. And where the beavers and heron share the place without too much human intervention. Though not a soul was home today, we trust all will return when the time is right.