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?

Making Connections

“The Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is a series of events led by outdoor-oriented organizations and companies to celebrate the how, where, and what of being active outside in Maine. Our goal is to connect our friends and neighbors with the natural world, to promote fun, physical activity, & good health.”  ~greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org

In the spirit of the GMOW, the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust co-hosted a paddle at the Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, aka Brownfield Bog, in Brownfield today.

1-fine fall morning

Though the temperature was a bit nippy, as in mid-50˚s to start (and colder in the shade), we couldn’t have asked for a better autumn day, especially given that we first began planning this event last winter.

b-Kathy's sign 1

In what seemed like perfect timing for they didn’t all pull in at once, vehicles laden with kayaks and even one canoe, arrived and folks who’d never met before helped each other carry boats, paddles and personal floatation devices down the road. Then we stood in our traditional circle, where Erika of USVLT and I welcomed everyone and introduced our two organizations. By the tile sign created by Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy, I pointed out our location and destination along the Old Course of the Saco River.

2-walking to the put in

And then we all walked down the road to the put-in site . . .

3-kayaks on parade

where our parade of kayaks awaited the adventure.

4-onto the old course

One at a time the boats were launched. And then the magic began. It was two-fold in that I’d challenged our twenty participants, some of whom had learned of the event via our advertising efforts locally and were already members of our organizations, and others who discovered the event via the GMOW website and wanted to try something new. The challenge was to spend some time chatting with people they’d never met before. And they did. Conversations ranged from living in New York to termite mounds in Africa.

Folks came from Fryeburg, Bridgton, Lovell, Standish, Jackson and North Conway, as well as Westbrook, Portland, and Cape Elizabeth. But that wasn’t all, for one joined us from Philadelphia and two came from Houston. Our furthest traveler hailed from London. Well, truth be told, she’s a long-time GLLT member, docent and board member who spends at least four months in Lovell. 😉 Thanks Moira.

5-tapestry of color

The tapestry of colors was the other magical element. We chatted about the colors and the carotenoids (yellows and orange pigment) showing up as the leaves stop producing sugar and starch for the tree, and the chemical process that produces the anthocyanin or red coloration.

14-lily pad aphids and yellowjackets

We mentioned the lily pad aphids that sought nutritious sap and noted how the yellowjackets took advantage of the honeydew secretions the aphids offered.

12-soaring above--bald eagles

And some of us had the joy of watching two Bald Eagles soar on the thermals above.

16a-beaver works

There were some fresh beaver works to note and we did spy a few lodges, though none looked active.

7-duck hunters

And for most of the trip we heard the duck hunters’ gunshots as they took aim, though I think we scared a few of them off. The hunters that is. Well, we know we scared a few ducks off as well.

6-ahhhhh

But, what the day was really all about was an enjoyment of being outdoors and sharing a place many had never explored before.

8-around every bend

Around every bend, we discovered different threads, our own colors sewn into the tapestry.

9-the tree

One of my favorites is what I’ve come to call “The Tree.” It’s a perfectly shaped Red Maple that protects a beaver lodge–if you peak below the lower branches on the left, you may see the pointed top of the lodge.

10-the tree's reflection

Even The Tree’s reflection was worth several expressed “Ahhs.”

11-color enhanced by clouds

Though the clouds weren’t many, some enhanced the scene.

15-more color

With each stroke of the paddle it seemed we reached new vantage points where the artwork was similar . . .

16- and more reflections

yet different.

How could it get anymore beautiful?

13-lily pads upturned

Even the lily pads stood out as if seeking recognition for their presentation.

17-turn around point

At last we reached the end of the road, or rather Old Course. That was our turn-around point.

18-preparing to head back

And so we did . . . turn around.

20-taking a break

Before heading immediately back, however, we paused for a few moments to sip some water.

21-enjoying lunch

And a few new friends even enjoyed rafting up while they ate their picnic lunches.

26-the tree again

The trip back passed by much more quickly, as it always does. But still, The Tree called for attention.

23-yellow-rumped warbler

And so did the young Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew in and out among the Pickerel Weeds.

25-yellow-rumped warbler

They moved in a flock from weeds to the shrubs and back again and a few of us recalled the thicker than thick mosquito population we’ve encountered at the bog in the past, but exalted the insects because of the birds they feed. Today, we were mosquito free and thankful for that. The birds seemed to find what they needed to sustain them. There are still plenty of insects about, just not bothersome ones.

30-pulling boats out

Three hours later, we found our way back to the launch site and once again helped each other stabilize boats and bodies and then carry the boats and gear back to the vehicles. Our journey together had ended, but . . . we had all chatted with a variety of people and left with smiles on our faces and in our hearts for the morning we’d spent together.

29-layers

We’d connected in the most beautiful setting thanks to everyone’s effort of choosing to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.

For help making those connections, thank you Jesse Wright of USVLT for initiating this paddle with me so many moons ago, and to Trisha Beringer of USVLT for the time we shared walking and paddling in preparation, as well as taking the lead on the sign-up process, and to Erika Rowland of USVLT for transporting boats, taking up the lead when Trisha got sick, and being flexible along the way.

What a great day and great way to spend time outdoors in Maine.

 

 

Great Maine Outdoor Weekend

Every weekend in Maine should be named the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend. Especially when the weather cooperates.

morning fog 1

This morning’s fog didn’t daunt the crowd of 20+ that gathered for the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust’s paddle to celebrate being outdoors in Maine.

morning fog 2

When we arrived at the boat launch on Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg, we could barely see the trees that line the access route to the Saco River.

fog lifting2

Ever so slowly, the sun burned through.

fog lifting 2

It was a tad bit chilly–think 29˚.

from the beach

But the sun felt heavenly.

baby garter

I think this guy felt the same. We were about to shove off when a member of the group found this baby garter snake in his canoe. I let it go on the shore and it quickly slithered away.

Lovewell Pond

By the time we paddled onto the pond, the mountains were in full view, bookmarked by Kearsarge and Washington on the left and the Baldfaces on the right.

heading to the access channel

The water was shallow on the access route so twice we got out and walked. As you would expect, the water was warmer than the air, though the air temp continued to rise.

immature bald

A few fun finds along the way included four bald eagles. This was one of three immatures that we spotted. Our bird count included a great blue heron, cormorant, ravens, blue jays and cat birds.

network of roots

We were in the silver maple floodplain where these magnificent trees hang low over the river. Their network of roots are equally beautiful.

peeking into brownfield bog

For the better part of our trip, the river bisects Brownfield Bog (Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area), so we decided to jump ship, climb up the muddy bank and take a peek. Even the poison ivy didn’t deter us.

royal fern

A common herbal feature of a silver maple floodplain community is royal fern. At the point where we stood to admire the bog, the fern grew abundantly in front of us. Its spore stalks are now dried up.

royal fern 2royal fern 3

In early June, they would have stood tall, looking like the royal crown for which this fern was named.

touch of color

It is fall. The days are obviously getting shorter and we are just beginning to experience cool nights when the temperature is below 45˚. Any sugar made in the leaves during the day can no longer move to the trees. When the sugar becomes trapped in the leaves, the red pigment called anthocyanin forms and the green pigment (chlorophyll) disappears. The leaves are beginning to turn along the river, but this one was especially colorful.

Fall splendor on the Saco River. Another Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.