Giving Thanks Beside Sucker Brook

Since it’s deer hunting season in the Maine woods, we decided to host a walk one Sunday in November on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property because hunting is prohibited on this day. And today happened to be that Sunday. But first, this story begins with a few other events. On Friday, I had the honor of participating in a late afternoon program at New Suncook School. Before the young girls in the program, their leaders, and I stepped outside, one of them struggled with a Hannaford bag that was splitting apart because it was full of canned and boxed food. I helped her get the bag into her backpack before she dropped all its contents and the act drove home the need to make sure my guy and I attended the second event.

The second event was the Second Annual Bowls and Brews Chili and Chowder Challenge and Beer Tasting held at the Lovell VFW Hall last night.

The land trust was well represented by participants, including Executive Director Erika Rowland who created a delicious Black Bear Chipotle Chili.

Erika’s chili didn’t win, but she and GLLT’s Office Manager Alice Bragg were still all smiles.

The real winners of the event were the kids like the young girl I helped on Friday. For what she was trying to hold was a bag full of food as is provided to her family by the Sunshine Backpack Food Program. And the Bowls and Brews event was a fundraiser to support that program. Throughout the school district, elementary students in need go home with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food every Friday. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the fundraiser support the program.

That brings me to this afternoon’s walk first advertised as Sunday Beside Sucker Brook. Months ago I wrote this description: Let’s get a head start on Thanksgiving, and journey the trail at John A. Segur East where we’ll take in the afternoon views of Sucker Brook, its plants in their winter forms, beaver lodges, and mountain views.

And so we did. First we stepped off the trail and took in the view to the south where Sucker Brook empties into Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay.

And then we looked north to admired the hills that are reflected by three beaver lodges situated in a triangle. The one to the right had some mud on it and so we trusted the beavers had been adding insulation to the homestead.

It’s a good thing because a thin layer of ice had formed around the edges of the brook and we realized the next season is on the horizon.

Even within the Pitcher Plant leaves ice had formed. Some of today’s participants touched the downward pointing hairs that draw insects into this carnivorous plant, noting the difference between the easy slide down and much bristlier texture one encounters trying to climb back out.

Continuing along the green-blazed trail, one among us spied a Bald-faced Hornet’s nest. When we noticed part of it on the forest floor, we had to step off the trail and check it out.

In the summer we avoid these nests for fear of being stung by the aggressive workers who defend their territory. But by now the workers have all died and the queen has found a snug spot to overwinter under tree bark.

Being able to examine the nest drew our awe as we noted the individual hexagonal cells created by the queen who had collected wood and plant fibers, chewed them into a papery pulp mixed with her saliva, and built brood chambers into which she placed eggs. To enclose the chambers that housed her girls she then constructed a thin papery envelope. The fact that the cells were the same size and shape was worth our wonder as we thought about the queen’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Within the outer envelope, several suspended combs contained chambers for larvae. A two-tiered section had fallen to the ground and Miriam picked it up for further examination. Her findings: brood chambers were papery and the darker gray that glued the combs together was much firmer.

Pam gave the piece the sniff test. Her findings: the combs smelled like hay, but the glue offered a much more offensive odor.

Our examination also revealed a few grub-like larvae that didn’t have an opportunity to cycle through life.

After kinda, sorta, not really bee-lining to finish before darkness fell, we reached the scenic view that again included the brook and mountains beyond.

There was even more ice in our vision. Ripples made it look like the water flowed from south to north, but we knew it to actually be the opposite. The wind blew from the southwest and thus caused the current oxymoron.

Quietly we stood for a minute and then shared “thanksgivings” for the land, the air, the water, the people, and the place.

Before turning around, a short bushwhack revealed another beaver lodge in the offing.

It, too, was covered in the beavers’ form of Typar: mud. And topped with fresh wood. Construction continues.

With one final view of the brook, the clouds shifted and revealed the Baldface Mountains in Evans Notch.

On the way out, we paused for moths as we’d done on the way in. Linda’s eagle eyes spotted this tiny one: Bog Bibarrambla Moth.

All along we’d noticed male moths flying about, but again on the return trip one among us noticed a few males in one area. If we’re correct in our identification, they were Bruce Spanworms, but what was even more important was the realization that the female is wingless. Yes, these two are canoodling.

One last stop to make before continuing our “bee-line” to the parking lot was a bit of a scavenger hunt: A Bear-claw Tree Scavenger Hunt. Bingo. Brian made the discovery and everyone gathered ’round for a closer examination.

As I said earlier, when I first wrote the description for the walk, I said we’d get a head start on Thanksgiving, but I didn’t really define what that meant. And then a brainstorm a week ago revealed a plan. To offer thanks as we did by the brook, but also . . . to bring food for the Sweden Food Pantry, which serves Lovell, Sweden, Stow, Stoneham, Waterford, Fryeburg, and Bridgton. Our numbers were small today as nine of us traveled the trail at John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge, but our givings big (and we had some items from a few others who couldn’t join us.) We were equally glad to have Linda Bradley (she’s wearing the blaze-orange vest), president of the food pantry, along for the journey.

We’re grateful to all who either joined us or contributed to our offerings as we gave thanks beside Sucker Brook and helped fill the shelves in Sweden.

As we departed we made plans to repeat this event, but choose the following weekend next year so we don’t complete with the Third Annual Bowls and Brews fundraiser.

Something Special Beside Sucker Brook

My friend, Marita, joined me today for a walk along the trails at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

Though we moved rather quickly, frequently picking up sticks and branches that had fallen as a result of last week’s nor’easter (Marita deserves trail crew credit), we did stop occasionally to appreciate the world around us. Our first point of wonder occurred when she noted a burl of sorts on a beech tree. A closer look and we spotted shiny black spots that turned out to be five or six black ladybird beetles, their red spots offering a contrast. I’ve since learned they are Twice-stabbed Ladybeetle bugs, and beneficial as they feed on scale insects, aphids, and mealybugs, including Beech Scale Insects.

Maple-leaf Viburnum, still holding onto its leaves and fruits called our attention next. Only last week, we were finding its magenta fall coloration decorating the woods, but when the calendar turned to November, it seemed the world transformed and took on its late autumn look.

Via a spur not marked, we ventured forth and stood in admiration of the colors before us as we looked out toward the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake.

And then we looked in the opposite direction and embraced the view toward the north where hills formed the backdrop . . .

and found their reflection in beaver lodges. Though we never saw any sign of recent beaver works, it appeared that at least one of the lodges was being mudded for winter, a beaver’s form of insulating the house.

Our route back to the trail was circuitous for I wanted to show her the Pitcher Plants that grow in the edge between the land and water.

No matter how many times I see this plant’s urn-shaped leaf, I am in awe and today was no exception. The hairs on the leaf’s “landing pad” stood out on a younger version as well as its aging elder.

We weren’t the only ones curious about the plant for the snow fleas, aka spring tails, had also discovered it. And it them. How many snow fleas does it take to create a meal? Many I would think given their teeny tiny size, but . . . many found their way down the hairs and into the plant’s digestive fluid.

Back on the green-blazed trail we finally continued, and a display of mushrooms begged for a Kodak moment. As I often do with mushrooms, I’m going out on a limb and calling these Late Fall Oysters (Panellus serotinus), which aren’t oysters at all but the rippled edge did remind me of the shells I used to pick up as a kid. What really sang out about this moment though was the fact that the fungus grew on a beech tree and the husk of a beech nut had stabbed into the fruit, giving the entire display a layered cake look with a candle on top.

We also discovered a Red-belted Polypore, Fomitopsis pinicola if I’m correct, the size of a dinner plate.

Onward, we swished the dried leaves, hit a few mucky spots, and continued to pick up sticks. At last we reached a second scenic view that again provided colors demarking this month.

All along we’d tramped beside Sucker Brook, though we couldn’t always see it. But that’s what made the scenic views even more spectacular.

Our journey was quick and we covered over two miles and followed the blue-blazed trail back, but it was the waypoint that I marked at Marita’s suggestion, which was our final find of the day.

Well, really, it was her final find for I made her hunt for it. I gave her a general area to scan and after a few moments of looking, we turned it into a hot/cold game. At last her eyes cued in on the bear claw marks upon a beech tree.

You, too, may spy some of the same for next Sunday the GLLT will host a walk at John A. Segur East (as we refer to this part of the wildlife refuge). We’re offering something a bit different for this hike.

November 10 
12:30 - 3:00 pm
Sunday Beside Sucker Brook

Let's get a head start on Thanksgiving, and journey the trail at John A. Segur East where we'll take in the afternoon views of Sucker Brook, its plants in their winter forms, beaver lodges, and mountain vistas.
In honor of the upcoming holiday, we'll think of our neighbors as we gather. Please bring one or more items to give to the Sweden Food Pantry, which serves the towns of Sweden, Lovell, Fryeburg, Stow, Stoneham, Waterford and Bridgton.
Popular Items:
Tuna Fish
Peanut Butter and Jam
Hearty Soups like Progresso
Staples other than pasta
Gluten Free items
Canned Beans (NOT vegetarian) and Canned Beets
Personal Hygiene Products
Also: Be thinking about something or someone for which you'd like to offer up thanks, either silently or verbally.
Location: John A. Segur East, Farrington Pond Road, off Timber Shores Road, Lovell
Degree of Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

I hope you’ll join us for something special beside Sucker Brook.

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.

 

 

Flying With John A. Segur

I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Segur, but it was my honor to be his eyes for a short time today as I wandered down the short trail off New Road in Lovell at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge. Upon his death, a bequest in his name was left to the land trust to preserve habitat for native wildlife to thrive.

The JAS Wildlife Refuge actually encompasses 592 acres and I only explored the .3 mile trail on the western section of the property, but on an extremely hot summer day my finds were enough. Follow me and I think you’ll see what I mean.

j1-Across from the sign and telephone pole

First off, you need to locate the small undefined parking lot. It’s about a mile beyond Foxboro Road, but I don’t pay attention to that. Rather, I look for the “No Thru Trucks” sign and turn on my left-hand blinker as soon as I spot it.

j2-trail and kiosk

Just beyond a couple of boulders placed to keep vehicles from driving down the old skidder trail, stands the kiosk where you can take a look at the trail map and check out some other GLLT materials.

j3-map

As I said, this is just a small part of the overall refuge, but it’s well worth an exploration, especially if you don’t have much time (though some of us have been known to spend at least three hours making our way down and back).

j3a-the trail mowed

Recently, the GLLT’s Associate Team and Intern mowed the trail, making it passable and not quite so tick-infested. But . . . still take precautions. Always! The trail is rather level, so it’s an easy one to travel.

j4-daisy and crab spider

This is a place where you’ll find the ordinary, like a daisy. And trying to decide if “he loves me, he loves me not,” you might see a small crab spider.

j5-sundews

This is also the land of the extraordinary–in the form of the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews. Check out the glistening droplets at the ends of the hair-like tendrils that  extend from each round leaf. The droplets are actually quite sticky. Just like a spider sensing a bug on its web, the tendrils detect the presence of prey and then curl inward, thus trapping the prey.  The whole leaf will eventually wrap around the insect and in the process of digesting it, the plant will absorb the bug’s nutrients. Sundews tend to grow in areas that lack sufficient nutrients, so this is the plant’s way of supplementing its diet. And if that wasn’t enough–it was just plain beautiful.

All that being said, this is a tiny plant and right now preparing to flower. So, if you travel this way, about a tenth of a mile into your journey, look down at your feet for these minute gems, take a closer look, and then walk with care.

j6-sweet-fern

Further along the trail you’ll see a few species of ferns, as well as the fern that isn’t a fern. Sweet-fern is so named for it’s fern-like appearance, but it has a woody stem and is actually a shrub. It’s yellowish green flowers that first appeared in spring were giving way to greenish brown, burr-like nutlets. In any season, this shrub has such variation to offer, that like hobblebush, I can’t resist honoring it with a million photographs.

j8-raspberries

One of the sweet joys of this trail is that because of previous logging, early succession is taking place in terms of the plants and trees that grow beside the trail, including blackberries not quite ripe and these raspberries already offering a delightful reprieve on a humid summer day.

j14-the field

Eventually, the trail leads to the turn-around point, the old log landing, which also displayed signs of forest succession, for its there that some wildflowers and sweet-ferns grow in the center. At the perimeter, white pines, gray birch and blackberries crowd each other.

j10-four-spotted with food

And on the edge, the dragonflies fly. And dine. This Four-spotted Dragonfly settled on a dead red pine to consume an insect.

j11-4 spotted eating

Ever so slowly . . .

j12-feeding frenzy

the body disappeared into its mouth.

j13-4 spotted, back view

While it was busy eating, I was busied myself in getting as close as possible to enjoy all of its nuances, from the four spots on its wings, to the basal display on the hind wings to the placement of its eyes and colors on its thorax and abdomen. All of those details help in ID.

j15-old coyote scat

And then into the field I went, with a memory of a winter expedition when we noticed that a shrike had deposited a mouse in a tree. Today’s finds included a pile of old coyote scat probably also deposited this past winter that indicated a territory repeatedly marked.

j16-turtle?

I also spied lots of recently made depressions. While one might suspect dust baths by a turkey or grouse, feathers are usually left behind in the process. Instead, the ground was more disturbed and because the landing is close to Bradley Brook, I determined I was looking at recently dug holes made by turtles. Snappers and painted turtles have been depositing eggs recently and these may be the incubation nurseries for their offspring.

j16-racket-tailed emerald

As I turned back toward the trail, I noticed a dragonfly seeking shade, for so hot was it. Notice the bright green eyes of the Racket-tailed Emerald. Thank goodness for those emerald eyes that always help in narrowing down the choices.

j18-common dewberry:sphinx moth

I found it a bit more difficult to ID the sphinx moth that paid a visit to the Dewberries. There are only 1,450 species in the Sphingidae family, but my leaning was toward Nessus Sphinx, though I could be totally off on that one.

j20-Northern-bush Honeysuckle

I was much more confident about my ID of the native Northern-bush Honeysuckle with its greenish-yellowish-orangish flowers. The plant is actually a shrub with a woody stem, and one that moose and deer like. I’ve yet to see a moose print along this piece of the property, but I know its part of a deer yard.

j21-Spotted St. John's-wort

Also springing forth with yellow blossoms was Spotted St. John’s-wort, with its translucent spots on the leaves and tiny black dots outlining its petals.

j22-whorled yellow-loosestrife

And not to be overlooked, the Whorled Yellow-Loosestrife with its cheery flowers extended in a whorl from the stem by long petioles.

j23-hitchiker

My journey wasn’t long, but with all that I saw, I was thankful for the spirit of Mr. Segur that flies over this place.

Just possibly, he graced me with his presence today . . . in the form of Spangled Skimmer.

Tracker Tales

When I pulled into the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library parking lot this morning I didn’t expect any of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Tuesday Trackers to be waiting for me given that the temperature was at least -20˚. But, Jo Radner was ready and waiting. She joined me for the drive to the John A. Segur West property on New Road.

Standing in the small parking lot was Stephen Lewis, another diehard participant. And as  Jo and I fiddled with our snowshoes, Heinrich Wurm pulled in.

And so, we four intrepid trampers took off over the snowbank and immediately met some tracks. A little back tracking and attention to details helped us determine a bobcat had crossed the trail. There were red and later gray squirrel tracks, deer, and mice. Most were old for the animals, especially the squirrels and mice seemed to be hunkered down in their holes–certainly a good choice.

j-junco tracks and wing marks

By the time we reached the old log landing at the end of the trail, we noticed lots of junco tracks and their small wing impressions. Seeds aplenty were scattered across the snow. Our conversation soon turned from the little birds to an experience I had this past week when a saw-whet owl flew into a thick stand of hemlocks I was crashing through like a bull in a china shop. I had just finished saying that much to my surprise the bird flew in as I broke through the branches when one would expect a bird to quickly depart, when Steve pointed at something in our midst.

j-mouse discovery 1a

We all moved in for a closer look.

j-mouse discovery 2

A dead mouse splayed on the branch of a gray birch. My brain played with that sight over and over again. Yes, we’d seen numerous crazy mouse tracks left behind by either deer or white-footed mice–it’s difficult to determine which, for both have long tails that leave drag marks between their footprints. Jumping mice hibernate so they could be ruled out.  Jo asked if I could tell which of the other two it might be. I’m happy to say that even well-respected tracker Paul Rezendes, author of Tracking and the Art of Seeing, has this to say, “There are more than 120 different species of North American mice, and about half of them fall under the general rubric ‘white-footed mouse.’ The deer mouse is a type of white-footed mouse, and to me there is not perceptible difference in tracks. There are several anatomical differences, but these change from habitat to habitat. The white-footed mouse measures up to about seven and a half inches long (including its three-and-a-half inch tail) and weighs one-half to one ounce. Its color is gray or light brown to dull orange-brown above, with a white belly, throat, and, as its name implies, feet. The deer mouse is gray to reddish brown on its upper parts, including its tail, and white below, with longer hind feet and a tail usually longer than its body. Both animals have bicolored a bicolored tail.”

j1-mouse 1

Our next question was, “How did it get there?” My mind immediately went to a December 13 entry on page 419 in Mary Holland’s Naturally Curious Day by Day about butcher birds overwintering. Mary discusses how northern shrikes preferred food sources are other birds, mammals and insects. “This tundra-nesting bird comes as far south as New England in the winter, where it preys mainly on mice, voles, and small birds.” She goes on to explain that the bird often kills more than it can consume and leaves some food in the freezer for future feeding adventures. “The manner in which it stores this extra food is what gives it the nickname ‘butcher bird.’ It often impales prey on a thorn, broken branch, or even barbed wire, or it wedges prey into narrow V-shaped forks of branches, where it hangs until reclaimed by the shrike.”

Bingo! I think we figured out what we were seeing and in Mary Holland’s book we have my dear friend, mentor and former LEA and GLLT Education Director, Bridie McGreavy, PhD, to thank for the photo.

We could have turned around then, so thrilled were we, but we hadn’t even reached the wetland. And so, a quick check to make sure everyone was comfortable and on we trekked.

j-deer crossing Bradley Brook

When we found more deer tracks, we decided to follow them in search of beds. At that point we found no bedding areas, but did see that the deer had crossed Bradley Brook.

j-Bradley Brook frozen

It was the first time I’d ever seen the brook frozen over and we took advantage by making our way to the other side.

j-water on lungwort 1

We continued looking for tracks, but found other things as well, including dried lungwort. I mentioned that lungwort, like other bryophytes, will immediately photosynthesize when water is added. Jo wanted proof and so I had her pull out my water bottle and pour it over the leafy structure.

j-lungwort turning green

Within minutes . . .

j-lungwort magic

magic.

j-beaver works 1

As we crossed the wetland, we searched high and low for evidence of wildlife. Up high, chickadees and goldfinches sang from treetops. Down low–not a single track. We did find a few examples of beaver works.

j-beaver works 2

And we thought perhaps the lodges were active.

j-beaver works 3

We hoped.

j-checking the beaver lodge1

But our hope was dashed.

j-beaver lodge 2

No vent hole above and no evidence of life anywhere nearby. Perhaps they’d abandoned this for a second one we spied.

j-stone lodge

Only thing is that the second one also supported no mammal life at the moment, for it turned out not to be a lodge after all, but a boulder covered with snow.

j-beaver dam

Just beyond the boulder lodge, however, we found the old dam, which still stood strong.

j-sharing smiles at the dam

Our smiles were equally strong as we acknowledge what a fine day it had been and this would make the perfect turn around point.

j-Heinrich looking skyward

Jo and Steve took one last look at the brook below and Heiner turned his eyes skyward.

j-heading back

Heading back, we all did the same for we heard military planes flying overhead and could see their contrails.

j-looking north

But it was the cloud formation that really drew our attention.

j-clouds 2

Steve mentioned lenticular clouds and it seemed the perfect explanation given that these lens-shaped structures probably formed after the flow of air encountered Mount Washington.

j-mouse in tree crotch

Our journey back found us going off trail again, and we did find a couple of deer beds, but what will stand out in our brains for this day’s tramp–the mouse with the very long tail and tiny white feet. How it got there, we don’t know for sure, though the shrike story does make sense. What I am sure of is that it will become part of our tracker tales.

 

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.