Petals and Wings: A Window of Opportunity

Spring ephemerals. Those species that take advantage of the short stretch of time between snow melt and leaf out. We celebrated such today at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve as we ever so slowly walked along the orange trail from the Flat Hill parking lot and then looped around on Perky’s Path.

S1-GATHERING

But first, we gathered in the parking lot where Docent Peter explained that he thought I was crazy when I suggested a May date for a flower and bird walk. He’d not been in Maine during May previously and only this week learned the joys of birding with minimal leaf cover. I think he’s hooked. And I’m still crazy.

S4-WILDFLOWER GUIDES

Our journey began with Docent Linda locating wildflowers that are opportunists who bloom early, get pollinated and produce seeds before the deciduous trees blanket the floor of the forest in shade.

S2-STINKING BENJAMIN

Among those early bloomers was one that stinks! And yet, it’s exquisitely beautiful. Stinking Benjamin is one of its common names because of the flower’s malodorous scent. Of course, you need to get down on your hands and knees to get a whiff.

S5-HAND LENS

Our focus wasn’t just on flowers and birds as we all soon realized, for it seemed that many things caught our attention, including the seeds of deer tongue grass. As a collective group, we suffered from Nature Distraction Disorder.

S6-WILD SARSAPIRILLA LEAVES

Because of such, we observed more than just the flowers that were in bloom. In one instance, the flower was yet to come, but the leaves in their early stage were worth noting. Linda pointed out that the color of wild sarsaparilla’s new leaves was reminiscent of poison ivy. But, poison ivy has leaves of three.

S7-BEECH LEAVES

And that reddish tint that we saw in the sarsaparilla, beech and other leaves? The various hues of color in leaves was caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment forms on a leaf and acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

S8-BIRDING

We’d been looking down for a while, but then bird song pulled our attention to the tree tops. Without the use of my Cannon Rebel, which is currently enjoying what I hope will be a successful rice bath ūüė¶ , I couldn’t capture the many warblers we spied. Some, as Peter, and his wife Molly, told us, were only in the area temporarily to fuel up on insects before continuing the journey to their breeding grounds in Canada.

S10-GARTER SNAKE

And looking at our feet once again, another in search of insects. We saw a garter snake who stayed as still as possible while we ogled it. Was it cold and trying to soak up warmth from the sun? Or did it stay still in hopes we wouldn’t spy it?

S11-PAINTED TRILLIUM

We finally left the snake in peace. And paused next to gaze upon a painted trillium.

S12-HOBBLEBUSH FLOWERS

Almost two hours after our start, we approached the wetland and overlooking bench. It was there that a hobblebush laden with blossoms caught our attention in the shrub level. The hobblebush bouquet was really an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

S13-BIRDING BY THE BENCH

It was at the bench that bird song again greeted us and we looked above the shrubs toward the tree limbs above.

S14-BIRDING

For many of us, we looked through our binoculars at birds we’d only heard of before, including a Bay-breasted Warbler. Peter explained that he’s participating in the citizen science project to update the Maine Birding Atlas and so he uploaded the 38 species identified today to the e-bird website.

S15-LINDA TURNS HER FOCUS UPWARD

Even though she’d spent a lot of time directing our attention to the beauty at our feet, Linda was also in awe of those who moved above, however, she was heard to comment that it’s a whole lot easier to ID flowers that stand still.

S16-BEECH FERN

As our journey finally continued, we found a patch of beech ferns with their own variation of today’s theme, for each leaflet attached to the rachis in a winged formation.

S18-FRINGED POLYGALA

Another that spoke to the theme was a flower that hadn’t quite yet bloomed–fringed polygala, aka gay wings.

S17-SPRING PEEPER

Despite all the flowers and birds, our NDD followed us right to the end–when we spotted a tiny spring peeper . . .

S21-GREEN FROG ON A LOG

and then a green frog.

S22-FEMALE WHITEFACE SKIMMER

While the frog marked the end of our journey, I moved on to the GLLT’s Kezar River Reserve, where another winged critter flew at the flower level–the first dragonfly of the season: a female whiteface skimmer.

Today was filled with petals and wings and all things ephemeral. I hope you’ll have a chance to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.

 

 

 

 

What the Bobcat Knows

As I drove down Heald Pond Road in Lovell today I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But isn’t that the point? Every venture into the great outdoors should begin as a clean slate and it’s best not to arrive at the trailhead with expectations.

f1-Heald Pond Road barn

And so I didn’t. Well, sorta. I really wanted to see a porcupine. And maybe an otter. And definitely an owl. But I knew better and so I passed the last barn on the road and then backed up and stepped out, captivated by the colors in the scene before me.

f2-trail signs

A few minutes later, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. My plan–to climb to the summit of Flat Hill at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve and then circle around Perky’s Path upon my return.

f3-trail up flat hill

Breaking trail was my job in the rather deep snow given recent storms, but easy to move upon and so I sashayed up. What surprised me, however, was the lack of tracks left behind by the mammals that I know live in these woods.

f4-pine cone bird feeders

I did stop at the balsam firs decorated by a local 4-H club in December as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt. The dangling pinecones once sported peanut butter and birdseed, but today that was all a memory so I knew birds and deer had stopped by in the last few months.

f5-bobcat 1

And then, as I neared the flat summit, I found tracks of a mammal that had checked out the base of every tree and under every downed limb. In fact, as I soon realized, it was more than one mammal that I followed as I went off trail. Bobcats. Indeed. Though typically solitary, these two traveled together. It is mating season and males and females will travel together during courtship.

f11-bobcat print

Though the prints were difficult to photograph given the glare, by the toes, ridge and overall shape, I knew them.

f12-bobcat scat and print

And scat! Filled with white hair. I have close-up views should you choose a closer look, but chose to give those who find scat to be rather disgusting a break. ūüėČ

f6-porcupine and bobcat

And then I found another set of tracks and knew that besides squirrels and little brown things, the bobcats were also searching for a bigger dinner. On the left–a porcupine trough, and on the right, the bobcat trail.

f8-porky work

Ever since I’ve traveled this trail, I’ve seen the work of the porcupines at the summit. And sometimes I even get to see the creator. In winter, porcupines eat needles and the bark of trees, including hemlocks, birch, beech, aspen, oak, willow, spruce, fir and pine. And they leave behind a variety of patterns.

f7-porky work

If I didn’t know better, I could have been convinced that this ragged work was left behind by a chiseling woodpecker, but it, too, was porcupine work.

f9-porky work

All about the summit, recent chews were easily identified for the inner bark was brighter than the rest of the landscape. And below these trees–no bark chips such as a beaver would leave, for the porcupine consumed all the wood.

f10-flat hill view

While snow flurries fluttered around me, the summit view was limited and it looked like the mountains were receiving more of the white stuff. (Never fear–we’ll get more as our third Nor’easter in two weeks or so is expected in two more days. Such is March in Maine.)

f13-script lichen between pine lines

From the summit, rather than follow the trail down, I tracked the bobcats for a while, first to the north and then to the south. I had hoped to find a kill site, but no such luck. Instead, the writing on the page was found upon the pines where script lichen, a crustose, was located between the lines of bark scales.

f14-ulota moss and frullania

I also found plenty of Frullania, that reddish brown liverwort that graced so many trees. And among it, a moss I’ll simply call an Ulota. As I looked in Ralph Pope’s book,¬†Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts ,¬†upon arriving home, I realized I should have paid attention to capsules for that would have helped me determine whether what I saw was Ulota crispa or Ulota coarctata. Another lesson for another day.

f15-beaver pond on Perky's Path

At last I reached Perky’s Path, which may not seem like a major feat if you’ve been there, but actually I’d explored off trail for quite a ways and it took me a while to get down to the wetland.

f16-maleberry

And because I was in the wetland, maleberry shrubs bordered the edge and showed off their bright red buds and woody, star-shaped seedpods.

f16a-bobcat across wetland

After focusing on them for a while, I looked down at the snow’s surface and the most subtle of prints appeared before my eyes. My two bobcats. The curious thing–at the summit the mammals had sunk into the snow and the prints were a bit difficult to decipher. I assumed those summit impressions had been made about two days ago. But on the wetland, the bobcats walked atop the snow–when conditions were firmer and I suspected they’d been created last night.

f17-brook toward Bradley Pond 1

I followed the edge of the wetland to the bridges that cross a brook that forms at the outlet of Bradley Pond, constantly on the lookout for the bobcat tracks again.

f18-more bobcat

And I found them! Beside the brook.

f19-beaver pond from bridge

What had they found on the wetland, I wondered?

f21a-beaver trail

Continuing on, I found that they’d checked on the woodwork left behind by another critter of these woods who had also moved about last night.

f20-beaver works

Beaver works. And their piles of woodchips. Unlike a porcupine, a beaver doesn’t eat the chips. Rather, it cuts down a tree for food or a building material. The chips are like a squirrel’s midden of cone scales–the garbage pile of sorts.

f22-beaver trail to water

I noted where the beaver had moved into the brook . . .

f23-beaver treats

And left some sticks behind. For future food? Future building? Stay tuned.

f27-brook to Bradley pond

Typically in other seasons I can’t move beside the edge of the brook, but today I could. The lighting kept changing and water reflected the sky’s mood.

f24-Diamesa sp. and snow flea

And because I was by the water, I kept noting small insects flying about–almost in a sideways manner. Then I found some on the snow–a member of the Diamesa species, a midge I believe. And do you see the small black speck below it–a snowflea, aka spring tail.

f25-Diamesa sp.:haltere

And do you see the two little nobs on the fly’s back, the red arrow pointing to one? Those are the haltere:¬†the balancing organ of a two-winged fly; a pair of knobbed filaments that take the place of the hind wings.

f29-beaver pond wetland low

Eventually, I followed the eastern edge of the wetland back to my truck, wondering if there was any more action but found none. In fact, the water was low so I knew the beaver works weren’t to rebuild the dam. Yet. Nor did I find any more bobcat tracks. But I’d found enough. And I think I know some of what the bobcat knows.

 

 

Book of August: Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts

Last winter when I scheduled a talk/walk on lichens and another on mosses for this summer, I wasn’t sure what the public response would be, and so it was a pleasant surprise that both were well received. While Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel spoke to us and then led us down the trail taking a close-up look at lichens in July, Ralph Pope introduced many to mosses for the first time on August 1. And then he took us only part way down a trail on August 2, for there were samples everywhere–both at our feet and sometimes even eye level.

m-mosses book

Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. He began¬†thinking about writing such a guide while teaching a course on bryophyte identification at Antioch University New England. “I realized that the available resources were not inviting for a beginning student,” says Ralph.

His book begins with a description of bryophyte biology, taxonomy and ecology for those who are interested. As he states on page 11, “Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts, the three groups making up the bryophytes, evolved from the aquatic ancestors of modern green algae and represent the beginnings of terrestrial plant life, eventually giving rise to our amazingly diverse array of vascular plants.” Beyond words. Beyond our world.

I’ve used another guide, but this one seems so much easier to follow for Pope has formatted it into divisions that make sense to my brain–Spagnaceae: peat mosses; Acrocarpous: (acro-high; carpous-fruit) upright-growing mosses with fruits on the top; Pleurocarpous: (pleuro-side; carpous-fruit) mat-forming mosses with fruits extended on side branches; Liverworts (body of plant flat-thalloid; leaves in two rows-leafy) and Hornworts (uncommon–in fact, I’ve yet to meet one). These are in color-coded sections, making the process even easier.

And while each section begins with a key, for those who don’t like such things, there is a description of preferred habitat, family characteristics and then the species presented in alphabetical order (think Latin, for as Ralph pointed out, we’ve been spoiled by common names for birds and think that everything should have such, but for some species there are several common names, thus making it difficult to know for sure across the globe that we are talking about the same species.–Guess I need to get my Latin on) and illustrated with fabulous photographs.

m-looking at samples

With a few slides, Ralph introduced the audience to bryophytes, which are the most primitive of plants having no roots, no flowers, and no woody structure. They are usually green (as opposed to the gray-green hues of lichens), translucent as they are only one cell thick, and often have spore capsules that last a long time.

m-studying examples

After the talk, he encouraged the audience to take a closer look at species gathered that day along the Westways Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

lm-checking out the field guide

Behind each species an enlarged poster of the related page from his book included a description, similar species, range and habitat, and meaning of names or tips for identification.

lm-large group

A crowd of 25 spanning ages 5 to 25 a few times over, stepped onto the Westways Trail with Ralph the next morning.

lm-listening to Ralph

His combined knowledge and humor kept us all enraptured with the world below our feet. To get a sense of Ralph’s voice is this sample from page 7, “Remember the old adage that if you happen to lose your compass, your iPhone, your GPS, your ability to see the sun, and your sense of direction, moss growth will show you the north side of a tree? Well, keep the compass handy, but the north side of a tree trunk does indeed get less desiccating sunlight than the rest of the tree trunk, so it just might have more moss growth. Score one for the Boy Scouts.”

m-big red stem 1

On moss-topped rocks, Ralph and his wife, Jean, had marked species to be sure to stop at for our edification. The number referred to the page in the book and for those who didn’t have their own copy, he had loaners. In this case, 255 is Pleurozium schreberi or Big Red Stem.

m-big red 2

He picked samples so we could each take a closer look and see the reason for the name–notice that red stem? Because most bryophytes cells are totipotent–thus they have the ability to grow into a new plant, trampling them or even breaking some off can lead to new growth, so he was happy to pass small samples around.

m-close up

We looked . . .

m1-Aidan

and looked . . .

m-another close up

and looked . . .

m-Caleb

some more.

m-Wes

Of course, sometimes we just had to take a break. Oh to be five again!

m-sphagnum

Our samples included Sphagnum pylaesii, with its pompom head,

m-cushion

an acrocarp–Leucobryum glaucum, or pincushion moss,

m-calliergon 221

the pleurocarp, Calliergon cordifloium, 

m-porella 343

and the liverwort, Porella platyphylloidea. 

m-do you see what I see?

For a couple of hours, we were all thoroughly enchanted . . .

m-Ralph

as we focused our intention on these miniature plants and this man–who opened our eyes.

m-weasel scat

Only once did our attention get diverted–for some weasel scat. Thanks to intern Kelley’s keen eyes, a few of us saw the weasel scampering about thirty feet ahead. Still . . . notice where the weasel chose to make its contribution–on a rock covered in moss in the middle of the trail.

This book was a Christmas present from my guy and I look forward to many more days spent sitting on a rock getting to know my surroundings better.

Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast, Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

 

 

 

 

On the Prowl at Heald & Bradley Pond Reserve

My original intention when I set out this morning was to snowshoe from the Gallie parking lot on Route 5, follow the Homestead Trail and then connect with the Hemlock Trail as I climbed to the summit of Whiting Hill. I planned to make it a loop by descending via the red trail back to the green Gallie Trail.

w-mill-in-morning-light1

Not to be as the parking lot hadn’t been cleared yet of yesterday’s Nor’easter, which dumped several inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain upon the earth. When Plan A fails, resort to Plan B. A drive down Slab City Road revealed that the Fairburn parking lot wasn’t yet cleared either, but the boat launch was open (because the pond serves as a water source for the fire department) so I parked there and headed to the trailhead beside Mill Brook. The sight of so much water flowing forth was¬†welcome, especially considering it¬†was a mere trickle a few months ago.

w-snow-layers-brookside

The layers of snow overhanging the brook told the story of our winter. And it’s not over yet–at least I hope it isn’t. We’re in the midst of a thaw, but let’s hope more of the white stuff continues to fall. We need it on many levels, including¬†ecologically and economically.

w-fox-print

Because of the storm, I thought I wouldn’t see any tracks, but from the very beginning a red fox crossed back and forth between the pond’s edge and higher elevations.

w-fox-and-squirrel

While it may be difficult to discern, a gray squirrel, the four prints with long toes below the Trackards, had leaped up the hill, perhaps after the fox. Lucky squirrel. The fox prints can be viewed to the left of the cards.

w-vernal-pool

My new plan was to follow the red/blue trail to the summit of Whiting ¬†Hill. And along the way, a side trip to the vernal pool. Visions of fairy shrimp swam in my head. No, I wasn’t rushing the season, just remembering a fun time pond dipping last spring.

w-fringed-wrinkle-lichen

Back on the red/blue trail, I noted that most of the recent seed litter was covered by yesterday’s storm. The Fringed Wrinkle Lichen, however, did decorate the snow. Tuckermanopsis americana,¬†as it’s formally known, grows on twigs and branches of our conifers and birches and often ends up on the forest floor.

It’s a foliose lichen that was named for Edward Tuckerman, of Tuckerman’s Ravine fame on Mount Washington. According to Lichens of the North Woods author Joe Walewski, Tuckerman was “the pre-eminent founder and promoter of lichenology in North America.As a botanist and professor in Boston, he did most of his plant studies on Mount Washington and in the White Mountains.”

w-pileated-debris

Further along, I saw some pileated woodpecker scat about twenty feet from the tree it had hammered in an attempt to seek food. It made me realize that even when I don’t find scat in the wood chips below the tree, I should seek further.

w-pileated-holes

The holes weren’t big–yet.

w-pileated-scat-bursting-with-body-parts

But the scat–oh my. It looked as if insects were trying to escape the small cylindrical package coated in uric acid.

w-mossy-maple-fungi

The trail turned right and so did I, beginning the climb. For most, the ascension doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes. Um . . . at least 45 on my clock today. There was too much to see, including the mossy maple fungi hiding in a tree cavity.

w-tube-moth-3

And then I saw something I’d looked for recently after seeing it on the blog ¬†Naturally Curious with Mary Holland. Notice how the pine needles are clumped together?

w-pine-tube-moth-pupae-overwintering-1

Eastern White Pine needles grow in bundles of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E for our state tree), but the clumps consisted of a bunch of needles from several different bundles.

w-tube-moth-2

What I learned from Ms. Holland is that these are tubes or tunnels created by the Pine¬†¬†Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. They used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April when I come back to check on the vernal pool, I need to remember to pay attention, for that’s when they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news, says Holland, is that “Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.” I only found the tubes on two young trees, but suspect there are more to be seen.

w-beaked-hazelnut-1

And a few steps later–an old beak. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was then that I realized if I’d been able to stick with the original plan I would have missed these gems. Oh, I probably ¬†would have found others, but these were in front of me and I was rejoicing. Inside that bristly tan husk was the¬†protein-rich nut¬†of a¬†Beaked Hazelnut overlooked¬†by red squirrels and chipmunks, ruffed grouse, woodpeckers, blue jays and humans.

w-beaked-hazelnut-2

Catkins on all of the branches spoke of the future and offered yet another reason to pause along this trail on repeated visits.

w-burl-on-sugar-maple

With my eyes in constant scan mode, I looked for other anomalies. One of my favorites was the burl that wrapped around a Sugar Maple. If I didn’t know better, it would have been easy to think this was a porcupine or two.

w-buried-bench-on-way-up-whiting

About two thirds of the way up, there was no rest for the wary, for the bench that offered a chance to pause was almost completely buried.

w-polypody-and-rock-tripe

Closer to the summit, the ledge boulders were decorated with snow, Common Polypody ferns and lichens, including Common Rock Tripe, its greenish hue reflecting yesterday’s precipitation.

w-whiting-view-1

And suddenly, the summit and its westward view, Kezar Lake in the foreground and Mount Kearsarge  showing its pointed peak in the back.

w-whiting-other-bench

As I’d hiked along the red/blue trail, I noted that the red fox had crossed several times. At the other end of the summit, I checked on the bench where¬†on our First Day 2017 hike for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, we’d discovered the remains of a red squirrel. Today, fox tracks paused in front of the bench before moving on and I had to wonder if had been the one to use this spot as a sacrificial altar.

w-bear-claw-tree

Finally, it was time to head down. My choice was to follow the red trail toward the Gallie Trail. I love this section because it features some of my favorite bear trees.

w-beech-leaves-rustling

The fox tracks continued to cross frequently and so I paused often. And sniffed as well. What I smelled was a musky cat-like scent that I’ve associated with bobcats in the past. What I heard–dried beech leaves rattling in the breeze. They always make me think something is on the move. Ever hopeful I am.

w-striped-maple-buds-and-twig

One of my favorite finds along this section was the bright red branches of young Striped Maples. From leaf and bundle scars to growth lines, lenticels and buds, their beauty was defined.

w-striped-maple-leaves

Another sight that surprised me–Striped Maple leaves still clinging, rather orangey in hue.

w-red-pine-on-red-trail

And here and there, as if in honor of the trail color, Red Pines reached skyward.

w-redgreen-trail

Eventually I reached the bottom, and turned right again, this time onto the stoplight trail–well, red and green at least.

w-squirrel-midden

My wildlife sitings were few and far between, but red squirrel tracks and a midden of discarded cone scales next to a dig indicated where the food had been stored in preparation for this day.

w-tinder-2

Following some grouse tracks took me off trail and tinder conks made their presence known.

w-tinder-fungi

The swirled appearance of these hoof fungi threw me off for a bit, but I think my conclusion is correct.

w-bobcat-trail

At last I reached the red trail that runs parallel with Heald Pond. Again, the fox tracks crossed frequently, but beside the path and leading to and fro the water and higher heights, another set of tracks confirmed my earlier suspicions.

w-bobcat-prints

Bobcat. I thought I smelled a pussy cat. I did.

w-fox-and-bobcat

Sometimes the bobcat moved beside the trail, while the fox crossed over. I’d thought when I started out this morning that I wouldn’t see too many tracks because the animals would have hunkered down for the storm. I was pleasantly surprised–for my own sake. For the sake of the animals, I knew it meant they were hungry and on a mission.

w-john-fox-1

My own mission found me following the spur to Otter Rock. I noted that the fox had walked along the shoreline on its eternal hunt.

w-dragonflies-2

My hunt was of a different sort. No visit to the rock is complete without a look at the dragonfly exoskeletons. But today, it was a bit different because I, too, could walk on the ice. And so I found exoskeletons on parts of the rock I haven’t been able to view previously.¬†Their otherworldly structure spoke to their “dragon” name.

w-dragonfly-nymph-exoskeleton

The slit behind the head and on the back of one showed where the dragonfly had emerged from the nymph stage last spring. Or maybe a previous spring as some of these have been clinging to the rock for a long time.

w-other-pupae-overwintering

While I was looking, I noticed some other pupae gathered together within a silky covering. Another reason to return–oh drats. I don’t know if I’ll be there at the right time, but¬†with each visit, I’ll check in.

w-mill-dam-in-afternoon-sun

The sun was shining and warm. High 30ňös with slight breeze–felt like a summer day, with the sun reflecting off the snow. And at the mill, further reflection off the water. After four hours, it was time for me to check out.

As always, I was thankful for my visit, even though it wasn’t my original plan. Like the mammals, I’d been on a prowl–especially serving as the eyes for a friend who is currently homebound. I think she would have approved what I saw.

 

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.

 

 

Samplings of Wonder

The day began with a journal hike along Perky’s Path, a trail in the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve. It was a first for us–a journal walk that is, and we had no idea how it would turn out. But our fearless docents, Ann and Pam, did a wonderful job of listening to the voices of those gathered and knew when it was time to stop and when it was time to move on again.

h-LMH

Each of us got lost in the world around us as we sat. We looked. We listened. We contemplated. We wrote. We sketched. We photographed. I know that I was so intent on sketching that I never realized Pam took this photo until she sent it to me. Thank you, Pam.

h sampling

Ever since I’ve started looking at the natural world through my macro lens, I haven’t taken as much time to sketch, so today was a welcome excuse to do so. And to color. Since my Aunt Ruth gave me colored pencils at least 50 years ago, those have been a favorite medium. I no¬†longer have the gift from her, but my guy replenishes my supply when necessary.

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Our group was small, seven in total. We all admitted that small is good for this sort of activity.  And we came away thankful for the experience of making time to notice.

h beetle

And then I walked¬†to the summit of Hawk Mountain with Jinny Mae–on a trail that may seem rather sparse in offerings, but actually proved to be quite rich. This banded longhorn beetle didn’t really like being the center of attention. His focus was on steeplebush pollen and I kept getting in his face. So–he did what flying insects do–and flew off.

h fern indusium

We were excited to discover several clumps of marginal wood ferns and some even with the indusium still intact. The indusium is a membranous covering that protects the sporangia inside the spore cases until they are ready to leave home on a dry day. In this case, the indusium is kidney shaped. As the sporangia ripen, they push the covering off and dust-like spores fly off in a wee cloud, breaking free to set down their own roots.

h white oak

Here, both Northern red and white oak grow side by side. It was the white oak’s fruiting structure that called our names. The immature acorns growing in pairs are both warty and hairy, but their structure is more reminiscent of a miniature pine cone at this stage. They should mature by fall.

h stag stalk

And then we celebrated the one who is all hair and color . . .

h stag leaves

and distinct shapes and

h stag leaf

a combination of all three.

h stag flower

Staghorn sumac. The king of the mountain.

h berries 2

Little things excited us and the twin fruits of the Hairy Solomon’s Seal that tried to hide beneath the leaves didn’t escape our focus. Or our cameras. Sometimes we are sure that we share all the same photos.

h indian pipe

One of our final stops as we headed down the trail–to worship the heads-up version of a fertilized Indian pipe. While most flowers nod when fertilized, Indian pipe chooses to be different. It wins in my wonder department.

I’ve only shared a few finds from¬†today’s wanders. Just a smattering or a sampling. All worth a wonder.

 

 

Summit of Three

It was the perfect day for an exploration of the scenic vistas at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

h-mill pond

My¬†journey began with time for reflection at the mill pond, a crystal clear reflection–if only life were so.

h-mill dam

It was here that “shook” and cooper mills were located. Reportedly, the men created barrels to hold Caribbean rum and molasses.

h-whiting snow

At the beginning of the journey, a bit of ice and snow covered the trail indicating that others had passed previously.

h-whiting vp

Ascending¬†Whiting Hill (801 feet), I paused at the vernal pool–frozen in time.

h-whiting summit 1

And then the first summit overlooking Kezar Lake–glory in the making.

h-whiting, columbine

When I’d mentioned my hiking plans¬†to a friend this morning, he’d encouraged me to see well–and so it began with the¬†leaves of wild columbine.

h-whiting to heald

On the back side of the summit, a view of Heald Pond.

h-whiting wintergreen

Wintergreen showed off an Easter display of color against a swatch of snow.

h-whiting bear tree

I spied . . . bear trees,

h-whiting cache

a squirrel cache of pinecones,

h-whiting gnome

and a gnome home. Well, I’m not so sure that the squirrel cache was just that. Though red squirrels do cache pinecones, the gnome home was on the other side of the tree trunk. Just goes to show that things aren’t always as they seem.

h-amos cache

Hiking up Amos Mountain, I did find many squirrel tables and this sign–an acorn cache.

h-amos, owlet moth

Sitting still on a rock along the trail, a furry moth from head to toe to antennae, possibly an owlet–capturing the warmth of the sun.

h-amos

After lunch, I poked about the summit of Amos Mountain (955 feet) looking for more wild columbine leaves because I know they grow here. Maybe next time, offering a reason to¬†visit again–as if I need a reason.

h-candy 1

Traveling down the old road behind Amos, I suddenly found myself admiring the miniature  world of candy lichen, its pink disks rising from a pale green surface.

I also noticed a variety of scat from weasel to coyote and realized the importance of this reserve as a corridor for the many mammals who travel here.

h-red maple 1

And then I saw red maple buds decorating the forest floor. Seems to me a red squirrel nipped the buds in hope of future food. Maybe the squirrel will return or maybe it became food itself.

h-amos hophornbeam

Though trail signs shouldn’t be nailed all the way in, I chuckled when I saw this one along the saddle trail–not easy to drive nails into a hophornbeam, the hardest of all woods in our forest.

h-amos, many fruited pelt lichen

I’m not sure that my ID is correct, but along the way, I found what I think is multi-fruited pelt lichen.

h-perky's fen

And then on to Flat Hill via Perky’s Path.

h-flat hill mossy maple

Among other fungi, mossy maple grows here.

h-flat, beaver works

Beaver works are evident all the way around.

h-flat, lodge

And in the pond, the lodge. Below my feet, otter scat. Lots of otter scat. I have to wonder about the action that passes this way.

f-flat hill

The name Flat Hill (891 feet) has always amused me–an oxymoron at best. But really, all three summits are flat.

h-MT W from Flat Hill

In the distance, Mount Washington was the only snow-covered summit.

h-porky first

And right before my eyes–evidence of a visitor who frequents this spot.

h-flat hill porky

While we often think of them as only eating hemlock bark in winter, porcupines dine on other species including spruce and beech.

h-flat hill, porky 2

h-flat hill, porky 3

Despite the damage they do, I’m intrigued by the pattern of their works.

h-flat, walkers

Oh yes, and a treat that appeared in my Christmas stocking made for just the right snack.

h-basswood

At the base of Flat Hill, I paused to admire the basswood buds and leaf scars–offering a smile on this day. Another reason to smile, two barred owls calling to each other. I didn’t see them, but loved listening to their “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call. I contributed my own, but they seemed to prefer each other. Can’t imagine why.

h-otter point grape fern

A side trip as I looped back took me to Otter Point. Grape Fern’s winter complexion is so easy to overlook as it blends into the forest floor, but I’m glad I paid attention.

h-otter point view

Though a friend informed me this morning that the loons have returned to an open area of Kezar Lake, Heald Pond is still completely coated in ice.

h-vireo nest

Delicate offerings like this vireo’s nest are delightful surprises.

h-seeing well

I’d been encouraged to see well and trust that I kept my focus. It was a solo hike for me and I met no one along all the trails I traversed over the course of six hours–an offering of peace and solitude that I wish everyone could experience.

h-amos heart

On this Saturday before Easter, the universe spoke a language of love and hope along the three summits and I had the honor of listening.