Peeking with my Peeps

As has been our custom for the past six years, on a quarterly basis an email is sent out with a date and location and at the agreed upon time any number of grads, teachers, and mentors from the Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston 2013 class gather. Today was one of those days.

The plan was to explore a vernal pool or two at the Cornwall Nature Preserve on historic Paris Hill, but . . . it didn’t take us (Pam, Beth, Alan, Dorcas, and yours truly hiding behind the lens) long to get distracted when we saw green poking through the many shades of brown on the forest floor.

Together, we scrambled through our brains searching for the name. With the season finally feeling like it’s transitioning, we realized we have to dust off the floral flashcards in our minds and start reviewing them. And then it came to us. One year ago, on May 5, we had seen the same at Smithfield Plantation as we celebrated Cinco de Mayo, Naturally. Then, however, we had keyed it out minus the flower. Today, the memory of last year’s ID slowly sifted to the forefront and by its leaves and colonial habit, we felt safe to call it Clintonia borealis or Bluebead Lily.

A few more steps and we started dipping containers into a potential vernal pool that was really too shallow and offered no apparent key characteristics. But . . . there was an owl pellet filled to the brim with hair and bones, the one sticking out by central vein of the leaf a hip bone. (Yeah, so I may sound like a smarty pants, but Dorcas pulled it out and quickly identified the bone by its structure.) Some little mammal, or two, or three, had provided a bird with a meal.

Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens) was the next great find. I would have dismissed it as Big Red Stem or Pleurozium schreberi, and in so doing missed its finer points. Do you see how each year’s new growth rises from the previous, rather like ascending stair steps?

And then there was another new learning, for I’m always referring to this species of fungi as jelly ear or wood ear. But, with Alan the fungi fun guy in our midst, we learned that it’s really Brown Witch’s Butter or Exidia recisa. (Drats–it’s so much more fun to say Auricularia auricula.)

As we admired the Exidia recisa, we realized others were doing the same for we’d interrupted a slug fest. If you bump into Alan Seamans sometime, do ask him about the numbing qualities of slugs. 😉

A few more steps and we began to notice trilliums, especially the reds with their leaves of three so big and blossoms hiding. All of a sudden we know the flowers are going to burst open and we can’t wait to witness such glory.

At last we reached the pool of choice, located maybe a half mile from the parking area. Two years ago, MMNP students from the South Paris class discovered Fairy Shrimp in this pool.

Our best finds today were log cabin caddisflies! At this point in time, the caddisflies are in their larval stage and as such, they construct their temporary shelters from available materials. Think of them as the original recyclers.

Should a predator be about, like a hermit crab, the caddisfly can retreat into the house of needles or leaves or stones or whatever its preferred building material might be. Apparently, it didn’t mind us and we were honored to watch as the elongated body extended forth while it searched for food. In its larval form, these aquatic insects have a hardened head and first thoracic segment, while the abdomen remains pale and soft. Can you see the three pairs of legs?

The cool thing about caddisflies is that though they may use similar construction materials, no two are alike. Beth called them works of art.

I referred to this one as a she for the case included a Red Maple bouquet.

If you look closely, you might also note some filmy gills on the abdomen. And the grayish thing the Mrs. approached and a second later ignored. It seemed rather leech-like in its behavior, but I think it may have been a Planaria, which is a tiny unsegmented flat worm.

As we dipped for insects, we also noted plenty of Spotted Salamander spermatophores sticking up from leaves and twigs. But we could find none of their milky egg masses and wondered why.

We did, however, spy plenty of Wood Frog masses, some with their tapioca structures bubbling upon the surface, but most attached to the stems below.

And then a chiseled tree section across the pool called to us and so we made our way over to check the wood chips below. Of course, we searched for Pileated Woodpecker scat, but found none. Instead, we spotted a dead frog in the water. And just beyond it, a dead salamander.

It wasn’t pretty, but did make us question what had happened. Were the two amphibian deaths related? We don’t know, but we did note puncture marks on the Spotted Salamander’s underside, and even a nip of the end of its tail. Plus it had one slightly deformed front foot. And we learned that salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. Did the frog go after the salamander and both died from the experience? Or had another predator entered the pool? And then realized it had made the wrong decision?

We never did figure it out, but had fun asking questions. And as we stood there, our eyes keyed in on a bit of color at the end of a downed branch. Again, more questions and the use of our loupes as we tried to take a closer look. We debated: slime mold or insect eggs?

After looking closely and continuing to ask question, a quick poke with a twig provided the actual answer as we watched the spores puff out in a tiny cloud. Slime mold it was. Should we have poked it first? No, for that would have been too easy and we wouldn’t have taken the time to consider the possibilities.

On our way out, there was still one more discovery to make. I could have dismissed this one as a moss.

But, again Alan knew and he explained to us that it was a liverwort known as Porella platyphylloidea. And upon closer examination we could all see its three-dimensional structure as it curled out from the tree trunk.

Almost three hours later, our brains were full as we’d also examined trees, lichens, and other fungi, but our hearts were happy for the time spent in each others company sharing a collective brain.

I’m always grateful for an opportunity to peek with these peeps, even at something as common as a caddisfly because really . . . there’s nothing common about it.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

Doozy of a Playdate

When I sent out the invite to the Maine Master Naturalist Program’s Lewiston 2013 class for a tracking expedition at one of two possible locations, grad Alan responded, “Any place you pick in western Maine is fine; you know the area and conditions well. The only request I have is for you to try to show me a ‘bear tree.’”

Bingo! I pulled a third location out of my hat because it was within an hour of those who would join us and I knew that it passed the bear tree test.

And so six of us met at 10am, strapped on our snowshoes, and ventured forth. It’s always such a joy to be with these peeps and talk and laugh and share a brain.

Because our focus at first was on beech bark while we looked for bear claw marks left behind, we also shared an imagination. One particular tree made us think of a horseshoe.

Even

Eventually we found a few trunks with the etched scratches of bear claws that had grown wider with the years. After the first find, which was actually on a different tree, the others developed their bear tree eyes and became masters at pointing them out.

And though we’d come to track, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement in the preserve except for the occasional deer. But . . . we still found plenty to fascinate us, including Violet-toothed Polypore.

Alan was the fungi guru of the group and so to him we turned to confirm our ID. We were correct, but in the process he taught us something new about this gregarious mushroom. There are two types of Violet-toothed: Trichaptum biforme grows on hardwoods; Trichaptum abietinum grows only on conifers. Now we just need to remember that. Before our eyes the former reached to the sky on the red maple.

All along, as I’ve done all winter, I searched for an owl in a tree. Penny found one for me. Do you see it?

What I actually saw more than the owl was the face of a bear. OK, so I warned you that we took our imaginations with us.

We were almost down to the water, when the group paused. Tracks at last. Near water. Track pattern on a diagonal meaning one foot landed in front of the other in a consistent manner for each set of prints. Trail width or straddle: almost three inches. Stride we didn’t measure because it varied so much, but it was obvious that this mammal bounded through the landscape. Identification: mink. Repeatedly after first finding the tracks, we noted that it had covered a lot of territory.

At last, we made our way out onto the wetland associated with South Pond and followed the tracks of a much bigger beast–in fact multiple beasts: snowmobiles.

Rather than find lunch rock, we chose lunch lodge and stood in the warm sun to enjoy the view.

We did wonder if it was active and determined that though there had been some action in the fall as evidenced by the rather fresh looking sticks, there was no vent at the top so we weren’t sure any beavers were within. Maybe it was their summer cottage.

Close by, however, we found another lodge and the vent was open so we didn’t walk too near.

Because we were on the wetland, we did pause to admire the cattails, their seeds exploding forth like a fireworks finale (but of the silent type, which I much prefer).

Back on the trail, the bark of another tree stopped us. We looked at the lenticels, those lines that serve as a way to exchange gases much like our skin pores, and noted that they were thin rather than the raised figure 8s of a pin cherry.

We had a good idea of its name, but to be sure we conducted a sniff test.

Smells like . . . wintergreen! We were excited to have come face to face with black or sweet birch. Some also call it cherry birch. Hmmm . . . why not wintergreen birch? Because, yellow birch, a relative, also has that wintergreen scent when you scratch the bark, especially of a twig.

Continuing along, the temperature had risen and snow softened so periodically we had to help each other scrape snowballs off the bottoms of shoes.

Otherwise the feeling was one of walking on high heels.

As I said earlier, all kinds of things stopped us, including the straight lines of the holes created by sapsuckers, those warm-weather members of the woodpecker family. One in the neighborhood apparently decided to drum to a different beat as noted by the musical notes of the top line.

Speaking of woodpeckers, for a few minutes we all watched a pileated and admired its brilliant red crest in the afternoon sun, but we couldn’t focus our cameras on it quickly enough as it flew from tree to tree. We did, however, pause beneath a tree where it had done some recent excavation work.

And left behind a scat that resembled a miniature birch tree.

At last, four hours and two miles after starting (we’d intended to only be out for three), we’d circled around and stopped again at the kiosk to look at the map. Do note that we’d also picked up a passenger along the way for Carl Costanzi, a Western Foothills Land Trust board member and steward of the Virgil Parris Forest came upon us and joined our journey. We picked his brain a bit about the property and he picked up a pair of snowshoes that had malfunctioned for one of us. Thank you, Carl! That’s going above and beyond your duties.

Before departing, we did what we often do–circled around and took a selfie.

And then we left with smiles in our hearts and minds for the time spent reconnecting. Our memories will always be filled with the discovery of the first bear tree not too long after we began. As Penny said, “That first one was a doozy.”

Our entire time together was a doozy–of a playdate.

Thanks Beth, Gaby, Roger, Alan, and Penny. To those of you who couldn’t join us, we talked about you! All kind words because we missed you.

Jolly Mondate

Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning. 

And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.

One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.

All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change. 

After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure. 

We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.

But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there. 

What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case. 

She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle. 

Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine. 

It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time. 

A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground. 

It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider. 

What do you see? Lots of eyes. 

And you? Fangs. 

And you? Hairy legs. 

After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished. 

And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir. 

One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments. 

And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”

Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . . 

and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds. 

It took great concentration. 

In no time, the tree was fully decorated.

Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree. 

And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.

At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister. 

Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out. 

And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed. 

The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees. 

At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs. 

Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree. 

They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year. 

My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school. 

We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature. 

 It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart. 

All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate. 

I Spy . . .

This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.

The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.

And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.

1

And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.

2

Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.

3

Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.

4

But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.

5

As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.

6

And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

7

For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.

Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!

8

It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.

9

As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.

10

Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.

11

Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.

12

It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.

13

Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.

14

And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?

15

We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.

16

Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.

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And what does it smell like? “Wood.”

18

The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.

19

“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.

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Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.

22

We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.

23

At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.

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This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.

As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.

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And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.

I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!

Oh, and  please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.

December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

Bogging with Barb

Passing off a copy of the book, From Grassroots to Groundwater, about how two small Maine towns fought Nestlé and won, was the perfect excuse to head to Brownfield Bog. I told Barb I didn’t mind driving to her home or somewhere nearby to give her the book because I’d then go exploring and she welcomed the opportunity to do the same.

b2-Kathy's sign

As we began our journey, I asked if she knew Kathy McGreavy. Of course she did. I mentioned that Kathy walks in the bog daily and we might encounter her. Of course we did. Kathy and “her friend” were just coming out after walking their dogs and so we chatted for  bit. Our discussion included mention of the sign Kathy made last year as her capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program. It’s an incredible piece of artwork and as she’s learned, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Recently, she discovered that a woodpecker had taken to pecking it and so the bottom is now protected with a piece of plexiglass. Crazy birds.

b1-Bog view from the road

Eventually, Barb and I said our goodbyes to the McGreavys and walked down the unplowed road where I did warn her about my obsession for stopping frequently to take photos. It began from the start–when we spied the bog through the trees and noticed the contrast of colors and layers.

b3a-pussy willows

And then–specks of white were ours to behold.

b3-pussy willows

Pussy willows. Was it too early she wondered. No–in fact, I spotted some a year ago on February 23 at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

b4-red-winged blackbirds

Our next reason to stop–the red and yellow shoulder patch or epaulet providing their name: Red-Winged Blackbirds. Again, Barb asked if it was too early. This time, I referenced Mary Holland for the February 27th entry in her book Naturally Curious Day by Day has this headline: Returning Red-Winged Blackbirds Survive Cold Temperatures and Few Insects. Bingo.

b5-water obstacles

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobble stones on the road.

b6-Barb charges through the water

But sometimes you just have to go for it. And we did. As the morning continued, we ventured through deeper water and plowed ahead knowing that we would need to dry our hiking boots out when we arrived home.

b7-bird's nest

We found a bird nest and wondered about its creator. We did note some acorn pieces inside, so we think it had more than an avian inhabitant.

b8-beaver lodge

And we paused to look at an old beaver lodge. The mud looked recent but none of the sticks were this year’s additions so we didn’t know if anyone was home.

b9-map in the snow

All along, we’d been talking about places we’ve hiked and other topics of interest to both of us. We even learned that we’d both worked in Franklin, New Hampshire, just not at the same time. But speaking of hikes, with her finger, Barb drew a map in the snow and now I have another trail to check out soon with my guy. Should I forget the way, I’ll just reference this map. 😉

b10-raccoon prints

Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high (actually, too high–in fact, it felt HOT as it soared into the upper 60˚s today), we weren’t surprised to find this set of prints created recently by a raccoon. I love the hand-like appearance and opposite diagonal of each two feet. Can’t you just see him waddling through–in your mind’s eye, that is?

b11-the bog

Our turn-around point offered an expansive view of the bog. As much as we may have wanted to head out onto it, we sided with caution and kept to the edge of the shore.

b12-winterberry

On the way back, there were other things to admire as there always is even when you follow the same route: winterberries drying up;

b13-rhodora

rhodora’s woody seed pods and flower buds swelling;

b14-willow gall

and the pinecone-like structure created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows.

b16-carrion-flower tendrils

And then we stumbled upon a plant neither of us knew. With it’s long stem and curly tendrils, we were sure it was a vine.

b15-carrion-flower

Upon arriving home, however, I wondered about the umbel structure that had been its flower and now still held some fruits. A little bit of research and I found it: Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea), which apparently smells rather foul when it’s in bloom and thus attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. Now I can’t wait to return and check it out in the next two seasons. Any excuse to get back there.

b17-bog to Pleasant Mountain

At last the time had come to say goodbye to the bog and then goodbye to each other. Thanks Barb, for giving me an excuse to go bogging with you. It was indeed a treat.

Brain Share–Naturally

I was thankful I’d thrown my winter coat into the truck for I had a feeling it would be a better choice than a vest given the group I’d be traveling with this morning. And sure enough, though the sun felt warm, a breeze added a chill to the air. Plus, I knew we wouldn’t travel far and would spend much of our time standing around.

r0-life on a rock

Well, not exactly standing, for as Maine Master Naturalists, we’ve been trained to get down for a closer look. Our first stop–to check out the life on a rock that was revealing itself as the snow slowly melted. Karen is on the left, an Augusta grad, and Sarah and Anthony to her right, both South Paris grads.

r0a-polypody

The focus of our attention was common polypody, a fern with leathery leaves and spherical spore clusters on the underside. Rocks are their substrate and they often give a boulder a bad-hair day look.

r1b-speckled alder

Moseying along, we reached a point where we knew we wanted to spend some time–at a wetland beside one of the Range Ponds (pronounced Rang) at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Because it likes wet feet, we weren’t surprised to find speckled alder growing there, but what did throw us for a loop was the protrusions extending from last year’s cones.

r1a-speckled alder

It was almost like they had tried to flower atop the cones and all we could think of was an insect creating a gall. Indeed, it appeared that the cones were also experiencing a bad hair day. After a little research, it may be alder tongue gall–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. It was certainly a new one for the four of us.

r2a-leatherleaf and sphagnum moss

On we moved down to the wetland where the snow surprisingly held us for most of the journey and we didn’t leave behind too many post holes. Leatherleaf and sphagnum moss showed off their winter hues at our feet.

r4-cranberries

We also spied cranberries hiding underneath.

r3-cranberries among the leatherleaf

And sampled them. A few were tart, while others had fermented.

r1-two lodges

In the middle of the wetland, two well built lodges stood tall. They had fresh wood and had been mudded in the fall. One did look as if the vent hole had been enlarged, so we wondered if anyone still lived there. We heard no noises, but had to assume that we were bothering the residents so we didn’t stay long.

r2-wetland and pond beyond

One last view of the wetland and pond beyond, then we turned and walked toward the opposite side.

r5-bird nest

Just before climbing uphill, we spotted a bird nest in the winterberry shrubs. It was filled with dried berries, and we again made an assumption, that a mouse had cached its stash for the winter and maybe dined there in peace and quiet while the nest was covered in snow. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it. Whose nest it was prior to the mouse? We don’t know, but it was made of twigs. If you have an answer, please enlighten us.

r6-bone

Back up on an old railroad bed, we again stopped frequently, including to talk about the beech scale insect and nectria fungus that moves in and eventually kills the trees. And then something else came to our attention–it wasn’t a broken branch hanging down like an upside-down V on the beech tree. No indeed. It was a bone. A knee bone. And it had been there for quite a while given its appearance.

r7-Introduced Pine Sawfly pupal case

Because Anthony was with us and he’s our insect whiz, we spent a lot of time learning from him–including about the pupal case of an introduced pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

r8-Introduced sawfly pupal case

As the morning went on, we became quite adept at locating more cases of other sawfly species, including one that wasn’t yet opened. We each channeled our ten-year-old selves as we tried to be first to find the next one. But really, Anthony won for he had insect case eyes.

r9-going in for a closer look

And eyes for other things as well.

r10-old spider web case

This time we examined a delicate, almost lacy structure under a branch on a young beech. Anthony suspected a pirate spider, which tickled our fancy for we imagined them raiding the goods of others. But later he e-mailed with another option: “The old spider egg case could also be from an orbweaver of the araneidae family.” Either way, we were happy for the sighting; for taking the time to slow down and notice.

r11-beech leaves

And there was more. Sarah had to leave us a wee bit early, so she missed our finds on the backside of beech leaves.

r12-maroon dots on beech leaves

They were dotted with raised bumps that under our hand lenses reminded us a bit of the sori on common polypody.

r13-maroon dots on beech leaves

Leaf rust? Was it related in any way to the splattering of tiny black dots also on the leaves? We left with questions we haven’t yet answered.

r14-hair on beech leaves

Taking a closer look did, however, remind us of how hairy beech leaves are–do you see the hairs along the main vein? And that reminded us of how the tree works so hard to protect the bud with waxy scales all winter, keeping the harsh conditions at bay. In early spring, slowly the leaves emerge, ever hairy, which strikes me as an adaptation to keep insects at bay, and then . . . and then . . . it seems like every insect finds a reason to love a beech leaf and in no time they’ve been chewed and mined and you name it.

r15-oak gall

We made one more discovery before heading out–a gall formed on oak twigs. Do you see the exit hole? It’s in the shape of a heart–apparently the insect that created the gall loved the oak.

r15-pine tube moth

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I kept searching all the pine trees because I wanted to share an example of the tube created by a pine tube moth. Of course, there were none to be found, but as soon as I arrived home, I headed off into the woods for I knew I could locate some there. Bingo.

Notice how the lumps of needles are stuck together in such a way that they formed a tube. Actually, the tube is a tunnel created by the moth. The moth used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming the hollow tube. And notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees–yet.

Three and a half hours later we hadn’t walked a great distance, but our findings and learnings were many and we talked about how we’d added more layers to our understanding. Now if only we can remember everything. Thanks to Karen, Sarah and Anthony for sharing your brains me with–naturally.

P.S. Lewiston MMNP grads, et al, I’ll be in touch. Look for a doodle poll soon so we can get out and do the same. Or if you want to take the initiative, please feel free to go for it.

 

 

 

Wondermyway Celebrates Third Anniversary

Three years ago this journey began as a quiet entry into the world of blogging, of sharing my finds and questions found along the trail. And ever so slowly, you joined me to wander and wonder.

So really, today is a celebration of you, for I give thanks that you’ve continued to follow and comment and wander and wonder along, whether literally or virtually.

I absolutely love to travel the trail alone and do so often. But I also love hiking with my guy and others because my eyes are always opened to other things that I may have missed while hiking on my own.

I’m blessed with the community of naturalists with whom I’m surrounded–and this includes all of you for if you’re following along and taking the time to actually read my entries, then you share my interest and awe. And you may send me photos or I may send you photos and together we learn.

t6-cecropia cocoon

Just yesterday, while tramping in Lovell, Maine, with fellow trackers, I spotted a cocoon  dangling from a beech tree. My first thought–Cecropia moth, but I contacted Anthony Underwood, a Maine Master Naturalist who has great knowledge about insects, and learned that I was wrong. He said it looked more like the cocoon of a Promethea moth. “They hang down whereas Cecropia are usually attached longitudinally,” wrote Anthony. And there you have it.

Now I just have to remember it, which is part of the reason I value my post entries. The information has been recorded and I can always plug a key word, e.g. Promethea, into the search bar and today’s blog will come up–jogging my memory.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorites of the past year. It’s a baker’s dozen of choices. Some months, I had difficulty narrowing the choice to one and other months there was that one that absolutely stood out. I hope you’ll agree with my selection. I also hope that you’ll continue to follow me. And if you like what you read here, that you’ll share it with your families and friends and encourage others to follow along.

February 23, 2017:  Knowing Our Place

h-muddy-river-from-lodge

Holt Pond is one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but on that particular day–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

March 5, 2017: Tickling the Feet

CE 3

I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside to meet some feet.

April 22, 2017: Honoring the Earth

h-spotted sallie 2 (1)

It would have been so easy to stay home that night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30.

May 21, 2017: On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

Denise oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.

June 9, 2017: Fawning with Wonder

p-fawn 2

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

July 3, 2017: Book of July: Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by.

August 6, 2017: B is for . . .

b-bye

Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today,  following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.

September 15, 2017: Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook

s22-cardinal flower

Raincoat? √

Notecards? √

Camera? √

Alanna Doughty? √

This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.

October 5, 2017: Continued Wandering Into the World of Wonder

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

November 24, 2017: Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza

b8-the main aisle

At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.

December 29, 2017: Oh Baby!

s-screech owl 2

We shared about ten minutes together and it was definitely an “Oh baby!” occasion. But there was more . . .

January 21, 2018: Sunday’s Point of View

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

February 8, 2018: Hardly Monochromatic

p18-Stevens Brook

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different.

To all who have read thus far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past three years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Third Anniversary!

 

Whetting Our Apatite

Our hunger is never satisfied each time we gather. We always manage to see more, share more and learn more because of our combined knowledge. We also always come away with questions. And so it was this afternoon when about ten of my Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston classmates and I gathered with two of the programs founders, Dorcas Miller and Fred Cichocki, to explore a public park in Auburn, Maine.

a1a-looking at trees

From the get go, we bounced back and forth along the trail to look at the idiosyncrasies of trees and chat about the book, A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING Trees of the NORTHEAST.

a1-red maple target fungus

And as they should, teachable moments kept presenting themselves, including a prime example of the bull’s eye target fungus on red maple bark. Suddenly, those who hadn’t quite seen the target in an earlier specimen had the opportunity to meet it and I trust they will recognize it going forward.

a2-slime mold

As much as we zigzagged down the trail, we also bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge. Because we all suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, and have the tendency to travel at a slower than slow pace, it was no surprise that a stop to look at a fungus closer to the ground meant that one of us noticed a slime mold in the crevasses of pine bark. A poke with a finger nail and the spores oozed out.

a2a-approaching the mines

There were mosses to look at. Ferns to recognize. Lichens to question. And a trench that probably had been used to drain water back in the day.

a3-Dr Fred

Just beyond the trench, the star of the show took over. Dr. Fred was in his element as he reviewed the geological history of this place.

a21

And when he talks, we listen.

a4- Greenlaw quarry 1

We had come upon the first of the quarries, where feldspar had been mined in the early 1900s for porcelain. But, as Fred explained, while mining the feldspar, rare and unusual minerals had been discovered including a phosphate mineral called apatite.

a6a-Maine Feldspar Quarry

From there, we circled down and around and looked across at the Maine Feldspar Quarry.

a6-Maine Feldspar quarry

We learned from Fred that the wall of the feldspar quarry was a demonstration of light-colored pegmatite just above the water, topped by gray metamorphic rock.

a8-basalt dyke

Next, we encountered a fractured wall of fine-grained basalt–an igneous vein that formed a dyke.

a9-basalt:iron

Basalt is fine-grained due to the molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow. Typically, it’s gray to black in color with rust from iron oxidation.

a12-another quarry

From there we moved on to another quarry, where our attention was not so much focused on the rocks as on other things.

a13-squirrel cache

For deep within, we spied several red squirrel caches and dining tables. Later, we watched a chipmunk take advantage of the squirrel’s work. Minerals aren’t the only gems of choice at this place.

a14-labyrinth

As we made our way around to a quarry dump, we discovered a labyrinth that made its way around the pine trees. I followed it to the center–struck by the fact that we were examining rocks dating back to the Carboniferous period, and I was walking a path based on an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years. Time. Worth a wonder.

a15-tourmaline 1

In the dump field, we scattered about looking for souvenirs and then paused at a boulder to examine its offerings.

a16-tourmaline crystal

On the back side, Fred pointed out several depressions where tourmaline crystals had been discovered and removed. We were awed.

a20-graphic granite

There was so much to see from milky and smoky quartz to feldspar, mica and garnet, but my favorite find was more graphic.

a17-graphic granite

Graphic granite–a pegmatite of igneous origin that splits in such a way to make it look as if stories have been expressed with a fountain pen. In this case, I was sure the story was about birds flying over mountains.

The quarries were our turn-around point. We had begun our adventure with plans to visit them quickly, then explore the outer trails of the park, but as we knew would happen, two and half hours later we’d only made our way to the quarries and it was time to head out because the sun was sinking.

That didn’t matter for happy were we to spend time exploring together and whetting our naturalist appetites at Mount Apatite.

 

Tickling the Feet

I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside the community center at Two Echo Cohousing to meet some feet.

f-dorcas-and-sally

Meet the feet? Yes, mammal feet. It was an Advanced Seminar prepared for students and graduates of the Maine Master Naturalist Program by one of our founders and past president, Dorcas Miller.

f-gaby

Dorcas has gathered mammal feet from road kill and gifts. And we gathered to take a closer look at them, determine if their stance was plantigrade (walking–entire foot on ground as we do), digitigrade (tip-toeing like a fox or coyote), or unguligrade (en pointe in ballet, like the ungulates–deer, moose, sheep), and sketch what we saw.

f-tina

Sketching is a fabulous way to take a closer look.

f-mary

And so we did,

f-fred

with intensity,

f-beth-b

curiosity,

f-christy

smiles,

f-cheryl

and giggles.

f-gordon

From tiny

f-beth

to big, we had them all to study.

f-sharon

We wondered what we’d find.

f-ruth

And survived some interesting scents (think skunk).

f-susan-penny

Probably the best part was that we renewed friendships formed through a combined interest in learning about the natural world.

f-raccoon-1-1

My own sketches were rather primitive.

f-muskrat-1-1

But it was noticing the details that appealed to me most.

f-opossum-2-1

One of my favorite pairs–the opossum with its opposable thumb, puffy pads and grip bumps.

f-opossum-cast-1

When we finished sketching, we made some casts in clay. These illustrate the opossum better than I ever could.

f-red-fox-cast-1

My final cast was the red fox–I love that the chevron shows in the print on the left and the hairiness of its feet is evident.

f-cover-1-1

At the end of the seminar, we celebrated the release of the second edition of Track Finder, written by Dorcas.

f-dorcas-feet

And coveted her bear claw shawl–a gift from her guy.

f-attribution-1-1

As she gave me my signed book, she told me to take a look at the Acknowledgements. She acknowledged me! I’m not sure why, but I’m certainly humbled and honored.

I also love her note to her guy–about the road kill in the freezer.

Yup, we stayed indoors today and tickled some feet. They tickled us back.

 

 

Every Day is a Gift

It’s Earth Day and yet, I wanted to hibernate. That didn’t go so well. First, I looked out the living room window this morning and noticed a skunk staggering as it walked in circles–like a dog chasing its tail–only the skunk kept falling to the ground and then getting up and continuing in the same fashion. So I called the game warden. A neighbor did the same and a short time later an animal control officer put the skunk out of its rabid misery.

a-blues1

And then I was supposed to co-lead a hike in Pondicherry Park, but still in hibernate-mode, I managed to get out of it. My excuse–work load. Which was true, but staying focused wasn’t happening. So, I headed out the back door and decided to change my point of view. The high bush blueberry leaf buds began to do the trick as they offered their gift of quiet beauty.

a-red map2

a-red maple 1

Nearby, red maples practically screamed for attention. Male flowers have long, extended stamens that are coated in dusty yellow-green pollen. The females have a well developed ovary with two long stigmas but the stamens are reduced in size and non-functional. Just seeing them lifted my mood.

a-ta1

As I made my way to the vernal pool, I stopped to smell the trailing arbutus, aka Mayflower. But sniff as I did while squatting on all fours, I couldn’t smell the soft scent people rave about. And I have a good sniffer. For me, the gift of this wildflower is all in the joy it brings as one of our first to bloom.

a-tad 4

My next stop, was of course, the vernal pool that I frequent on a regular basis. While something has been disturbing some of the egg masses, others continue to develop.

a-tadpole 1

Each little tadpole swims about in its jelly-covered egg, offering a gift of hope.

a-sally3

Salamander eggs also are enjoying the warmth of being encased in jelly–especially where the sun shines upon them. It’s most helpful for development when the egg masses can float to the top of the pond and take advantage of the sun’s heat.

a-sally 1

For now, each little pod within the orb reminds me of coffee beans.

a-water st2

While standing silently beside the pool, I began to notice other forms of life, including the water striders. Do you see the two mating? These wonders of the natural world appear to skate on water, but really its the water-repellant hairs on their hind and middle legs that allow them to glide nimbly across the surface. They offer a gift of amazement.

a-mosquito1

Their favorite food happens to be abundant in this pool–mosquito larvae. I have to say it’s a food offering, but also a gift to all of us–we should celebrate the water striders as much as we do the dragonflies.

a-tom 2

I left the pool and realized I was among the turkeys. Tom was ready to offer his gift to his harem. Such a handsome dude.

a-grady 4

And with that, I realized that I was ready to join the world again so I drove to the trailhead for Bald Pate to join Loon Echo Land Trust for an Earth Day hike. The leader of the gang was this precocious tyke. At three years old, I kept insisting he’s 33. He kept telling me he’s only three. It can’t be. Though this was his first mountain to climb, I suspect there are many more in his future. He offered just the right tonic today and I fell in love.

a-view

As we climbed, we paused to look west and admire the view. Though the sun wasn’t truly shining, the day was getting brighter, literally and figuratively.

a-pitch cone

At the summit, we took time to examine the pitch pine cones with their prickly scales. Sometimes beauty has an edge.

a-grady and carrie mean pose

Before we descended, our little hiking buddy posed with his mom, the outgoing executive director of Loon Echo. Carrie will be missed and we wish her and her family well as they prepare for their move to Wisconsin in a couple of months. Her dedication to land conservation is to be admired. And that mean-looking grin–oh my.

a-adam 1

Also to be admired and the reason our local community and those beyond have been dealing with extreme shock these past couple of days–Adam Perron, who’s life was snuffed out two days ago in a tragic accident. Adam was the milfoil dude and a naturalist/educator at Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, where I serve on the board (and chair the ed cmt). He was also a student in the Maine Master Naturalist Program (Falmouth 2014) when I served in my first year as a mentor, so we spent many hours carpooling to classes and field trips and solving all kinds of environmental problems–in our opinions at least.

a-adam2

He was most at home in places like Holt Pond, where he loved to share his knowledge with others. R.I.P. Adam. I’m grateful for the gift of time spent in your presence. It strikes us all that your candle was snuffed out way too early, but as a friend reminded me today, we never know when it is our turn. Here’s to you, Beth and Abby.

And to everyone else, hug the ones you love and don’t forget to wonder. Every day is a gift.

 

 

 

Learning from the Master

Through the Maine Master Naturalist Program I’ve become acquainted with the most fabulous people from across the state. And today I had the pleasure of sharing time with a few of them as we participated in a seminar entitled “Down to Earth: Elementary Mapping and Surveying for the Naturalist.”

Our instructor was the one and only Fred Cichocki, MMNP Science Advisor and one of the MMNP founders. In less than five minutes of being in Fred’s presence, one realizes he/she will come away with a variety of ways to create tools of the trade AND more knowledge than anyone can possibly retain.

Today’s mission: learning to map the land on a small scale–in this case by using a planetable survey method.

c-tools of the trade

After an indoor introduction to the idea of simple map making, Fred gave us some literature and supplies.

c-threaded socket

We all felt official when we received our own drawing boards with a threaded socket on the back side so we could attach them to a camera tripod.

c-pond1

With gear in hand, we walked to the farm pond at Chewonki.

c-woodfrog eggs1

Of course, we were instantly distracted.

c-wood 3

Wood frog egg masses begged for our attention.

c-spotted eggs

Spotted salamander masses also warranted a notice.

c-duck 2

And I learned about something else–duckweed. This tiny aquatic plant floats on or just beneath the surface. When I first saw it, I thought it was some sort of feed that had flowed into the water after the recent rain events.

c-duck weed and egg masses

It seemed invasive, but did create a rather pretty mosaic mixed in with the egg masses.

c-gordon pole

Before we started our mapping task, as a group we walked around the pond and decided where to place pin flags–to indicate a change in the shoreline or a key feature such as a rock or tree. Each flag was marked with a number.

c-denise, rod

Then we split into two teams and took turns with the various tasks, including holding the range pole by each pin flag.

c-adjusting the tripod

Meanwhile, across the pond we set our drawing boards on tripods and spent some time adjusting them to be level. We also measured out our first two points–A to B.

c-Cathie casting an eye

With Fred’s guidance, we used our triangular engineering rulers as alidades–straight-edged sighting devices, and a straight pin as a turn point.

c-dick drawing lines

Once we had the range pole in sight, we drew lines on our map sheets.

c-point a to b

From Point A and Point B, two spots we’d all agreed from the start marked a straight edge on the pond, we took sight of each pin flag, drew the related line, and labeled it.

c-thistle weed

Before we went in to do some more work, a few things caught our eyes–our NDD (Nature Distraction Disorder) was acting up again with the sight of these thistles displaying their winter form.

c-thistle leaves

Nearby, the prickly-leafed rosettes speak to the plant’s future.

c-bald eagles

And overhead, two bald eagles played in the wind.

c-points intersect

Back inside, we followed the two sets of lines out and noted their intersection.

c-points 2

Then we connected the intersections with a line that indicated the perimeter of the pond–in theory. Um, in reality, my team was admittedly off. Our beginning scale was longer than it should have been and our table not always level so the pond’s shape was not quite accurate. But just the same, the process had us all jazzed to try again.

the process

We learned from each other and considered future tweaks. (Thanks to Denise for the photo)

c-smiles 2

At the end of the day, we were all smiles because we’d spent time learning from the master. Thank you, Fred.

 

 

 

 

 

Community-centered Mondate

While it wasn’t the first Mondate I wrote about, one of our early Mondates in the past year occurred at the Greater Lovell Land Trust property we headed to today–Back Pond Reserve in North Waterford/Stoneham.

m-eagle 1

On our way we were forced to stop by Bear Pond for a regal sight.

m-Ron

And another regal sight along the trail–I’ve given thanks to Ron before and I know I’ll thank him again (RIP Ron) for his foresight in encouraging the greater community to protect the water quality of the Five Kezar ponds by purchasing and placing “The Mountain” area in conservation easement.

m-climbing view

As we climbed through the beech/oak forest, I paused to take a photo. Lo and behold, my camera didn’t work. I was certain I’d charged the battery, but it wouldn’t click. I tried a back-up battery to no avail. Frustration set in, but my guy reminded me that I could always take photos with my phone. I’m not one-hundred percent convinced that I’ve mastered phone photos, but decided it was better than nothing. This meant, however, less time focusing on photos and more time focusing on us. And that got me thinking about time. We were on a bit of a time crunch today, but the more important thing was that we were spending our time together doing what we love doing–hiking and being in each other’s presence. We spend so much time worrying about all that needs to be done and making money to do those things. But really, in the end will that matter? I don’t think so. I think it will be far more important that we learn to appreciate what is around us and figure out how to share that wealth with others. It won’t always have a monetary value attached because as they (whoever they are) say, “Money isn’t everything.” Is money anything? It certainly doesn’t grow on these trees. Or does it?

m-community changes trail conditions

Though there was snow underfoot for most of the beech/oak community as we climbed, under the hemlocks it was a different story.

m-bare summit

And when we reached the summit of The Mountain Trail, nothing but bare ground due to its southwest orientation.

m-summit phone

We sat on a rock and enjoyed the sun while absorbing the view below and beyond. With the  phone I captured the moment.

m-view

And then I pulled out my camera again. Determination is the name of my game. Turns out I’d been wearing mittens as we began and my big muffs must have hit the wrong setting–creating a 10-second time lapse. Had we wanted to pose for a photo we would have been all set but that’s not our style. Hardly a selfie in our photo album. It is curious to notice the difference in color and wider range of the phone photo. But I prefer my Canon.

m-trailing arbutus

Near the summit, trailing arbutus announced its future plans.

m-connector trail

While trail maps show The Mountain Trail and Ron’s Loop, we long ago learned by chance that the two are connected via a trail down the backside. Today we reminisced about the first time we ever traveled this route and how we struggled to find our way. Though it still has its share of obstacles, it’s now much more obvious.

m-no snow under hemlock

The community changed from evergreens to hardwoods with occasional evergreens. And with that, the snow conditions also changed. We paused below this hemlock to admire the subtle transition.

m-hare

And we recalled our delightful experience of observing a hare in this very spot almost a year ago.

m-snowshoe hare scat

Today only tracks and scat alerted us that hares live in the neighborhood.

m-bobcat 1

Hare tracks weren’t the only ones we saw. All along the trail, though not quite as clear, we recognized that a bobcat had made a pass.

m-first bear tree

We also recognize dmarks we’ve previously admired on some old beech trees.

m-bear claw marks.jpg

I could almost feel the claw grasping the bark–both front and hind visible here. But there’s so much more going on with this tree. It hosts a community of visitors from big black bears to minute beech scales that cause the bark to develop cankers around its invasion. And in between–other insects and woodpeckers.

m-bear tree variety of life

It’s a tree of life even as it reaches toward death. Eventually it will fall and we will no longer celebrate its bear claw marks, but as it decays, it will leave a legacy on which these woods depend. The cycle of life. The work within the community.

m-pileated.jpg

Another beech down the trail displayed its form of the same gift.

m-broken bridge crossing

We reached the first of the crossings–this one still on the connector trail that once served as a snowmobile trail. For as long as we’ve traveled this way the bridge we were about to cross has been broken.

m-new bear tree

Though conditions were good, with my camera working again, my journey slowed. My guy accused me of searching for bear trees. And he was right. And I was further rewarded. I found one neither of us recalled seeing before.

m-new bear 2

m-new bear 1a

One foot atop another. Upward mobility in search of sustenance.

m-beech nut 2

It’s here for the taking.

m-yellow birch scales and seeds

At last, we found our way onto Ron’s Loop, where we turned right at the bridge and continued on. The community changed and here we found the fleur de lis and winged seeds of yellow birches settling onto their community of choice–moss upon a boulder.

m-fungi community

Creating a dense bouquet is the violet-toothed polypore community– a reminder that there’s beauty in age.

m-lonely pine

And beauty in singleness.

m-deer browse 2

We’re in the neighborhood where deer browse red maples.

m-raccoon prints

And raccoons venture forth on semi-warm winter nights.

m-raccoon diagonal

We rejoiced in recognizing the alternate-angled pattern of the trail they leave behind.

m-birch polypores

There were always surprises. Birch polypores decorated this paper birch that masked its condition with a healthy appearance.

m-brook

Despite my caution, we made several successful brook crossings.

m-my guy's prints

And I followed my guy to the end of the Earth–well, at least to the end of the trail–though I suspect he knows I’d follow him anywhere. He’s a good guy. Actually, he’s a great guy.

m-map.jpg

We paused at the kiosk to check the map. Imagination is a necessity–no kidding. For this moment you must connect the summit of The Mountain Trail to the far end of Ron’s Loop–thus re-creating the connector trail between the two.

m-5 kezar ponds road

Suddenly we are back on 5 Kezar Ponds Road headed toward our truck.

m-hornets nest

And here we found remnants of another community that is integral in the overall system of life.

As we drove home, we paused again by Bear Pond and the bald eagle didn’t let us down. Though the ice fishermen and women weren’t about today, it knew this community to be prime hunting grounds.

As for us, our hike was quick today because we had our own community efforts to join–he had a Lions Club meeting and I had a Maine Master Naturalist board meeting. We do our best to provide support in any way we can. It’s important to us to be community-centered–even on a Mondate. And by the way–the Lions are always looking for contributions to support their eye-sight programs; and the Maine Master Naturalist Program is still accepting applications for its Tier One course being offered from May-Sept this year in Bridgton, Farmington and Mount Desert Island.

 

 

 

Wer-if-est-er-i-a-ing A-long

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Thank you to my friend, Judy Lynne, who shared this word with me today. I know I do it, but I didn’t know there was a word for it. And I love that it’s an Old English word–takes me back to college days and my History of the English Language Class where we learned to read in Old and Middle English.

And so it was that today I wandered longingly through the forest in search of mystery with five other naturalists–all MMNP grads who will bring the Master Naturalist course to Bridgton in the spring of 2016.

After a tour of Lake Environmental Association’s Maine Lakes Science Center, we took care of some housekeeping items (coursework) before heading out the door. I made them practically run through Pondicherry Park–well, maybe run is an overstatement, but we moved quickly for us–not much time for werifesteriaing.

It was our afternoon tramp at Holt Pond when we allowed ourselves more time to pause and wonder.

HP snake

As we started down the trail, Beth saw this snake hidden among the leaf litter. It’s the third garter snake I’ve seen this week. The day was overcast and we weren’t sure if he was coiled up because he was cold or if something had attacked him.

HP Muddy River

We stepped onto the boardwalk to view the Muddy River and it almost sank beneath our weight. The water is quite high and I suspect I know why.

HP beaver works

Off to the side, we saw fresh evidence of beaver works.

HP beaver lodge, Muddy River

And in the river, a lodge topped with new sticks. I think the dam down the river has probably been rebuilt.

Looking from this vantage point, the layers of communities are pronounced, with the wetland plants like leatherleaf, sheep laurel and sweet gale growing low by the river, topped by alders and small red maple trees, topped by tamaracks, topped by white pines, hemlocks and Northern red oaks.

HP layers from Muddy River

Similar layers surrounded us with the bright red winterberries forming the creme between two wafers.

HP pitcher 1

As happens each time I pass this way, I am forced to photograph the pitcher plants.

HP pitcher 2, picture

Have you ever noticed the pictures on the hairy inner lip? Do you see what I see? A woodland landscape–trees with extended branches, a layer of colorful foliage and a grassy edge leading to the lake (water in the cup)? I know the hairs and design are important for the attraction of insects, but I never really paid attention to the actual design before.

HP Wooly aphid

We also found more woolly alder aphids, which Joan and Ann held in their hands so everyone could get an unclose look at the squiggly insects. Rather disgusting, yet fascinating.

Holt PondHP north 2

Even a single moment at Holt Pond translates into tranquility. (And I had to channel this moment for Judy Lynne.)

HP bog boardwalk, water

Gordon, Beth and Joan tried to keep their feet dry as we examined the plant life along the quaking bog boardwalk.

HP cranberries

Karen spotted one cranberry and then another, and another, so everyone could sample the tart flavor. Pucker up.

HP owl pellet

Our next fun find–a raptor pellet comprised of hair and bones galore. For the naturalist course, this will come into play.

HP raining leaves 3

Every once in a while, I’d ask if it was raining. It was–beech and oak leaves.

HP old hemlock varnish conk

While we stopped to admire several older hemlock varnish conks, something else caught our attention.

HP mystery bark

Do you know what it is?

HP fur

And then Ann spotted this little tidbit–leftover from someone’s dinner. We still don’t know who ate whom. Or if it was related to our earlier find of the pellet.

What we do know is that we spent a delightful day werifesteriaing along.

HP fun mystery

As for the mystery photo–the inside of hemlock bark. This is the bark that I think of when trying to remember how trees decay–hardwoods rot from the inside out, softwoods rot from the outside in, but hemlock bark often remains. In the 19th century, hemlock bark was used in the tanning process because the tannins found in the bark preserved a hide and prevented natural decay while giving it a brown hue. At the same time, the tannin left the leather flexible and durable.

Here’s hoping you’ll have the opportunity to wander longingly in search of mystery.

Soaking Up Solitude

It just so happened that my guy and oldest son had to work today and our youngest is exploring Chicago for a few days before heading home for the summer. So, on this Mother’s Day, I did what I do–went for a hike by myself.

kiosk

Thanks to the efforts of Loon Echo Land Trust, and the people who support this organization, there is a network of trails that loop around and over Bald Pate in South Bridgton. Initially, the land was purchased from a paper company to protect it from becoming the site of a TV tower. The Bald Pate Mountain Preserve encompasses 486 acres and has 6.7 miles of trails. I covered most of them today.

Moose Trail sign

The Moose Trail was at times dry and other times wet. Though this sign directs hikers to the Beech Thicket, really, much of the lower part of the mountain is covered in beech–an indication that the land was previously disturbed.

horsetail

Along the way, I found Woodland Horsetail, an Equisetum. The whorled branches apparently reminded those who came before of a horse’s tail.

hobblebush

A few Hobblebush Viburnums were in full bloom. One of the extraordinary things about this plant is that the showier outer rim of flowers are sterile, while the inner flowers have both stamens and pistils. Today’s lesson–male flower part, stalk is called filament, pollen producing sac at tip is the anther, together they form the stamen(stay men); pistil–female flower part, the stigma at the top receives the pollen, which is sent down the style, a tube-like structure, leading to the ovary, where the potential seeds or ovules are located. (She’s a pistil) Phew! Got through that discussion.

Indian Cucumber

Indian Cucumber Root is the double-decker of the plant world. When it has two tiers, such as this one, it has enough energy to produce a flower. And the root is edible. This I know first hand. I’m not the forager some of my friends are, but the root really does taste a bit cucumbery.

wild sasparilla

Another plant with an edible root, Wild Sarsaparilla was used as a tonic and was the source of root beer–until we learned how to make it out of artificially flavored syrup.

trail marker

I followed the squiggly trail marker to the summit, hiking from the Moose Trail to the South Face Loop Trail and continuing past the Pate Trail. The trail is well marked and maintained. On the climb up, I kept looking for my favorite signs.

bobcat

Found some. Bobcat prints in the mud.

coyote scat--apple

Coyote scat filled with apple skin and seeds. The property abuts an orchard. In fact, at Five Fields Farm, winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding on a network of trails through the orchard and onto the preserve.

coyote

A coyote print dried in the hardened mud.

garter snake

And a garter snake slithered away from me. I actually saw another later on.

beech nuts

I found beech nuts on the trail, but no bear claw marks, which surprised me considering the number of mature beech trees. And interestingly, while some of the beech trees suffer from infection due to the beech scale insect, many are quite healthy.

initials

One black bear did carve its initials into bark. We only raise intelligent black bears in these parts.

PeabodySebago

Ascending via the backside of the ledges, I soon came to the view of Peabody Pond and Sebago Lake beyond. The only other people I saw was a family of five at the summit.

pp3

Pitch Pine trees are the most fire resistant in Maine and the summit features a community of these.

pp needles

While White Pines have a bundle of five needles, Pitch Pines have three in a bundle.

pp cone

And prickly-scaled cones.

lichen on granite

The “bald” mountain top is the reason I am who I have become. Being outside and hiking have always been part of my makeup, but when our oldest was in fifth grade, I chaperoned a field trip up this mountain that changed everything. The focus was the soils. And along the way, Bridie McGreavy, who at the time was the nature educator for Lakes Environmental Association, sat on the granite surrounded by a group of kids and me, and told us about the age of the lichens and their relationship to the granite and I wanted to know more. I needed to know more. That was the beginning and I give thanks to LEA, Loon Echo Land Trust, the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Maine Master Naturalist Program for continuing my education.

Foster pond

There was so much more to see, like this view of Foster Pond from the Foster Pond Lookout Trail.

bb1

And these bell-shaped flowers. I’ll be back when they turn to fruit. There will be plenty to pick.

3 beeches

I may have been soaking up my alone time (or maybe that was just sweat–it was hot), but my thoughts were of my three guys.

Happy Mother’s Day to all. As one of my college friends wrote the other day, “whether we are mothers to children, aging parents, pets, or all of the above, we deserve to celebrate!!” Love that sentiment, BMD 🙂

And I love that you’ve taken the time to wonder along with me. See, I wasn’t alone after all.