Book of December: A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING TREES of the NORTHEAST

Fellow master naturalist Alan Seamans recently sent me an e-mail with this message: “I found a new book that might be of interest to you. It’s called A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, published Oct. 3, 2017. Rather than leaves, buds or flowers, he focuses on bark, stature, habitat, and some other techniques to teach beginners how to recognize about 40 common tree species. It’s a compact softcover guide, very educational, lots of photos illustrating his points. Not text heavy. I like it, and learned many things.”

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Book of December

And so I did what I often do when I hear of a book that might interest me and marched into Bridgton Books in search of a copy. Alan was correct. It isn’t text heavy and indeed simplifies things in a way a dichotomous key cannot. Actually, this book includes so many of the nuances I like to share along the trail with folks who are looking at trees for the first or hundredth time and as I read it I felt like I was on a guided tour with a new friend.

Mikolas begins this tree identification book by restricting the focus area to the Northeast–in a zone those of us who live in New England may find amusing for it ranges from our grand states south to West Virginia and west to Indiana and Michigan. As he explains, though, that’s the Northeast as defined by the World Geographical Scheme of Recording Plant Distributions.

The book is divided into two sections–deciduous or broad-leaf trees and coniferous–or cone-bearing trees. And within each section, it’s broken down into individual trees with plenty of photographs to explain each characteristic.

Mikolas keeps it simple and I wish I’d had this book when I first began my journey into familiarizing myself with different tree species. Similar to the approach taken by Donald W. Stokes in A Guide to Nature in Winter, who suggested learning six deciduous trees and the evergreens, Mikolas also encourages the reader to start with the most common, though he prefers the number twelve.

I wondered what I might learn or relearn as I began reading. And found plenty of information, some of it already stored in my brain, and more to be tucked away.

s-target

The book begins with red maple, which always has something red to display, but Mikolas also mentions the target fungus that affects only this species, creating a round bull’s eye on the bark. I know from experience that once your eye focuses on the target, you’ll begin to see if on so many maple trees. And as he said, and a forester told me several years ago, here in western Maine, 90% of our maples are Acer rubrum. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, except for one instance that I could find, he doesn’t use the Latin names. For some folks, that may be a downfall, but this is a beginner’s guide.

b-twisted maple

I was pleased that he included the twisting of a sugar maple. Other trees twist as well and I can remember first realizing this while tramping with a friend. We couldn’t understand what was going on. The reason for the spiral growth is on page 26–you’ll have to read it for yourself.

After describing these two trees, as he does periodically throughout the book, Mikolas gives clues on how to tell them apart. For these two, he describes their habitat, bark, twig and bud color.

m-beech sunshine

One of the clues he provides for beech trees is the fact that the leaves remain on the trees all winter. What I like about his comment is that he says this happens on young trees, for indeed, since I started paying attention, that’s what I’ve noted.

b-marcescent leaf

He also described the habit of oaks retaining their leaves, but what he didn’t mention was the term to describe this habit: marcescence or withering. Maybe I was disappointed because I just like to say marcescence.

b-ash bark

When it came to ash trees, I was pleased that he described the bark as being diamond-shaped, but he added an X to the pattern and that may help when I next look at an ash tree with others. Some have a difficult time finding the diamonds. They don’t exactly glitter in the sunshine.

b-aspen bark

I was thankful that when it came to the quaking and big-toothed aspen trees, Mikolas acknowledged that they are difficult to identify by bark alone. A few years ago, I spent some time practicing my tree ID with two different foresters and when I asked about these trees, they too, had a difficult time pinpointing the differences. Both were sure we were looking at quaking, but a quick scan of the ground below showed us big-tooth leaves.

b-aspen 2

One thing I’d add to Mikolas’ description is that on the lower portion of older trees, the vertical lines are similar to that of a red oak. One of the really cool tricks I picked up from the book in reference to aspens is what he calls “birds on a wire.” Again, you’ll need to purchase a copy to find out what he means. Or join me for a tramp.

b-grandaddy birch

Another description that brought a smile to my face was how he casted a mature and shaggy yellow birch as “the granddads or old wise men of the forest.”

b-yellow birch

I had the good fortune to meet one such character just the other day.

b-basswood

In reference to basswood,  Alan Seamans wrote in his e-mail message: “I didn’t know you could confirm i.d. of basswoood by the sound it makes when you hit it with a stick!” I didn’t either, but you can bet that’s on my list of things to do–frequently.

b-paper-birch-old

Mikolas’ photo essay on the aging of paper birch bark from a teen to an old man is well worth a look. My only disagreement with him in this section is that what he sees as an inverted V over the branch, looks more like an inverted U to me, or as I’ve always described it–a fu manchu mustache of sorts.

b-gray birch

Likewise, Mikolas sees black triangles under the branches of gray birches. I could agree with him on that for when I say it’s a chevron, people don’t always get what I’m talking about. One friend, in keeping with the paper birch’s mustache, suggested the gray birch may have a beard–a gray beard. Mikolas also says that gray birches are chalkier than paper–experiment for yourself  by rubbing your fingers on the bark and come to your own conclusion on that one.

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Turning to striped maples, I was tickled to learn a new common name. He used goosefoot, which describes the leaf shape,  and moosewood because deer and moose like to leave their scent by rubbing their antlers on the bark, but a name I hadn’t heard before–whistle wood. Apparently, slip-bark whistles can be carved from striped maple or willow in the spring.

n-Central Park 1

I do wish I’d read this book before venturing to Central Park a few weeks ago. I was in awe of the American elms that grow there, and wondered about their health given that so many elms have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. What I didn’t realize is that what I saw before me was one of the largest and last stands of these majestic trees.

b-red pine plantation

Heading back into a woodland setting, and this one was actually in Vermont, occasionally we stumble upon red pine plantations. It was my understanding that these were planted by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps between 1938 and 1942 to provide farmers with a hill crop and others with employment. When walking in the woods and suddenly encountering a sterile environment where trees stand stalwart in lines and there is no undergrowth due to the thick needle cover below, and little diversity in wildlife, one may have entered such a plantation. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and provided work.

hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

In the forest, I often discover hemlock and balsam fir saplings sharing a space. One word of caution when it comes to differentiating between the hemlock shown here and balsam fir needles that are shown on page 188–both have two white stripes of stomata on the underside. There are other clues to help tell them apart and I’ve actually written about such in the upcoming issue of Lake Living magazine so you’ll have to stay tuned.

spiky spruce

And then there are the spruces and I have to admit, I have a difficult time with red versus white, though forester friends have said they hybridize. I noticed that Mikolas mentions both, but doesn’t provide the fine details about scent and twig hair. Perhaps it’s enough to know it’s a spruce–especially if it’s spikey to the touch.

b9-tamarack gold

The tree descriptions conclude with the one and only deciduous conifer of our woods–the tamarack–the cone-bearing tree that loses its leaves (needles) each winter.

And with that, I will conclude this rather lengthy review. I’m so glad Alan recommended it to me, for it really is a gem. I hope you’ll purchase a copy and together we can head out on the tree trail and get to know our local species even better.

Put A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST on your wish list and shop local.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST, by Mark Mikolas, published 2017, The Countryman Press.

Post script, or maybe it should be post post. This comment appears on my About page, but I couldn’t resist including it here. I’m always tickled and honored when an author responds to one of my posts:

Thanks so much for the detailed and positive review of my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees. It sounds like it would be great to take a hike with you. I really appreciate the good press. –mm

Liked by you

  1. Mark, Thank YOU so much for taking the time to read this and comment. I think A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees is a fabulous addition to my book shelf and back pack. In fact, I’m on the board of the Maine Master Naturalist Program and asked our curriculum coordinator to review it. If it doesn’t become one of our text books, it should at least be on our recommended reading list. Well done, indeed. Oh, and if you’re ever in western Maine–give a shout. LMH

 

Book of November: Half Acre

I am so tickled for my friend and fellow naturalist, Sarah Frankel, who recently published her first book.

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Half Acre is a children’s book both written and illustrated by this talented young lady.

In rhyming fashion, she takes the younger set outdoors to explore her yard, which is a half acre in size. The size, however, is not important because Sarah knows how to look and to wonder. Or maybe in this case, it is important, because she wants others to realize that there are great things to find on their own small plot of land.

And now she and her husband are teaching their young daughter to do the same. Her hope is that the book will encourage others to step outside and notice as well.

In thirty-four pages, Half Acre explores the yard in all seasons and at different times of day. As much as I enjoyed the rhymes, I especially loved the paintings–of birds and leaves, flowers and bees, butterflies and trees, moss and ferns, night sky and nocturnal visitors, and so much more. Can you find the frozen tree frog? You’ll have to buy the book and look for it.

My favorite painting is the last one–with her house in middle, surrounded by snippets from each of the other paintings, like a sugar maple leaf floating in midair. There’s more to this painting though, for Sarah takes the reader through the four seasons at the house–in 8 x 6-inches, she begins with winter on the left and every two inches the season changes,  ending with autumn on the right. I wish I could share that with you, but you’ll just have to trust me and purchase the book. Of course, she used the same scene to introduce her half acre of land, but it really stands out in the final mural framed by small portions of all the other paintings.

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Since I’m on the topic of Sarah, though this isn’t a book, I was the recipient of one of her paintings. For the past four years, it has leaned against the wall on a counter in the butler’s pantry and makes me think of both Sarah and Mom.

Of Sarah because she knows winter is my favorite time of year and she included tracks in the snow, a starry night, full moon and a shooting star. When I was a Maine Master  Naturalist student, Sarah was a mentor. At that time, though she lived in Conway, NH, she worked at Lakes Environmental Association as the Education Director. And so, we’d drive to and from class at Bates College in Lewiston together. On our way home one night, we saw a shooting star. And many times we tramped together on snowshoes, following mammal tracks. I have to share one more fond memory–the spring night that it rained and we tried to dodge the frogs and salamanders as we drove home. Finally, we got out a few times and helped the sallies cross the road. We were tired from class, and it was a long drive home that night, but by helping a few, we forgave ourselves for the ones we’d smooshed.

Of Mom, because Sarah gave me the painting after my mother died at the end of January during the year I was taking the course–I’m forever honored by Sarah’s thoughtfulness.

Interested in purchasing the book and meeting Sarah? She’s got some book events coming up in the North Conway, New Hampshire area:

November 11th from 11am-3pm – A book signing at The Met Coffee House and Gallery during the Bring A Friend Shopping weekend.

December 2nd at 3pm – A book signing event at White Birch Books, the best book store around!

December 7th from 6-8pm – A book signing at the Adults Only Shopping Night at The Toy Chest. Shop for the holidays, get a copy of Half Acre signed for your little ones and pick your own discount on the way out.

December 9th at 10am – Read aloud, book signing and outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library. What creatures can we find in the gardens and lawn of the Conway Public Library? Come and see for yourself!

I can’t wait to attend one of these, give her a hug, and ask her to sign my copy. And I may have to steal a kid to attend the outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library.

Is there a young’un in your life? Then I think Half Acre should finds its way onto their book shelf.

Half Acre, written and illustrated by Sarah Frankel, LifeRich Publishing, 2017. And available at www.liferichpublishing.com, or a local independent bookstore.

Lichen Everything We See

The Tuesday morning Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramps don’t typically have a theme–we just like to explore a property together to see what it has to offer and learn from each other. But this morning I tried to invoke one–lichens–since we recently had Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel present a talk on the topic and a few days later he led a walk for us.

w-on the trail (1)

I’m happy to say, we are who we are and within minutes we found ourselves easily distracted.

w-many fruited pelt lichen

We did spot a variety of lichens and talked about their forms and substrates. The youngest among us at age 5 found this pelt lichen growing among the mosses.

w-Wes

In fact, he spotted it just after he’d jumped off what he deemed Jockey Cap, a rock that represented the 600-foot ledge that overlooks neighboring Fryeburg. We welcome his keen eyes and those of his siblings, for they see things we overlook and have a natural curiosity. (Don’t you just want to pinch those cheeks?)

w-green stain fruiting

In fact, his oldest brother was the first to spot this fungi, the turquoise fruiting bodies of green stain fungi that I used to think was a remnant trail blaze. The fruits are minute but the color spectacular.

w-scaly vase chanterelle

And so our eyes began to focus on other fungi, the fruiting bodies of which are a result of all the rain we’ve received. Another great find today–scaly vase chanterelles. Our British docent, who is a fungi aficionado, reminded us, “It’s veys here, but back home I’d say vahz.”

w-ant pupa in heart shape

And then there was the heart that we had to love. One of our group had stumbled by a tree stump and some bark slipped off. Beneath it, the adults in an ant colony quickly went to work, moving their pupa to a safer location and we watched for a few minutes as they worked–the heart slowly losing form.

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All along the way, our interns took time to explain things to the younger set.

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And the younger set took time to practice what they knew,

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such as the fact that if you pop a balsam blister, the resin will ooze out. And your fingers may stick together. But it will smell like Christmas.

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It took us almost two hours to walk less than a mile and climb the “eagle nest” overlooking Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog.

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A few stayed below and made more discoveries.

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We finally reached Horseshoe Pond Road, turned right and slowly made our way back to the kiosk where we’d parked. But still, we stopped periodically and took in the sights, including the pipsissewa in bloom.

w-spider

And a spider that was dangling when first spotted by one, but on the dirt road when we all gathered round. Check out the design on its legs.

w-lungwort

After all but one had left, she and I chatted over our brown bag lunches and then ventured across the street to the Bishops Cardinal Reserve in preparation for tomorrow’s  Lovell Rec Summer Camp Nature Hike. We offer two hikes–one for the younger set and another for the older kids, who wish we’d talk less and walk more. We can take a hint and so we do that for them. But still, there are cool things to see. We determined some fine stopping points today for the mammal theme, but the lungwort lichen also called out with its bright green coloration after yesterday’s rain.

w-Horseshoe Pond

Once we’d completed our reconnaissance mission, I decided to stop down the road at the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, ever in search of dragon and damselflies.

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It wasn’t warm or sunny enough, so I didn’t spy any of the odonatas.

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But I did notice hoverflies nectaring the pickerelweed flowers.

w-green frog

And a young green frog jumped into the water upon my approach. As I stood and looked at it, I heard rustling behind me.

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And in the grass, I spied the creator.

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Notice how thick its body was and the keels or ridges on its scales. Plus the coloration–dark brown to gray with reddish brown and even black splotches.

w-snake 1

It held its head up as if searching for me and I could see a variation of color on its neck.

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And then I moved again while it stayed still–the better to see it with.

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That’s when I realized that what I thought was a six-foot-long snake . . .

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turned into two three-foot-long Northern water snakes. Two? Why? They are known to be solitary. And mating season has since passed.

A few minutes later, a vehicle approached on the road above and slowed down. The driver reached out and grabbed a few blueberries from a high-bush shrub. We exchanged greetings and he told me he was stopping by for his daily dose on his way home from work. I asked if he’d seen the snakes, for I recalled seeing one in the same spot a year ago. As he jumped out of his jeep, he told me he’s caught water snakes in the pond while fishing, but he hadn’t seem them by the boat launch. And then . . . he said he wanted to pick one up and in a flash he did just that, catching one by its tail as the other quickly slithered into the water. I was a bit taken aback but the snake danced with such rhythm and force that he had to let go.

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It dropped into the water where we could admire its colors even more.

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And then it swung around–not necessarily to say hello. We noted a small frog nearby and commented on how still green frogs can be.

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Eventually, the snake moved off, all the while its forked tongue dashing in and out . . .

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and in and out some more as it snacked on insects.

So much for a lichen walk–instead, as always, everything spied on today’s adventure was worth liking.

 

 

 

Spotlight on the Brownfield Bog

When I drove to the Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, this afternoon, my intention was to pay attention to the shrubs that grow there.

b-black swallowtail

But, as usual, the distractions were many and a black swallowtail landed as I stepped out of my truck.

b-ant on alder aphid

I did note a tremendous amount of wooly alder aphids coating the alder stems everywhere I walked. In fact, I’ve never seen so much fluff. And I found only one ant eager to milk the sweet honeydew produced by the aphids as they sucked the shrubs sap. Once in a while the white fluff danced in the breeze. Was it an aphid on the fly?

b-willow flowers

Or did it come from the willows that were in the process of sending their seeds forth into the future?

b-Northern Arrowwood

So you see, I was paying attention to the shrubs, especially those in flower like the Northern Arrowwood. There was another with a similar flowerhead, but different leaves and I need to return and spend more time studying it.

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Because I was in the bog, I did pause occasionally to peer across its advance, usually with a view of my favorite mountain (Pleasant Mountain) providing the background.

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But the dragonflies live there. And the chalk-fronted corporals became my BFF, since as many as twenty lifted off with each step I took. They led me all the way down the trail and all the way back, usually a few feet in front.

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The corporals weren’t the only dragons of choice.

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Dot-tailed white face dragonflies were happy to pose.

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And I even found a few calico pennants–happy to make their acquaintance again.

b-white gall on maleberry 2

Between dragon and damselfly opportunities, white globs and . . .

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green caught my attention. They were the size of apples and totally new to me. My thought right now is that they are galls, similar to the azalea gall, but these were on maleberry shrubs. If you know otherwise, I welcome your information.

b-bog view

The bog was swollen with water only a few weeks ago, but that story line has passed and life sprang from the spring like a fountain of youth.

b-damsel love 1

My noticing continued when I spied a couple of youthful damselflies . . .

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he’d attached himself below her . . .

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and ever so slowly advanced . . .

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until the circle of love was complete.

b-lady beetles canoodling

Canoodling of all kinds occurred.

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Even the dragonflies tried to get in on the action.

b-dragonflies canoodling

She wasn’t very tolerant, however, and a couple of seconds later detached herself from her forward position and took off.

b-sedge sprite 1

I moved on, looking here and there and thrilling at the sight of the beautiful and iridescent sedge sprite damselfly.

b-river jewelwing

Following the trail to the Saco River, I found tracks galore in the muck below, and a river jewelwing–appropriately named.

b-Canada geese

As I headed out, I startled a Canada goose family that had been feeding along the edge.

b-ring necked and mountain

And then I paused for one last look at the bog and Pleasant Mountain.

b-ring-necked duck

That’s when I realized I was in the presence of a male ring-necked duck. If you like to bird, this is the place. I saw several but heard so many more. And even if I couldn’t apply a name to a song, I did enjoy the symphony that followed me throughout my adventure.

b-Kathy's bog sign

Though I said I went to look at the shrubs because I do want to learn them, my real reason for going was to see this new installment.

b-Kathy's sign up close

Maine Master Naturalist (and potter) Kathy McGreavy created this handmade and painted map of the bog for her capstone project. Her husband recently installed it and it’s a work of art worth looking at not only to appreciate Kathy’s talent, but also to learn more about the bog and those that call it home.

My hope is that the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on Kathy’s creation . . . made with love in honor of her bog.

The Magic of Maine

Our group was small but our experience enormous as five Maine Master Naturalists met in China, Maine, this morning to participate in a workshop about experiential learning presented by one of our own–the teacher of teachers, Anita Smith.

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Upon arrival at the China School Forest where we met up, our nature distraction disorder (NDD) immediately kicked in for there was an osprey nest on a light post overlooking the ballfield between the middle and primary schools. The forest is a 50-acre tract behind the primary school that serves as a hands-on, outdoor classroom for grades K-8 and all of us really, for it is open to the public.

c-green heron 1

And then our attention was directed to the fire pond, where a stocky green heron displayed its streaked chest and dagger-like bill.

c-green heron crest

We watched him work the edge and loved when he showed off his crest–adding to our agreement about his ID.

c-trail map

At last, we pulled ourselves away and let Anita begin, starting with an overview of the forest’s history and a look at the map posted on the kiosk.

c-yellow rattle 1

We headed off down the trail to a pavilion, but again were easily distracted. This was a plant I didn’t recall meeting previously, but its bladders and yellow faces reminded me of  fish faces. Karen later ID it as yellow rattle for when the seeds form in the bladders later in the season, they rattle.

c-lady's galore

At last we arrived at the pavilion (only a few minutes walk down the trail if one wears blinders) where Anita had us help set up a work station and explained how she has students help cart the supplies. We started to help her, but within seconds Sally spotted the lady’s slippers and again we were distracted.

c-lady's by the dozens

They were so plentiful that we couldn’t resist admiring them.

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Most were princess pink.

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But a few were pure white (not rare, just a form of the pink, but still . . . ).

c-lady's slipper pod

And even others spoke of transformation, with last year’s pods still standing.

c-nature journal

Again, she pulled us back to the subject of the day. Because we were there to learn about activities we might use in our work with children of all ages, Anita had us create our own nature journals. Stamps and markers and pipe cleaners and solar beads and fabric and we were happy campers–each expressing our own creativity in designing the covers.

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While we worked, baby phoebes watched from above.

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Our next stop was the wildlife pond and bridge, where we did some pond dipping and were thrilled with our many findings, like damselfly larvae and tadpoles,

c-caddisfly larva and salamander

damselfly and salamander larvae,

c-water scavenger beetle larva and salamander larva

and water scavenger beetle larvae beside a salamander. There was so much more and we again had a difficult time pulling ourselves away.

c-examining aquatic species

It was the water scavenger beetle larvae that stumped us most, but we had fun identifying as many species as we could and were wowed by the variety available.

c-bird nest

Leave we did at last–only first we checked out a nest Sally had discovered. While it sat upon balsam fir branches, we thought it had fallen from above. And marveled at its construction–balsam fir twigs, fruticose lichen and balsam fir needles, all in their own layers.

c-twin flower

There were other things to see before we moved on, like the delicate twinflowers that bloomed.

c-pondweed and raindrops

An artistic display of pondweed.

c-fragrant water lily

And spadderdock,

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whose flower reminded me of the inner formation of pitcher plant flowers.

c-Anita reading to us

At last, lunch time arrived. And so we returned to the pavilion where Anita shared some of her favorite books. And then she read to us All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan–warning us first that she would cry when she got to the end. Indeed she did, but we were touched for we got it.

c-board feet

After lunch, she took us on a tour to visit some of the seventeen learning stations, including the forest measurements station, where students learn about common measurements related to the forest and wood product industry, including board feet for dimensional lumber.

c-reading tree

Every time I visit the China School Forest, I’m in awe. And today, I knew others, like Kathy and Cathy, felt the same. The forest was full of diverse species and twenty years ago the Town of China and folks like Anita turned it into an incredible space for children and the child in all of us to learn. My favorite spot of all has been “the reading tree” built around a weeviled white pine. Even those in wheelchairs may access it and find a spot to read or watch or listen. After we climbed up, we climbed down, and Anita led us through several fun activities, the last ending with M&Ms. What’s not to love about a seminar that ends with chocolate?

c-Eastern forktail damselfly

On our walk back, our NDD was ever on alert. And so we’d not seen too many dragon or damselflies in the morning, perhaps given the cooler temp. But on our way out, an Eastern forktail damselfly drew our admiration for its green, black and blue coloration.

c-bridge classroom

We were beside the man-made pond when we saw it, where the bridge crosses and where we’d earlier done some pond dipping to observe the aquatic insects. It’s there that a bench sits in the midst of an outdoor classroom.

c-dedicated to Anita Smith

That very bench had been dedicated to our Anita.

c-baby robin 2

Back at the pavilion, we gathered all our gear and then followed the trail out. And that’s when Kathy called from ahead, telling us to watch our step. A baby robin sat on the path. We heard a parent nearby.

And wondered in the magic of the day. Another magical day in Maine.

 

 

 

 

Dodging the Drops Mondate

A friend called this afternoon and her first comment was that she didn’t know if she’d reach me given that it was a Monday. She’d thought about the weather, but figured it wouldn’t bother us and we’d probably be in the woods somewhere. How right she was–and her call came just after we’d returned home.

h-trail sign

Our mission was a work date on the Southern Shore Trail at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. For a number of years, we’ve maintained this section of trail between the last boardwalk just below Knapp Road in South Bridgton and “the field” near the southern tip of Holt Pond. It’s a section that was an Eagle Scout project years ago and we’d helped in creating it, so it’s been our pleasure to keep it clear of fallen trees and branches. Thankfully, this section isn’t traveled often and we rarely find any manmade debris.

h-wild turkey feathers

Immediately we did find some bird debris and wondered what happened to the turkey. A few other feathers were scattered, but we didn’t look further, so we don’t know if there was more to this story.

h-following the wall

Loppers in hand, we turned at the stonewall, and entered the enchanted forest, for that’s how it feels . . .

h-green lichens:mosses

especially given so many shades of green. And a few openings that would make perfect entry points for wee inhabitants.

h-hemlock varnish shelf 1

We moved along at a rather brisk pace (in my opinion, that is, though when I mentioned it to my guy, he brought up other times when we’ve moved much more quickly.) But, I did what I do, and while he picked up sticks and dragged downed trees out of the way, I looked around to see what I might see, like the varnish shelf fungi on a hemlock tree. I questioned myself with this ID because it looked similar to a red-belted polypore, both featuring a glossy lacquer-like sheen and concentric zones of red, yellow and white. But, it grew on a hemlock and I should have snapped an old specimen that was on the ground below. I know if I’m wrong, Parker and Jimmy Veitch of White Mountain Mushrooms and Maine Master Naturalist Alan Seamans will all correct me. If that’s the case, I’ll add a note to this post.

h-Broad gill, more sombero like in nature

I could hear the mushrooms and the mushroom gurus singing praises to the rain gods, given this spring’s rain. And I’m going out on a limb again with broad gill (Tricholomopsis platyphylla) as an ID for this one. (NOTE: from Parker–“The Megacollybia (Tricholomopsis) platyphylla is Entoloma vernum [group])

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There with others, but my favorite of all–swamp beacons lighting the way through puddles.

h-Holt Pond toward Quaking Bog

At last we made our way to an outlook spot with its view of Holt Pond. Across the way, the quaking bog (where the trees are tallest on the left) and Muddy River outlet (just to the right of those tall trees).

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And then we continued through the hemlock forest and on to the field, our turn-around point. Again, we shared memories–of our first reconnaissance mission with Bridie McGreavy when she was LEA’s education director and we decided to take on the task of maintaining the trail. The three of us headed out on a winter day when the snow was deep and soft. Bridie and I were smart–we let my guy cut trail. I’m sure we jumped in front once in a while, but he led the way most of the time and was exhausted by the time we finished. So were we 😉

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There were a few years when we drove in from Fosterville Road, making it easier to bring in bigger equipment to keep the field trail open. Today, I counted the whorls on the white pines in order to age them–they’re at least fifteen years old.

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And loving this rainy season–as evidenced by their recent growth.

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The field is also full of wild strawberries, raspberries, gray birch and sweet-ferns like this–all early succession species.

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On the edge, young big-toothed aspen are slowly getting established. It’s been our great fortune to watch the evolution from field to forest at this almost hidden gem.

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As we backtracked and listened not only to the sweet songs of vireos and veerys, but also to  raindrops sprinkling upon the canopy before drifting down to the understory, we were thankful for our raincoats. A parasol might have been handy, but we weren’t soaked by the time we arrived back at the truck. Somehow, we managed to dodge the drops on our Mondate.

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

Milestones are always important as they mark significant events in our lives. And for me, such an event occurs today as I celebrate the second anniversary of the day wondermyway.com was born.

Since I was in elementary school and made few and far between entries into a chunky journal bound in a green cover (which I still own), to the first empty book journal my sister gave me when I graduated from high school, to a variety of travelogues and other journals I’ve filled from cover to cover,  I’ve recorded my life’s journey from time to time.

The most satisfying for me has been this very blog, to which I’ve added numerous events and discoveries, both natural and historical, over the last two years. As personal as it all is, I’ve taken a leap of faith by sharing it with you. And you have been gracious enough to read it, and comment on it, and “like” it, and sometimes “love” it, and offer me suggestions, corrections and gentle nudges.

Thank  you for following along on the journey. It’s been scary to put myself out there, but I have.

And now, I thought I’d review some favorite finds I noted in posts over the past year. My learnings have been many and it’s been fun to review all that I’ve seen and thought and admired and wondered about. I hope you’ll feel the same and will continue to follow along and comment and share those that you enjoy with your family and friends.

Here’s my countdown , or maybe I should say my count up of favorite moments in time over the past year:

Feb 21, 2016: Celebrating a Year of Wonder-filled Wanders

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I made time one year ago to sit and sketch–one of my favorite activities. To be still and embrace life around me. To notice. And commemorate.

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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Usually, we drive the forest road in to the gate on Hut Road in Stoneham, but in winter it isn’t passable, and thus one must walk–which means paying attention to things you might not normally notice, such as this: a special relationship between a yellow birch and a white pine. Rooted in place, they embrace and share nutrients. Forever conjoined, they’ll dance through life together.

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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While exploring the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s  Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham with my friend, Parker,  who is a master mycologist, he found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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When I first spied this lump of gray I assumed it was a dead mouse. I know, I know–I should never assume because I risk “making an ass out of u and me.” And so I took a closer look. And noticed tons of bones and those orange teeth. An owl pellet filled with the remains of dinner. Owl pellets are extra cool and dissecting one is even cooler. I collected this one but haven’t dissected it because I think it makes for a great teaching tool as is. If you want to see it, just ask.

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

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At the vernal pool, or frog pond as we’ve always fondly referred to it, just steps from our property, I kept a keen eye on the situation last spring. In general, each mass laid by  female wood frogs was attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a warm, sunny spot.

A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.

April 28, 2016: The Big, The Little and Everything in Between

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The phone rang as I stepped out of the shower and a male voice yammered away about something in the snow and it had come last night and I had to get there quickly. My friend, Dick,  was standing in a friend’s yard about a half mile from here and looking at bear tracks in the snow.

As he knew he would, he had me on the word “bear.” His voice was urgent as he insisted I stop everything and get to his friend’s house. “I just need to dry my hair and then I’ll be right there,” I said. Deadlines loomed before me but bear tracks won my internal war. Dick suggested I just wrap a towel around my head. Really, that’s what I should have done because my hair has no sense of style whether wet or dry, so after a few minutes I said the heck with it and popped into my truck, camera and trackards in hand.

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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Along Perky’s Path at the GLLT’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Preserve, a bunch of us had the honor to watch a dragonfly split open its exoskeleton and emerge from the nymph stage. Of course, we were standing by a beaver pond, and so it seemed only appropriate that it would use the top of a sapling cut by a beaver. As it inflated the wings with blood pressure, they began to extend.

May 31, 2016: Slippers Fit for a Princess–Including Cinderella

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Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined. With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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At Lakes Environmental Association‘s Holt Pond Preserve, a friend and I had moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at. Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. It was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

partridge berry

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j-  trailing 7 (1)

In May, trailing arbutus wowed us by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. In June,  they faded to a rusty tone. And some transformed into swollen round seed pods–a first for me to see.

The sepals curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they wouldn’t last long.

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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I posed a question this day: So dear reader, I enjoy teaching you, but now need you to teach me. I found this under another leaf on a shrub. And I often see the same thing stuck to our house. It reminds me of a caddisfly case. What is it?

And fellow Master Naturalist Pam Davis responded: Check out bagworm moths to see if it might be an answer to the stick thing on the leaf and your house. Here’s a discussion: http://nature.gardenweb.com/discussions/2237505/not-a-bug-maybe-a-gall and a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagworm_moth

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

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It was no mistake the this fritillary butterfly chose the beebalm on which to land. Check out its mouth. A butterfly feeds through a coiled mouth part called a proboscis. When not in use, the proboscis recoils and is tucked into position against the butterfly’s head.

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

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My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian Pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

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Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton. One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form. When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug. I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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My favorite wonder of the day . . . moments spent up close with a meadowhawk.

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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My guy and I discovered several of these examples of fungi on fungi at Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Raymond Community Forest and had no idea what they were–so I sent the photos to Parker and Jimmie Veitch, of White Mountain Mushrooms, and Jimmie responded with this explanation:

“That’s what mycologists call “rosecomb” mutation, where a mushroom’s gills start forming on the cap in a really mutated fashion. It’s been reported in many mushroom species but I haven’t seen it in this one (Armillaria AKA honey mushrooms). As far as I know, no secondary fungus is involved.

The suspected cause (not so nice) is ‘hydrocarbons, phenols and other compounds contaminating the casing or contacting the mushroom surface. Diesel oil, exhaust from engines, and petroleum-based pesticides are thought to be the principal source.'”

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

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On a rainy day adventure with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust in nearby New Hampshire, we paused to admire candy lichen, a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration. Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish berets atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

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And then . . . and then . . . and then just as our eyes trained on the red caps before us, something else made itself known. We spied another lichen that I’ve only seen once before: Cladonia cervicornis ssp. verticillate.

Its growth formation is rather unique. In one sense, it reminded me of a sombrero, but in another sense, I saw fountains stacked one atop another, each giving forth life in their own unique fashion. But rather than being called Fountain Lichen, its common name is Ladder Lichen–perhaps referring to the fact that the pixies can easily climb up and up and up again.

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

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A sight I was hoping for presented itself when I returned to our woodlot–froth at the base of a pine tree. It’s not unusual and occurs following a rain event such as we’d had all night and morning. So what causes the tree to froth? Well, like all lessons, there are several possibilities. Maine Master Naturalist Science Advisor Fred Cichocki recently had this to say about it: “I’ve noticed this phenomenon often, and in every case I’ve seen it’s associated with white pine, and always after a dry spell followed by heavy rain. Now, conifers, especially, produce hydrocarbons called terpenes (it’s what gives them their lovely pine, balsam and fir scent). These hydrocarbons are hydrophobic by nature and form immiscible films on water. During a heavy rain, water running down the trunk of a white pine picks up terpenes on the way. Air (having accumulated in bark spaces, channels, etc. perhaps under slight pressure) then “bubbles” through terpene-water films producing a froth. Recall the cleaning products PineSol, and the like. They are made from terpenes, and produce copious bubbles when shaken. One could get the same result directly by shaking terpentine in water, or by bubbling air through a terpentine-water mixture with a straw . . . Of course, it may be that other substances (salts, etc.) enhance the frothing.”

No matter how much I have learned on this life-long course, there’s always more. I certainly don’t have all the answers and for that I am thankful. I’m forever a student.

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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Some cut stumps reminded me of the circular movement leading toward the center of a labyrinth–appearing quick and easy, and yet providing a time to slow down while following the path.

December 23, 2016: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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I followed the porcupine trail along his regular route and over the stonewall only to discover prints I’ve never met before. My first impression was raccoon, but the shape of the prints and the trail didn’t match up in my brain. More and more people have mentioned opossum sightings in the past few years, but I’ve only seen one or two–flattened on the road. Today, in our very woods, opossum prints.

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

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While I always head out with expectations of what my forest wanderings will offer, I’m happily surprised time and time again with the gifts received.

And so it was the other day when a friend and I happened upon this trophy in an area I’ve only visited a few times. We’d been noting the abundant amount of deer tracks and realized we were between their bedding and feeding areas and then voila–this sweet sight sitting atop the snow. It now adorns a bookcase in my office, a wonder-filled addition to my mini natural history museum. (I’m trying to give Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny of the Boxcar Children series a run for their money in creating such a museum.)

January 25, 2017: On the Prowl at Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve

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

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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A bull moose, like a buck deer, thrashes bushes and small saplings when the velvet on its antlers dries. It could be that the velvet itches. But it could also be a response to increasing testosterone and the need to scent mark.

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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When life gives you flakes . . . make a snow angel in the middle of the trail.

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

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!