Bear to Beer: Fogg Hill, Center Harbor, NH

Today’s adventure meant a bit of a drive to Center Harbor, New Hampshire, but it was a journey down memory lane for me as I recalled my time spent teaching and living in the Lakes Region of NH. My guy endured the stories, many of which I’m sure he’s heard before, so I suspect he was grateful when we finally arrived at our destination.

We’d never been to the Fogg Hill Conservation Area before, but prior to Christmas when I was creating the Bear to Beer Possibilities gift, I found Bear Pond on the property and thought it had potential. Besides, we love to explore new areas . . . then there’s always that challenge of looking for a bear sign.

The sign was easy to find for it’s nailed to a tree at the trail head, but it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. It did, however, give us hope. Perhaps we would find a tree with signature bear claw marks left behind.

Our choice of footwear was questionable from the get go as we passed between two canoes onto the trail blazed with yellow. We chose hiking boots and for me, spikes. He tossed his spikes into the pocket of his sweatshirt. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll jump ahead and tell you it was the right choice. We walked on bare ground, ice, and snow sometimes a foot deep, but it was constantly changing. And he never did wear his spikes. I, on the other hand, was glad to don them.

Sometimes our path also included stream crossings.

Not long into our journey, we followed the blue blazes to Bear Pond. Our hopes of finding what we were looking for there were soon dashed. But . . .

we saw beaver works of past years that now supported a variety of other growth.

A lodge stood tall in the wetland, but by its grayed sticks we knew it hadn’t been used recently. Maybe rather than Bear Pond it should have been named Beaver Pond, but then again, maybe not.

Back on the yellow trail, we continued on, but paused again beside another beaver pond. You’ll have to squint to see the lodge, but it’s there, beside a boulder that mimics its shape. As we stood there, my brain fast-forwarded to summer and I could imagine not only the vegetation in full bloom, but also the insects and especially the dragonflies providing a display.

Back to reality–I did spy a Mallard on the far side of the pond.

Onward and upward we climbed, our eyes scanning the trees for any bear sign. Sometimes the bark of the Beech was all blocky as a result of beech scale disease.

Others were as smooth as could be and we both thought, “If I were a bear in the woods, this would be my tree.” But none had claimed it.

We were almost fooled when we looked up at one of the old trees–until we realized we were looking at sapwells created by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. And I realized I hadn’t associated them with American Beech previously. A lesson learned from the bark I thought I knew so well.

Mind you, we weren’t always looking up because we did have to choose the next spot to place each foot much of the time and we were often surprised when what appeared to be firm wasn’t. But because we were looking down so much, we saw several scats left behind by the locals including Coyote and Bobcat. The above is Coyote scat–filled with hair and chunks of bone.

We also spotted another Winter Firefly–this one cross a boulder in the trail.

And a treat to top them all–Striped Maple breaking bud! Suddenly spring feels rushed and I want to slow it all down and savor every sweet moment. 😉

Just beyond the Striped Maple, we chuckled when we found the first cairn. Maybe its structure was a homage to the summit ahead.

At the summit a split glacial erratic was as interesting as the view, covered as it was with two umbilicate lichens, Rock Tripe and Toadstool.

I asked my guy to stand beside it for perspective, but he chose instead to go behind and peek at me through the division.

And on the way down, he found the perfect frame for his peace sign.

As for bear sign, we found one tree with some potential, but wondered if instead it was scratch marks created by near branches.

At last we left the conservation area a wee bit disappointed but promised ourselves we’ll return. Perhaps we didn’t find more than the bear sign at the very start due to the fact that we really spent a lot of time looking at our feet. And never went far off trail.

We also want to check out the orange trail to the Kettle Bog, which we passed by today. A few years ago, Dr. Rick Van de Poll completed an ecological survey of the area and discovered rare plants on the land. Having spent a couple of days working with Rick at a Lakes Environmental Association site in Bridgton, Maine, I can’t wait to figure out what he discovered on the Fogg Hill property.

Today’s adventure was topped off with a late lunch at Canoe overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in Center Harbor. For me an Allagash White and a burger. For my guy: Jack’s Abby Lager and a reuben.

Bear to beer possibilities: Fogg Hill, Center Harbor, NH.

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Tenmile Mondate

I’d never heard of the trail system my guy and I hiked this afternoon until my friend Marita introduced me to it about a week and a half ago. And then, the temps were frigid and our time limited, so we only snowshoed to the Kettle Hole Bog. But . . . that, in itself, was well worth the journey on December 28, 2017.

t-kettle bog

It blows my mind to think that kettle holes are unique features formed over 10,000 years ago when big chunks of ice became stranded and partially buried in glacial outwash or other coarse ice-contact deposits. Eventually, the ice chunks melted, leaving ponds in holes in the ground, with no inlets or outlets. Among the vegetation variety in such a bog is black spruce that stood tall like church spires.

t-spruce caps

Because our initial visit followed the ice and snow storms of the previous weekend, most of the spires donned winter caps.

t-rhodora's winter look

And in the low shrub level, rhodora and other heath shrubs offered their winter form.

t-tenmile 2

We were traveling in the Tenmile River Demonstration Forest and within a few minutes of the kettle bog, Marita and I reached the river.

t-tenmile 1

It was late afternoon when we visited that day and the low temps meant lots of ice had formed.

t-ice on oak leaf

Of course, the ice storm of Dec 23rd added to the frozen display.

d-oak stained glass

And so, when my guy and I visited late this afternoon, I was curious about our finds. Some trees still sported icy sculptures, but much of it had blown down in recent winds. Instead, we looked through a different stained glass window as we traversed the property.

d-sign

The Tenmile River Demonstration Forest was donated to the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) in 1950 by Frank Merrifield, three years after the Great Fire of 1947.

Back in October 1947, catastrophic wildfires erupted throughout Maine during what became known as “The Week Maine Burned.”

It hadn’t rained for 108 days and the dry woods were like tinder. Here in western Maine, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Denmark thought they had a fire under control, but overnight a strong wind blew and gave it new life. About 2,000 acres burned by the next night as the fire spread to the edge of Brownfield.

With the winds continuously shifting, town folks began to panic. Farmers either turned their livestock loose or herded them to neighboring towns. Others packed as many belongings as they could and evacuated.

By morning, most homes and public buildings in Brownfield were mere piles of ash. Stately places including the Farnsworth Place where Dr. Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer in the field of television, spent his summers, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange hall, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

This past fall, I had the honor of listening to storyteller Jo Radner honor the stories of Brownfield residents with her rendition of Burnt into Memory. If you ever have the chance to be in her audience, I strongly encourage you to attend and listen. Jo not only shares the stories, but also the voices.

d-kiosk

According to the property brochure available at the kiosk, “The District Supervisors replanted the property with red and white pine.” The replanting took place between 1950 and 1960. The brochure states: “It was their plan to turn the land into an example of wise and sustainable forest management and to use it as an education resource area to demonstrate good conservation management practices.”

d-whites and reds

Immediately behind the kiosk the whites and reds were obvious–white pines to the left and red to the right.

d-wetland trail

As we set out today, we found ourselves breaking trail for it seems not many wander this way in the winter. Our intention was to traverse several loops along the land of rolling hills.

In 2012, the pines that had been planted back in the ’50s and ’60s were harvested with the intention of creating an open forest to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor. The overall goal was to encourage new growth and regeneration.

d-wetland view 1

Our journey along the Wetland Trail led to a shrub bog and . . .

d-wetland 2

a marshland above Round Pond. Where’s Waldo? Or rather my guy? I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had found a branch and was headed to the wetland to check on the ice. Meanwhile, I stood on it.

d-hemlock samara 1

As we broke trail, we noticed others who had done the same, including junco foot and wing prints.

d-hemlock samara

And by those footprints, we kept seeing Eastern hemlock seed samaras–minus the seed. How cool is that? While the seed depends on its wing to fly to a new home, our winged friends only care about the seeds.

d-porky trail

A porcupine had also traversed the property and as time would tell, it knew much of the over-200 acre forest.

d-snowshoe hare trail and scat

Snowshoe hare also traveled here. We were thankful for their teachings of packing trails to make movement easier, especially since we were taking turns breaking trail today. Note the touches of scat along the runway of this particular hare.

d-Round Pond overlook

As a demonstration forest, the Oxford County SWCD received a grant in 2012 from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fun to not only show how a forest harvest can be carefully planned and carried out, but also to install interpretive signs that point out special features and describe best management practices.

d-clearing the bench

Also installed at key points, benches offering views. If you go soon, you can thank my guy for clearing the seat overlooking Round Pond.

d-pitch pine

Continuing on, we noted how well marked are the trails. And sometimes such marks made us notice other things, like the fact that this chosen tree was a pitch pine, an important fire adaptive tree. Such adaptations allow it to establish and/or regenerate on burned sites through a variety of options offered by the tree and its buds.

d-beaver lodge bench

Our continued journey took us to the bench and signage for a beaver lodge, though with another foot of snow you’d hardly know it.

d-beaver lodge

Before the bench, we could see the old lodge, though it seemed abandoned given no sight of a vent on it or any new cuts nearby.

d-beaver lodge signage

But still, a sign once cleared, describe the activity and what one might expect to see within such a home.

d-gray birch

Behind the bench, a family of gray birch stood taller than most given that December ice storm had causes so many of them to bow down with the weight of the world.

d-Tenmile River

From the lodge, we went in search of a couple of beaver dams along Tenmile River, and finally spied some open water. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to see it. Do you see the trail beside the river? How I wanted it to be that of an otter. But, reality struck and it was a deer run.

d-beaver dam1

As the day darkened, we did find an old beaver dam, but again, not recent works.

d-wood duck box

And just above the dam, a wood duck box. As the brochure notes, “A harvest was carefully panned and carried out to show how forestry, wildlife habitat conservation, recreation and water resource protection could all be taken into consideration.”

d-witherod bud and leaves

Not far from the river, I found a shrub I immediately recognized for it is a wee bit different from others–witherod or wild raisin.

d-white pines laden with snow

As we continued on our way out, for there was more to discover but the night was drawing close, white pines sagged with the weight of the recent bomb cyclone.

d-red pine laden with snow

And as it should be along this trail, red pines on the opposite side showed that they, too, had bowed to the burdens.

d-gateway between red and white pines

But what struck me about these two species, red pine to the left and white pine to the right, with my guy’s tracks between, was the fact that the Oxford County SWCD had had the foresight to acquire this land and follow up on its purpose as a demonstration forest.

Our journey on this Mondate was only about four miles along the Tenmile River loops, but already, we can’t wait to return and learn what else this property has to offer.