Winter finally arrived in western Maine this past week in the form of three snowstorms, the last ending with a coating of ice. Between storms, I’ve been teaching others the art of tracking mammals and birds through my work at Greater Lovell Land Trust, as well as a two-day class I taught for a local Senior College, and a day-long class for Maine Master Naturalists.
I love, love, love watching others experience joy as they begin to notice the nuances of print and patterns and scat and sign.
This being the work of a White-tail Deer who scraped its lower incisors up the bark of a tree to get at the cambium layer where the sugars and starches flow. The tags at the top of the scrape are a tell-tale sign because ungulates like deer and moose do not have upper incisors or canines, but rather a hard palate, and yank at the wood as they press their lower incisors against the palate to pull the bark off a tree–mostly Eastern Hemlock or Red Maple.
It wasn’t long after the Senior College outing on Wednesday that snowflakes announcing the third storm began to fly and one of our resident Red Squirrels stopped by to check out the offerings at the bird feeders.
This hearty sole is Ed and as you can see, he’s lost an eye–probably in a disagreement with a sibling, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s perfectly capable of finding food, seeking cover when necessary, and fighting off his brothers.
Ed wasn’t the only one out in the snow, for a male Downy Woodpecker made frequent trips to the suet feeder.
And then, just before twilight the Deer began to appear. The first walked to a Squirrel feeder I was gifted recently, with some peanut butter added to the corn as an enticement. She didn’t seem impressed. I thought that was weird because if you’ve ever made a bird feeder out of pinecones smothered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, you might notice that the Deer lick everything off within hours of hanging the cones from a branch.
Following the arrival of the first Deer, a sibling came in with mom, but they too, were not impressed.
So the thing about watching the Deer, was that they provided a photographic lesson–beginning with the two cloven toes that form the heart-shape of the impression they leave in the snow–with the pointed end of the heart always indicating the direction of travel. And further up the foot are the dew claws, which sometimes show in a print. If you look at the two hind legs, you can see the dew claws just above the snow. I’ve been told that if the dew claws appear, then it is a buck. I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think it has more to do with snow conditions.
And sunflower seed is not their only form of nutrition, for one of the Hemlocks by the stonewall between our yard and woodlot offered some delectable needles full of vitamin C. Do the Deer know that?
Following the storm, a coat of ice covered the tree branches and even the corn, but that didn’t stop Ed’s brother, Fred, from grabbing a kernel. Actually, the corn had originally been placed about two feet off the ground in an area we’d shoveled, but the snow had piled up again, making the meal easy to reach.
I spent yesterday shoveling what felt like cement. The first two storms offered a much fluffier take on snow consistency. Periodically, like Ted, another brother of Ed, I’d duck into the house. His home is a network of tunnels near the feeders, and so far it has provided good protection.
This morning dawned brighter, and a bit frosty to start. While Fred, Ted, and Ed, ate birdseed and chased each other round and round, a Gray Squirrel stopped by to get a handle on things.
The perfect meal was garnered.
As it turned out, today was a super busy day at the feeders, which Black-cap Chickadees and Nuthatches making frequent visits.
And the puffed up feathers of a male Downy bespoke the temp in the teens. Birds fluff up in the cold to trap as much air in their feathers as possible. The more trapped air, the warmer the bird.
A couple of American Goldfinches were early morning visitors as well, and I love that unlike the Chickadees, Finches are much calmer and stay in one spot for a bit.
Probably my favorite visitor was a surprise for as I was watching the Hairy Woodpeckers, in flew a Red-bellied who worked at a chunk of suet and finally flew off with it.
When I finally headed outside this afternoon, donning my snowshoes to stay atop the 2.5+ feet of snow, I couldn’t believe that for the most part I could stay on top of it, for such was the crusty coating from yesterday’s rain finale. And with each step I took, I heard the crunch below–sounding much like breaking glass.
Much to my surprise, I found the track of a Ruffed Grouse, who did break through the snow.
Of course, it was no surprise to find the figure eight of a deer print, with the foot impression about two feet down. This is a difficult time of travel for them. And I suspect mine will be back by the feeders during the night looking for an easy meal.
And then I discovered a disturbance that I had to investigate. A deep hole had been excavated.
A look at the size and X between the toe and metacarpal pads and I knew who had done the job: an Eastern Coyote.
What it consumed I could not say, but there were some drops and I wonder if they were blood that had darkened a bit as they aged. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d come upon a Ruffed Grouse’s snow cave and totally expected to see the bird’s scat in the hole. That was not the case at all, but I don’t know who the victim was that provided the Coyote with a meal. Or at least a snack.
Back in our woods, I met an old friend who has graced these woods for years–or at least members of his family have done so.
He, too, was looking for food. And so intent upon his job was he, that I stood only about fifteen feet away while he worked.
I didn’t step under to check the scat because I didn’t want to scare him off, so I’m not sure if the Pileated Woodpecker’s needs were fulfilled, but given that he had worked on the tree for a while and some of the holes were quite deep, I suspect he had dined on his favorite meal of Carpenter Ants.
Finding food is the name of the game, though it’s hardly a game at all–especially when it’s cold, the snow is deep, and there’s a crust of ice atop it. And that’s just for the critters. Never mind people who have to deal with the elements on a daily and nightly basis.
We finally have a decent amount of snow on the ground after Friday’s storm and another storm is expected to begin in a couple of hours. That meant it was time to don the snowshoes. And so I did. And headed into the woods behind our house.
Immediately I was greeted with nature’s art work, and seeing snowflakes dangle like this will always capture my fancy.
But that wasn’t all that captured said fancy, for at a point where I’d been dealing with trying not to fall into water since it’s quite a wetland out there, I suddenly spotted bobcat prints. And knew I had to follow them.
I hadn’t bothered with my tracking bag full of gear, but did think to stick this little card into my pocket for reference. Can you see the C-shaped ridge between the toe pads and metacarpal pad? And the lead toe–making the overall print asymmetrical. Take a look at your hand. It’s also asymmetrical with a lead finger.
The snow is such a depth that there was foot drag. I got thinking about what the bobcat was hunting for and had seen plenty of snowshoe hare and deer runs so knew there was food available. Where would this cat lead me, I wondered.
It was at that point, however, that I thought about a tracking lesson I taught to future Maine Master Naturalists yesterday–if the prints look fresh, backtrack rather than follow them forward, so you don’t put pressure on the animal. I heeded my own words and turned around.
Of course, there was more art work to spy, like this candy cane dangling from a branch.
In my backtrack exploration, I spotted where the bobcat had climbed over a fallen tree. There were other spots where it went under trees and I had to find a different way around.
Back on track, there were more intersections with deer and even mice. But all continued to live for the moment.
And then my journey led me to another I’ve been looking for all winter because usually I see so much evidence of this critter–a porcupine had sashayed through the snow over night.
I found what I think is its den, given the amount of scat, and a hole. And I’m just now making sense of the story. The hole was not large due to snow in front of it and the scat was a bit frosted. BUT . . . what might have happened is that as the day warmed up, snow fell from the limbs above and the porcupine will dig its way out–in fact, it probably already did about an hour ago, for they emerge during twilight.
I followed the tracks, which led to a hemlock tree where there were a couple of twigs below.
And the bark and cambium layer had been chewed on the main trunk and another branch above.
So at some point in my journey, while I was following the bobcat and off my regular trail, I decided to turn on my GPS until I knew where I was. What surprised me is the circle I made as I followed the porcupine’s trail. I need to make time to visit it again, for it seemed to be a new resident to this spot and there wasn’t any more evidence that it had dined in the area.
It took a few minutes, but eventually I found the bobcat tracks again. Only . . . this time I was following the cat forward. What?
They led me to a spot at the base of a tree where the bobcat took a break and must have curled up. And then it turned around.
And it suddenly became apparent to me: I’d followed the forward track on the left to the turnaround point and on the way back I noticed the backtrack trail I’d previously been following. I never did find the bobcat or the porcupine, but seeing evidence of their activity was enough and it was getting late so I followed an old logging road home.
There were still more baubles to spy, including this one upon a Red Maple that had provided food last winter in the form of buds–a fav of the deer.
And when I returned to our woods, I discovered that four deer had bedded down last night under a raised sleeping platform our youngest son had built about eleven years ago when he was in high school. Look for the smooth edges and you’ll realize each one is oriented in a bit of a different direction, the better to see that bobcat, or even the coyotes, whose tracks I also saw today.
Just for fun, I’ve added these photos of the MMNP students channeling their inner child–each mentor group was assigned a mammal. This group needed to become a bobcat and though you may not quite see it, the bobcat was walking in the zigzag pattern with the hind foot landing where the front foot had packed down the snow, thus each print representing two feet, and conserving energy. And those fingers on the bobcat’s head–ear tufts. Plus the “person” in the back was holding a mitten to serve as the bobcat’s tail.
There was a pigeon-toed porcupine as well that waddled through the snow.
And then it gnawed on the branches of a tree.
They had fun with the assignment. My hope is that these students will get a sense of the tracking glee that I feel every time I follow a trail. Even if I don’t get to see the critter, which is most of the time, just developing an understanding of their behavior makes me so happy.
Once upon a time . . . no wait. This isn’t a fairy tale.
Rather, it’s about changes in the landscape that one might observe, such as a brook suddenly overspilling its banks as was the case in this location upon a December visit. We’d had rain, but that much?
It wasn’t long before a friend and I spotted the reason for the high water. Some new residents had moved into the area and built a lodge of sticks. Unlike the story of the three little pigs, one of whom built a house of sticks that the big bad wolf came in and blew down, the makers of this structure took special care to make it solid and strong and weatherproof. Yes, a beaver or two or six had taken up residence with the intention of spending the winter. Beaver families usually consist of a monogamous couple, plus their two-year-old (almost adult) kids, and yearlings. Mating occurs in the water during the winter and kits are born inside the lodge in the spring.
In order to move into the lodge, a dam needed to be constructed as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that above it there was a bit of an infinity pool with the ice at level with the dam, while below it some water flowed at a much lower level. Though we couldn’t walk along the ice to measure the length of the dam, it was quite long. and made of sticks and leaves and mud. Typically, the family works on this project by creating a ridge of mud and probably the herbaceous plants of the meadow, and then they use the mud and sticks to stabilize it. Maintenance is a constant as water or other critters or humans have a way of breaching the dam.
We, too, build dams to serve similar purposes, such as this one originally constructed to operate a saw mill. Hmmm.
Getting back to the lodge: it also needs nightly work as long as conditions allow and this has been a winter of despair for those of us who love cold temperatures and snow and even ice if it’s in the right place, like on a pond or lake and not in the driveway.
Take a look at how the beaver is holding the small twig.
A beaver’s dental formula is this: 2 incisors on top, 2 incisors on bottom, 0 canines on top, 0 canines on bottom, 2 premolars on top, 2 premolars on bottom (that look like molars), 6 molars on top and 6 molars on bottom, for a total of 20 teeth. Recently, I was able to sketch the upper part of the skull of an older family member, who’d lost some of its molars.
These large, semi-aquatic rodents are gnawers like their relatives. To that end, their incisors are highly specialized for chewing through really, really tough things and they grow continually throughout the critter’s life.
And like all rodents, the front surface of their incisors is coated in enamel reinforced with iron (hence the orange color), which makes it resistant to wear and tear from gnawing. When the chisel-like teeth chew and fell trees, the much softer white dentine layer (the section behind the enamel) is ground down quicker than the enamel, thus creating a sharp chisel surface.
But to me the coolest aspect is that their lips close behind the incisors, thus permitting them to gnaw and carry sticks underwater without choking.
And bingo, you can see the stick being carried in that gap between the incisors and molars. Food sticks become lodge or dam sticks once their nutritional value has been consumed: a true plan of repurposing.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the only beaver family at work in town. This next family, however, chose to park their tree in a spot the fire department lay claim to for filling a water tank. But . . . reading is not on a beaver’s talent list.
In this other place, so many trees have been felled, but not all have fallen as intended, getting hung up on other trees instead. Not wanting to anthropomorphize, but I have to wonder what expletives flash through a beaver’s brain when trees don’t hit the ground as planned.
As strict herbivores, a beaver’s diet varies with changes in the season. During spring and summer, they are drawn to waterlilies, algae, grasses, sedges, herbs, ferns, shrub leaves and shoots. By late summer, however, tree cutting begins as they gradually change their dietary habits from herbaceous to woody materials. Twigs, roots, bark and especially inner bark become the source of nutrition. Aspen, birch, alder, and willow are favored species, but beavers will cut almost anything including conifers.
Imagine this. A beaver cocks its head to the side as it gnaws, thus the consistent angle of the half inch groove as the upper and lower incisors come together.
Likewise, porcupines gnaw, but their incisors are much narrower and the pattern more random.
So, the question remains. Where were the parking lot beavers living? In the past, a family has inhabited the northern most reaches of this pond, but in this case, they had built a lodge on a point not far from the southern end.
The top of the lodge is the only section not covered with mud, for it serves as a “smoke stack” of sorts, a place for beaver breath to escape. Visit a lodge on a cold winter day and you might observe the vapors rising.
And then it was on to another locale, where beavers have inhabited the same lodge for a number of years. When beavers choose to live in a pond or lake or sometimes even a river, there’s no need to build a dam for the water is usually deep enough for their underwater movement.
I often tell people that beaver prints are a rare find because they are either wiped over by the tail or by trees being hauled to the water. Once in a while, however, I’m proven wrong and the sleety snow on a recent day awarded just the right conditions for the webbed feet to be observed.
Tree work and broken ice added to the story of the critters’ journey to and fro the pond. While quite adept at time spent in the water, they are rather clumsy on land and most of their work is within a hundred feet of the edge.
Winter food is cached close by the lodge entrance so that they can swim under the ice to retrieve a stick. A beaver’s ears and nose have a valve that closes when it is submerged and they can stay underwater for up to fifteen minutes. Back at the lodge, there is a raised chamber surrounded by a moat that leads to the entrance tunnel. It’s upon the raised area that they dine, and groom, and even give birth.
At this particular pond, My Guy and I noted two lodges connected by an open channel between. Given the number of tail slaps that announced our presence near both lodges, we thought perhaps both were active and inhabited by the same family.
And then, and then . . . finally, we spotted a beaver that spotted us. We kept expecting it to slap the water with its tail in a manner of warning so other family members would seek deeper water or cover. Instead, it swam past us.
The thing is that a rodent relative, namely the muskrat, exhibits many similarities, but also differences, including a skinny, snake-like tail.
The beaver’s tail is a source of wonder. While its furry body consists of long, shiny guard hairs covering dense and softer hair that traps air and helps protect the critter from the cold, the tail is broad and flat and scaly. It’s used for a variety of reasons including stability when standing upright on land (think tripod), as a rudder for propulsion in water, as fat storage and thermal regulation, and how we are most familiar, as a warning device.
January 6, 1998: Epiphany; the icy rain storm began.
January 7: Even icier.
January 8: No school, power on and off and then OFF, with no more ons.
On the 8th, My Guy had to park his red truck at the neighbor’s house because wires and limbs prevented him from driving up to our house.
Via battery operated radio, CMP (Central Maine Power) officials warned customers not to talk to power people–just let them do their work as they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure. And definitely no bribing them with food.
After our neighbor, Mr. Mush, stopped by in the afternoon to check on us, I looked out the window and noticed a man wearing a hardhat walking up the road. Mr. M. approached him.
“We aren’t supposed to talk to those guys, but he is. I’m going out there,” I thought.
Our youngest joined me. We donned our winter gear and headed out the door. I said to P, “We aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers. We’ll let Mr. Mush do the talking.” As I said that, I looked for the CMP truck, but didn’t see it. Then I did a double-take.
“Mr. Hall, that’s you,” I said shaking my head as I realized it was another neighbor under the hardhat. “I thought you were a CMP worker. I was so hopeful.”
He chuckled and said, “You haven’t been listening to the news. You aren’t supposed to talk to CMP workers.”
Jan 9: Wee hours of the morning: SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! CRASH!
My Guy flew across our bed as I sat straight up.
“It’s OK,” I choked. “It’s just a tree hitting the roof.”
After which I hyperventilated and struggled to add, “It’s just a tree. It’s just a tree.”
I could hear My Guy trying to reassure me, but I was frozen with wild terror. My throat, which felt like it had closed, finally opened. From that point on, I shook.
The cracking and clashing sounded worse than firecrackers and continued all night long.
January 10: Our friend Bob called from a job he was working on in Massachusetts. He couldn’t get through to his wife, Marita, as their phone line had been affected by the storm. Somehow, however, she and I figured out that we could talk if we picked up our phones at the same time and I guess I called her. Anyway, I assured Bob that she and the girls were fine and she was her chipper self. What I didn’t have the heart to tell him was that his goldfish had not survived the storm. They froze to death.
January 11: Our sons, S and P have storm clean-up all figured out. The town crew will plow up the branches and trees. Logging trucks will also be needed. They’ll haul the wood away to mills to be turned into baseball bats and paper.
We had heat for the first time. No lights, but plenty of warmth and I actually thought of shedding a layer of clothing. Another neighbor’s son-in-law lent us a small generator to fire up our furnace for warmth and to keep our pipes from freezing.
One thing a storm of this magnitude made us realize that people are good. My Guy was one of the best. And my biggest hope after all was said and done was that the people he helped would remember that he stayed open for them without power at the store. And he kept ordering stuff so that he would have what they needed.
Outdoor conferences with the neighbors became a constant.
And family and friends called to offer warmth and a shower.
Marita and I offered each other encouragement and she came to fill water jugs daily. We loved the bread she baked.
January 12: We heard via our battery-operated radio that Baltimore Power trucks arrived in Maine today. Apparently they were sighted on the turnpike bearing signs that read: “Maine or Bust!”
My Guy and I took showers thanks to the generator on loan. And we invited Mrs. Mush over to shower as well. My sister-in-law took the boys for the day, which gave us a chance to do some clean-up, though despite the fact that My Guy wasn’t at the store, he was constantly in contact and thinking about it often. The wee bit of slow-down that the day offered him, gave him time to reflect and sort through all that had happened in the last few days.
One of our tasks, other than yard work, was to clean out the refrigerator and freezer–stinky and sticky. We cleaned it and turned it into a momentary breadbox.
Mrs. Mush and I also picked up sticks and branches in an elderly neighbor’s yard while she was away staying with her daughter and son-in-law.
January 13: 124 hours of no power. School has been cancelled until next Tuesday.
Last night we began helping our next-door neighbors raise the temperature in their house with our Kerosun heater.
The ice, as much as it’s been a menace, is incredibly beautiful.
As cold as it was outside, the boys and I spent as much time outdoors as possible, so it would feel warm when we went back in–at least for a few minutes.
While they skated on our outdoor rink, I chatted with another neighbor, Tom, owner of Tom’s Homestead Restaurant, which he’d turned into a shelter for some people. Despite the fact that we didn’t have power, Tom was still able to function with a woodstove and gas furnace.
“I’ll teach you how to skate, P,” said S.
And so he did. The boys were five and three, S in kindergarten and P in preschool.
They also enjoyed the snow fog that rolled down the street. Oh, and those signs at the end of the driveway: announced to the world that Winnie-the-Pooh’s Studio was located in our barn and everyone was welcome to visit.
Writing that now, I’m reminded of a sign Mr. Mush stuck in the snow at the end of the road: “245 people live on this road.” Um, I’m pretty sure there were only ten houses and residency ranged from 1 to 4 or 5 in any particular abode.
January 14: Imagination has always been the name of the game and the boys have always had vivid ones so, of course, we celebrated Tigger’s birthday, homemade party hats for all.
Another big event today: an NBC affiliate from Washington D.C. came to town to film the proper use of generators. They stopped at Hayes Hardware and interviewed My Guy. Then he sent them to our road to tape a generator in use at a neighbor’s house. The boys and I followed them around the neighborhood. We then called everyone we knew out-of-state and told them to watch at 6pm. We listened on our radio. No mention of our town much to our disappointment–it wasn’t our day to become movie stars.
7:30pm, 148 hours without power. We’re especially concerned tonight because it’s already -2˚ with a full moon. But, there are now five generators being shared between 8 homes on our street.
January 15: With the advent of a full moon, we knew more trouble was brewing as the temperature dropped. Pipes froze in our pantry sink. We placed the Kerosun heater by it and I kept pouring boiling water (thank goodness for a gas stove so we could cook on top, using a match to light the burners), into the sinks–to no avail. At 9:30am, Mr. Mush came over with a torch and warmed the pipes (at that time located literally outside the pantry).
Then he tucked insulation around them.
In between working, My Guy helped to keep everyone on our road under control.
That afternoon, S and I did some yard work, hauling branches to the pile. The boys also sold me some snow cones, snow pies, and lemonade.
While we were outside, a CMP truck drove up. I slowly approached and asked the driver, “Can we talk?”
“Uh oh, you’re scaring me,” he said.
“No, I just want to know if we have any hope,” I replied.
“Well, the crew is in South Bridgton now. When they finish there, they’ll head back into town. They’ll be here. Maybe today, but don’t count on that. Probably tomorrow. But, do you know what the storm looks like?” he asked.
“They’ve lowered the amount of snow to six inches,” I said.
“Good, what about the temp?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Oh, well, we’ll see.” And off he drove.
Later, Marita appeared bearing muffins.
And I had this conversation with P: “What are you doing?” I asked as he chewed his fingernails.
“My fingernails are stuck,” he said.
“What do you mean, your fingernails are stuck?”
He studied his hands, “My fingernails are stuck to my fingers.”
One really bad thing we learned today. Moe Needham’s house burned to the ground last night.
Late that night, after My Guy and I had settled into bed, the most powerful light lit up the street. Of course, anything brighter than a Coleman lantern illuminates our world. But this light was different. High intensity and not flickering like a plow, though it was snowing as predicted.
My Guy dressed and ran outside. I was so excited that I called my sister to tell her men were in buckets up in the trees. I wasn’t sure if they were there to cut trees or reattach wires. After I hung up, I headed out the door. Arborists from Cohrain, Massachusetts. In a state that is proud of being 90% trees, there were many, many downed ones to cut.
January 16: I had the best helpers as we dug out from the overnight storm. S shoveled the snow off the steps.
I only wish I remembered what advice P was offering as he worked. Or perhaps he was gleeful because he was eating snow.
January 17: A CMP scout checked things out.
While the boys and I shoveled six inches of snow off the driveway, the CMP truck crept up the road. The driver told Mr. Mush he was waiting for an out-of-state power company to come work on our lines.
At last they arrived! I phoned neighbors at work.
From the neighbors’ driveway, we watched the action.
At last, the man in the bucket lowered himself. “The power will be on momentarily,” he said.
Mr. Mush met me in the driveway to ask about our furnace hook-up. We walked up the driveway and saw My Guy in the barn. I yelled, “It will be on momentarily.” Above a bulb was lit.
“Look,” I exclaimed. “How is that on?”
“The power is on,” My Guy said with a smile.
The boys had to check it out after 186.5 hours without such.
Meanwhile, at the store, the line was long. Somehow, My Guy managed during all this time to meet the needs of customers, the needs of neighbors, and the needs of his family. And always with a grin.
Thank goodness our boys saw it as an adventure.
The list of thanks probably left someone out, but in the end we were all so grateful for the sense of community and neighbors helping neighbors.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the Ice Storm of ’98 Cameth and we were afraid that it would never Leaveth, but it finally did.
I’ll let you in on a tad bit of a secret . . . eventually.
But first, today was a tracking day and so five of us did just that. When we arrived at the intended location, due to snow conditions, I think we had low expectations. I know I did.
We had just stepped off trail to begin our bushwhack excursion when we spotted this Ruffed Grouse scat. So the curious thing about this is that there are two kinds of grouse scat, the typical cylindrical packets coated with white uric acid, but also a juicier, brown dropping. And I regret that I didn’t take a photo of the juicier, yet slightly frozen stuff we saw dripping from some twigs above. At the time, I knew the brown stuff was significant because I’ve looked it up before, but couldn’t bring it to mind. Thanks to Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks, I found an explanation in Bird Tracks and Sign: “Interestingly, after producing these lower-gut-generated solid evacuations, some game birds, such as a grouse, often then evacuate a semi-liquid brownish mass from the upper gut, or cecum, with the two types of droppings coming out sequentially; the more liquid, almost liver-colored scat comes out second and is spread on top of the solid matter. In Ruffed Grouse, it is common to find the hard, fibrous scats at one roost and the soft, brown cecal droppings at another.”
But not uncommon to find them together!
We stood for a long time discussing the grouse scat and when we finally moved on, it wasn’t too far that we discovered bobcat prints. Given that the prints were not super fresh because there was some debris in them, we decided to follow the track forward. Had they been fresh, we would have backtracked so as not to put pressure on the animal. Though secretly, we all love it when we do actually get to spot a mammal. Or a grouse, for that matter.
Eventually, we lost track of the bobcat, because as you can see, there were spots with no snow. But then we stumbled across a sighting that confused us. White-tail Deer scat on the edge of a boulder. Dawn has some new tools she was gifted for Christmas, and so she was excited to pull them out. Our confusion, despite the fact that it looked exactly like deer scat, was caused by the location. On top of a boulder. On the edge of said rock. We came up with a few stories, but will let you try to interpret this on your own.
Back in the snow, we found canine rather than the feline prints we’d been looking for and so out came the tape measure to determine species. Based on the fact that the print measured less than two inches at the widest point and that the stride, or space between where two feet touched the snow (toe to toe), we determined it was a Red Fox.
Everywhere, we spotted Red Squirrel holes and middens, indicating the squirrel had cached a bunch of hemlock cones in numerous pantries and returned since the snow fell to dig them up and dine, leaving behind the cone cobs and scales in trash piles. What struck us was that for all the middens we saw, we never heard or caught sight of any squirrels. In fact, we didn’t see any animals . . . until we did. Huh? You’ll have to read on.
Our next great find close to the pond we walked beside, was more scat! Of course, it was. This being the works of a River Otter and filled with fish scales, all those whitish ovals embedded in it. Like a small pile of Raccoon scat we’d spotted earlier, but again, I forgot to photograph (the sign that we were having fun making all these discoveries), otters tend to defecate in latrines, using the same places over and over again.
Our movement was slow, and every once in a while we’d spread out until someone made a discovery and then we’d all gather again.
Which was exactly what happened when this Snowshoe Hare scat was discovered. Three little malt balls.
After the hare find, we followed a couple of canine trails that took us back to the water. Domestic dog or Coyote? We kept questioning this, but never saw human prints. And the animals did seem to be moving in a direct line on a mission. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing may have been enough to make their prints look larger than they typically would so I think I’m leaning toward Coyote.
But in following those, we discovered a sign from another critter by the water’s edge: Mink scat!
When our time was nearing an end and we bushwhacked back to a road near the trailhead, we were all exclaiming about our cool finds. And then a little birdie we encountered asked, “Do you want to see a bear?”
We don’t need to be asked that question twice, though now that I think back, I’m pretty sure we asked the birdie to repeat the question. YES! She gave us directions and we decided we needed to take an immediate field trip. We each hopped into our vehicles, drove almost to the destination, parked, and walked as quietly as we could toward the den site.
We got us a bear! A Black Bear! The birdie said it has been there since sometime in December.
Now that I’ve shared it with you, I’ll say no more for the five of us are sworn to secrecy about its location.
Really? Can birds count? It’s a curious thought and we impose so many of our attributes onto wildlife that we come to believe it all true and that they have feelings and abilities that match ours. And so on this day of the Sweden Circle Christmas Bird Count in western Maine, I set out with Dawn to seek numbers and answers.
The territories assigned to us are marked in red within the circle for we had the opportunity to explore Pondicherry Park in downtown Bridgton and LEA’s Highland Research Forest on foot, rather than driving along a bunch of roads.
Mere steps from where we’d parked we heard and then spotted Northern Cardinals. Not one, but two, then three, then four. Three being a male such as this one, with one female in the mix.
Below the cardinals were other birds that we heard first and shared a simultaneous thought, “I hear Wood Frogs.” Oops, that would be ducks. But the thing is that when we approach a vernal pool in the spring, and the frogs croak before they sense our trespass into their territory, they sound like ducks quacking.
We counted 45 Mallards who quacked and swam and preened and paused and dabbled and quacked some more. Her markings soon became important to us.
As did his. Notice the differences between the two from coloration of heads and bills and feathers. It’s been said that the male is much more handsome than the female. Maybe he is, but she offers her own sense of beauty and design. Again, pay attention to his markings.
Why? Because we noted this one hanging out for a while under some shrubs. And immediately, we realized that it was somehow different. Look at the color of its head–muted green and a hint of purple or mauve crowning its head. Like the female Mallard, there was an eyeline, but much more subtle in presence. We thought it might be a female, but like the male, the bill was bright yellow with a dark spot at the tip. Plus the overall plumage was different from either the female or male Mallard. And yet, it looked so similar.
The curled tail led me leaning more toward a male, but if you have information to clear up this identification, please don’t hesitate to share. We were just thrilled to be able to state definitively that this particular duck was a hybrid. And I’m still jazzed by the color hues of its head.
The point of it being a hybrid was driven home when the male Mallard and this other specimen shared the focal point of my camera. The hybrid even had a neck ring like the Mallard, though a bit creamier in color.
The Mallard collection in the brook below kept changing and what spooked them (other than us), I do not know, but fly they would and then land a wee bit further down the river before flying upstream again a few minutes later.
We eventually moved farther from the parking lot (maybe an hour later) and just after we’d made a turn on the trail, we saw a bird take flight. And a dog and its person move along the trail (not part of the dog trail, mind you, but people don’t seem to see the dog trail/no dog trail signs anymore). As it turned out, we gave a quiet thanks to the dog for it flushed out this bird and we were gifted the opportunity to get quite close to it. That opportunity made us realize that we probably often are in the presence of this owl, but its ability to not only fly in silence, but also perch in absolute silence, meant that it could hide from us–camouflaged as it was upon a tree limb. We felt like our day was done with that sighting, but we continued in the name of science for we were participating in an annual bird count for Maine Audubon.
A few hours and a few bird species later, we made our way back to the park entrance where this Mallard’s head color, accented by the sun as it was, captured my awe. But what was the duck doing? Quite possibly, it had tucked its bill into its feathers to retain heat. Bills obviously have no feathers, so they can loose a lot of heat. Think of it like warming your hands with hand warmers inside your mittens.
His Mrs. was doing the same nearby. Dawn asked if Mallards are monogamous. What I’ve learned in the hours since is that generally speaking they are. BUT . . . paired males are known to pursue females other than their mates.
Mixing it up, after lunch we moved on to Highland Research Forest where our first bird sighting was in the shape of . . . a Red Squirrel. Yes, a squirrel hide. Since it sat at our eye level, we knew the predator wasn’t a coyote, raccoon, or weasel, but rather an eagle, hawk, or owl. We really wanted to spy the perpetrator, and searched high and low with our binoculars, but came up empty handed.
Sadly, and much to our misunderstanding, as we moved along the trails, we spotted and/or heard few birds calling. But, much to our delight, we did find some sign, such as this, the excavating works of a Pileated Woodpecker.
In. the mix of wood chips below the tree, for the woodpecker consumes only a wee bit of bark in the process of seeking Carpenter Ants from the innermost paradise of a tree trunk, scat happens. And this offered a great opportunity for Dawn to make her first P.W. scat discoveries. Bingo, She found at least three displays upon the wood chips.
Pileated Woodpecker scat is most often coated in uric acid and contains the undigestible parts of the consumed ants. Of all the possible finds in the natural world–this is one of my favorite discoveries on any given day.
All that said, did I mention that much of our journey was beside water, my favorite place to be? And that over and over again we noted not only water levels from a few days ago when brooks and rivers overflowed in our region, and since have been enhanced by ice formations given frostier temperature? This sculpture brought to mind another with whom we shared today’s trails.
Do you see the match between the ice formation and tail feathers?
Our overall sums were low compared to years past, but the learnings we gained of this hybrid outnumbered what we tallied.
That said, when we heard an American Crow caw, our response was rather bland. Until . . . we looked at each other and Dawn said, “Crows count,” because of course they do as any bird does.
We departed ways about 3:30pm, leaving with questions about why numbers were so low. Oh, we counted chickadees, and nuthatches, and robins, and others, but overall, not so many species and not so many of said species.
Taking all of that into consideration and awaiting thoughts from others about the state of our winter birds in Maine, we were equally overjoyed that during today’s Christmas Bird Count we got us a Barred Owl. Can birds count? Certainly!
My fingers reach in, wondering what marvel I might pull out of the wool sock, one I knitted when my guy and I first tied the knot so many moons ago.
Of course I shouldn’t be surprised that the first thing my fingers grasp is a dragonfly, this being a Common Whitetail male in the Skimmer Family, with those broad crossbands on the wings and black streaks at the base of each.
Calling it “common” strikes me as such an understatement and I’m thrilled when I next pull out an immature male of the same species. I mean, look at those wing markings. And the spots along the sides of the abdomen segments. And the difference in color from immature to mature. Surely, next it will be a female that falls into my hands.
It is quite a shock, however, to realize it is fur that tickles my hand, and voila, out of the sock comes a Red Fox. A Red Fox who settles for Black-oil Sunflower Seeds, not quite the next best thing to capturing a squirrel.
When I next reach in, I am sure I’ll pull out a female Common Whitetail, but . . . instead it is a much smaller, and even more extravagantly decorated female Calico Pennant Skimmer. The same family, but this is one of my favorite species (please don’t be offended Whitetails, I really do think you are more special than common), with those heart-shaped markings along its abdomen segments and basal wing coloration reminding me of a stained-glass window, which seemed apropos for today’s celebration.
And then there are two with similar colors and equally delicate, puddling as is their habit, these Eastern Swallowtail Butterflies sticking their proboscis seeking nutrients from the gravel road. The chemical make-up of the site is key, for the butterflies are looking for something specific: salt (sodium) and minerals
Most puddlers are males, who ingest the salts, minerals and amino acids that the source provides, especially after it has rained. They store these nutrients in their sperm so that when the time comes to mate, the male passes these goodies as a nuptial gift along to the female. This gives the female an extra boost, which she then passes along to her eggs. It’s an important gift because eggs that receive the extra nutrients have a greater chance of success than those that do not.
Back into the sock do I dip, this time finding a Little Copper Butterfly seeking pollen and nectar upon Pearly Everlasting flowerheads. Little Coppers, tiny as the name suggests, thrive in areas disturbed by either human activity or natural events and it seems almost an oxymoron to think that as teeny and delicate as they are, they are right at home in waste places.
Once again, there is a significant change between the Little Copper and the next species that my hands discover. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoots the Barred Owl much to my delight. Only two nights ago I heard it calling out the back door, so to find it in the sock is a treasure indeed.
Almost immediately after, a Muskrat swims out of the sock, moving quickly toward me with its rat-like tail acting like a rudder in the rear. I love its questioning look as we meet each other for the first time.
Enough fluff about the Muskrat. It is a feathered friend. who next pops up out of the sock. One of the most amazing things to me about this gift is the color of its eyes and how they reflect the sky above and water below.
Still pulling from the leg of the sock, this Gray Seal floats forth, as if on the incoming tide. Sometimes called “horseheads,” because of their long snouts, Gray Seals scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, literally means “hooked-nose sea pig.”
Not the prettiest of names, not the prettiest of species, but I am still excited to realize this one is my own to keep.
Suddenly, there seems to be a theme to the gifts, and a life on or in the water makes sense. The next item in the sock is one we think of as nature’s engineer, and though not everyone is thrilled with their prowess at felling trees, building dams and lodges, and changing waterways for their own benefit, it’s good to realize that they also benefit other species in the process, including humans. This particular Beaver is active during the day because hikers like my guy and me keep ruining its dam as we cross over it to access a trail.
Still on the water theme, but much diminished in size, is a female Fairy Shrimp. Just sighting one such species is enough to make its vernal pool habitat significant. The way to identify a female is to look for her two dark brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch.
The eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, and only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching.
I’m beginning to realize how much I am enjoying the variety hidden within this sock, and the next gift turns out to be a Blinded Sphinx moth, a species one doesn’t ofter encounter during the day. Or at all, for it’s a night flyer. But those markings and folds, and the overall design. Oh my.
With the next item I choose, I am reminded that one must look for anomalies in the landscape. And so I do. It is the horizontal line of the back that gives away the fact that I am starring at a White-tail Deer. Otherwise, I might think that the legs are sapling trunks and the face maybe a few bleached beech leaves.
My next surprise–comes as a trio. And I might not even realize they are there if I hadn’t heard them first–chattering to each other as they swim and play and fish and sometimes sit on the ice before slipping quickly back into the water in what can only be known as River Otter delight.
Once again, I suspect I know what I’ll pull out next, only to be surprised to discover that it is not a prickly friend, but rather a feathered one who roosts high up in a tree–this being a Ruffed Grouse.
But the prickly one doesn’t disappoint, and makes its own appearance in a different tree and place.
That is to be followed by another I often spot basking in the sun with friends, but it is great fun to spot a Painted Turtle swimming below the water’s surface of a shallow pond.
The water theme begins to appear again, maybe because the one who filled the sock knows I spend a lot of time peering into the depths, and sometimes I’m rewarded with sightings such as this of tadpoles forming into their mature frog beings.
And then there is another that requires a stretch of my neck as it stretches its neck to feed its young high up in a nest.
Having regurgitated a meal, the mature Great Blue Heron stays with its young a wee bit longer before heading off to replenish the pantry.
No sock of mine would be complete without a couple of canoodlers, he atop her. Water striders can walk on the surface because they have very fine hairs on the undersides of their legs that trap air and repel water, a technique called superhydrophobic. They move so quickly because what they are doing is more like rowing, vigorously rowing, creating little swirls in the surface that help propel them forward.
When I slip my hand down into what feels like the toe of the sock, I pull out the largest gift of all and a totally unexpected sighting–a buck. Actually, there are two, but this was the larger and definitely mightier. I feel blessed to have received such a gift. In fact, to have received all of these gifts. To have been present for these presents.
It’s actually toeless, this wonder-filled stocking of mine. And could go on forever. But I’ll pause here and rejoin my family. I do, however, wish you all warmth and peace and electrical power and good health this holiday season.
A dash of snow and an opening in our afternoon. What better way to spend it than hiking? And so we did. On Bald Pate Mountain. We followed the Moose Trail to South Face Loop to the summit to Bob Chase to Foster Pond Lookout. And tucked in a few miles.
Though there were tire tracks in the parking lot, we soon realized we were the only ones who had ventured onto the trails today. Or were we?
Within seconds, we encountered Red Fox prints, that chevron. on the back of the feet appearing in the snow if you really look. And remember, a fox is a perfect stepper so typically one foot falls onto or almost onto the spot where another foot had been.
The pattern left behind indicates that like us, this mammal was walking and following the man-made trail. Or did it? Perhaps we followed the critter’s trail.
In a wet spot, we discovered the prints of another who chose the high road to avoid the ice and water–certainly a smart Red Squirrel decision, unlike those poor decisions made when trying to cross one of our roads.
Climbing up the South Face Loop toward the Bob Chase Trail was new for us, as we usually continue along the base of the mountain toward the eastern side before heading up to the summit. We struggled with slippery conditions on a few rocks and soon discovered we weren’t alone for this coyote had also slipped a few times.
Approaching the summit, we were still surprised to find that our prints were the first on this beautiful autumn day.
We enjoyed the view toward Foster Pond . . .
and the same toward Hancock (and yes Faith, we waved to your camp).
It was up there that we spotted not only more Red Squirrel tracks, but also these Chipmunk prints. And you thought the little ones had snuggled in for a long winter’s nap, but truth be told, they don’t go into true torpor and we’ve spotted them or their prints occasionally in winter. Plus, despite today’s chill, it’s been such a mild fall and we haven’t had a decent snowfall yet, so there’s still plenty of opportunity to gather food for a cache.
Finally heading out to the Foster Pond Lookout, we found Snowshoe Hare prints and a very classic track left behind by a Meadow Vole.
Meadow Voles intrigue me because they can hop like a squirrel or hare, or walk with the zigzag pattern of a perfect walker like a fox.
And furthermore, Meadow Voles tunnel! We usually don’t see the tunnel, which tends to be in that subnivean zone between the snow and the ground until spring melt, but with last night’s dumping of maybe an inch of snow, it was quite visible.
Continuing toward the lookout, we spotted more Coyote tracks intersecting with those left behind by a squirrel. Up to that point, the squirrel was still alive since their tracks were headed in opposite directions. Good luck, Red!
And then on a ledge just before the lookout, we spotted feather and foot prints. A bird had landed and then it went for a walk.
And turned and went the other way before lifting off again. Based on size, we agreed it was a Crow rather than a Raven, though we often hear Ravens, especially on the other side of the mountain.
Finally, we reached Foster Pond Lookout, where the setting sun behind us made it look like the forest beyond was washed with color.
We had reached Trail End, but it wasn’t the end of the trail. Not for us anyway. Turning 180˚, we retraced our steps and headed back toward the parking lot.
As the sign indicated, it was time to go home. But we rejoiced–for we were back in tracking mode on this Mondate and grateful for this opportunity to head out on a slightly snow covered trail and embrace the brisk air, which made us feel so alive.
Over the years, I’ve learned that one can know a landscape well, but not necessarily exhaustively, and so today I entered a place I love to frequent and suddenly realized I’d stepped into a museum.
Following the hallways within, I wended my way from display to display.
I discovered many favorites, this among them, which reminded me that all of us are entangled in the lives of our families and friends and those that we may not even know, but each twist and turn offers a window to the beyond.
I’ve seen sculptures similar to this so intricately carved by one artist and excavated by another. But it’s how the two worked together to leave behind a design that makes me think of stalactile hanging from the ceiling of a cave that amazed me.
Another sculpture focused on contrast of time as signaled by one closed and not yet ready to cast forth the future and the other open, knowing full well the future had dispersed in the past.
Then there was this sculpture entitled “Free Form” for so did the artist capture the subjects as they appeared to dance despite their still nature.
And I can never not pause by a turtle sculpture since such always takes me back to my childhood pets and then collection of stuffed, wooden, ceramic, you name it, renditions of this species, some of which I still own and display.
I’m certain my heart skipped a few beats when I eyed this beautiful painting, the leaf intentionally arranged among the moss in such a way that the colors and textures seem to leap off the canvas.
Into the Glass Room I did next wander and fell in love with these baubles so delicately attached and appearing to bob above moving water in a realistic way that was really so clever.
I was equally amazed by the artistry of creating feathers on a glass surface and then adding contrasting lines to accentuate the subject.
My third favorite in this room was the arrangement of six-sided crystals clustered in columns, but with a splintered effect. Why can’t I create something like that?
I knew when I saw the heart carving that the artistic universe had spoken with an offering of love and love all of these works I did, but it was time for me to draw this visit to a close.
On the way out, I looked back at the museum entrance one last timeand gave thanks for the opportunity to witness designs by nature at Art in the Park, that being Pondicherry Park.
I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.
Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.
Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.
And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.
We stepped out onto ledges,
rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,
walked beside water racing around boulders,
stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,
paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,
strolled across an airstrip,
followed more ledges,
took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,
spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,
danced with hang clouds,
looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,
considered taking a chilly bath,
and always found lunch rock with a view.
Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,
and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.
During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.
On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,
a Field Sparrow,
a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,
and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,
And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?
Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.
And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,
a Giant Leopard Moth,
and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.
Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.
And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.
There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.
Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.
One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.
Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.
And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.
We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),
and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.
My guy posed as a lobster,
and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,
and across a mountain ridge.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.
And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”
She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.
For several months
I’ve watched you,
always with awe,
emerging from your aquatic form
and miraculously transforming
into a flying insect
that eats nothing
but other insects
you find your way
back to the water’s edge
and hunt for a mate.
Some say you aren’t territorial
but I know otherwise
for I spend hours observing
as you land
upon a leaf or twig
and then , , ,
in a split second
chase a sibling
or cousin off
to your original perch
or at least another
It’s in those spots
that I get to
know you better,
noticing your tan-colored legs,
which set you apart
Skimmer family members.
With a face
of burgundy red
providing a contrast to
that ruby red abdomen.
and your stigma,
those elongated spots
at the tip of your wings,
offering two-toned hues
of the same theme,
you gleam like a jewel
in the sunlight.
At long last,
you find yourself
In the canoodle wheel,
a dragonfly’s lovemaking form.
You grasp your betrothed
behind her head
while she places
the tip of her abdomen
in a manner that allows
your sperm to fertilize
You, like your relatives,
stay with her
it is the eggs
that she lays
upon the mosses
and other vegetation
at the water’s edge.
a group activity
with safety found
in numbers I suppose.
Eating and mating,
as a mature being
you live longer than
most and don’t let
a few frosty nights
end your flight.
a wrong turn
on the wing
and you end up
on the water’s surface
struggling to fly free.
I watch for a few moments
until I realize
frenzied behavior means.
It is then
I grasp a stick
and offer it to you.
You follow suit
and grasp from the other end
as I lift you out
and find a sunny place
for your wings
before night sets in.
When I visit again
I cannot find you
but can only hope
that the tiny red dragonfly
that poses like a brooch
on my blaze orange vest . . .
and then adorns my finger
is you . . . or at least another
saying thank you
for the rescue.
fourth day of November,
I celebrate you,
‘Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)
for you are indeed
a gem-like wonder.
Smack dab in the midst of a hectic work schedule, we pulled off another issue of the mag. And I have to say, I really loved working on this one. As did Laurie LaMountain.
It’s full of history, both local as I had the fortune to visit with Louisa Attenborough at the Garcelon mansion on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and across the pond (read the intros to the recipes in “One Potato, Two Potato”).
Here’s an exclusive look at a bathroom window at Garcelon, flanked by mirrors that reflect the lights in the room and in the bedroom beyond.
And a side view not included in the article. The servants’ quarters, circa 1908, were in the upper-left hand corner.
Another of my articles is about the big reveal at our local ski area, which was purchased last year by Boyne Resorts. According to general manager Ralph Lewis, lots of updates have been made since the ski area closed in the spring, but the biggest one is the name change, which excites many of us. You can read all about it in “Welcome Back Pleasant Mountain.”
My third, and probably favorite article is entitled “Life Beneath the Ice,” which features the work of fellow Maine Master Naturalist Edwin Barkdoll and his discoveries as he worked on a capstone project, and Dr. Ben Peierls of Lakes Environmental Association.
“A calm winter day. Freezing temps. Thickening ice. A lid is placed on the ecosystem below. And all aquatic life goes dormant. Or does it?” You’ll have to read the article to find out.
So here’s a look at the cover, and a view of a Whirligig Bug walking under the ice that Edwin captured during his studies.
Within, you’ll also find articles by Laurie, including “Chasing Arrows,” about what happens to those items we so carefully recycle; “Fast and Affordable,” about the need for high-speed internet in our rural communities and what a collective group of towns is trying to do for affordable broadband, and “Creative Housing Solutions,” about what a group in Norway, Maine, is trying to do to bring equitable housing to the community. Plus the recipes (and history) in “One Potato, Two Potato.”
And always back by popular demand are the book reviews from the staff at Bridgton Books. Plus ads, ads, ads, for local businesses. Please take a look at them, and then visit the businesses and let them know you saw the ad in the mag.
Walking in silence
along a trail so familiar
my eyes were drawn
to bubbles at my feet.
Tiny bubbles, tinier bubbles, tiniest bubbles
formed random patterns
as they gave new life
to dying grasses.
Nearby, salmon-colored disks
the mint-green crustose form
of candy lichen's granular base.
Meanwhile, crimson caps of British Soldiers
shouted for recognition
as they showed off
their branching structures.
Upon a rotting tree
and backlit by the sun
glowed the irregularly lobed fruits
of Orange Jelly Spot.
In another sunny spot, a Little Copper sought nectar
from a goldenrod still in bloom
while a Spotted Cucumber Beetle
photobombed the shot.
I have to admit that I struggled with ID:
Ruby, Cherry-faced, and Saffron-winged
since this dragonfly showed characteristics
of each in the meadowhawk clan.
Being present on this October afternoon
reminded me of another day
when I paced before a couple of shrubs
and watched the insect action.
I am honored and humbled to announce that that blog post was recently published
in The Observer, a publication produced by the Maine Natural History Observatory.
My friend and fellow master naturalist, Cheryl Ring, also has an article in this issue.
The most humbling thing for me was an email I received from a reader who is also an avid naturalist. She commented that my ID of a butterfly at the end of the article, which I called Painted Lady, is actually American Lady. I now realize I need a new field guide because mine refers to it as American Painted Lady and I inadvertently dropped "American," while hers dropped "Painted" in the name. It's another lesson in why I need to wrap my brain around scientific names since common can cause confusion. I do appreciate that she took the time to read the article and write to me.
That said, the best lesson of any day is to take time to be present and observe in nature. Even if it's only for a few minutes.
Our time for a road trip was long overdue. But where to go? We knew we’d begin the week by driving to Lubec, Maine, where we’d enjoyed two days last year, but left knowing there was so much more to explore. And so we booked a room for the first four nights of vacation. After that? The question loomed. The answer eventually presented itself, but first, here’s to Lubec.
We’d barely landed in town after a five hour drive, when a walk down the road found my guy posing before entering Lubec Hardware. Curiously, because the owner had been to Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, not far from our hometown, he knew of my guy’s store and they enjoyed a chat. From there we sipped a beer at Lubec Brewery before heading off for our first adventure of the week, along a beach trail within reach from town.
After skipping some stones, we turned around and headed back toward our room, enjoying the cast of our shadows upon sand . . .
and cobbled beaches.
Back in the harbor of Johnson Bay, the setting sun upon moored boats captured our fancy.
And we got our bearings with a view of Mulholland Light on Canada’s Campobello Island located exactly across the Lubec Narrows from our room.
Morning and evening, whenever we were by the Narrows, we watched as the Cormorants preened and flew and swam against the current and preened some more.
On the windiest day, we took to the woods rather than the coast, knowing it would be calmer. And quieter. We weren’t disappointed.
Especially since we found a display of bear scat, this being only one chunk. Berry seeds pass through a bear’s digestive system and exit intact and viable, making bears an important part of nature’s seed distribution system.
We also spotted the largest burl either of us could remember seeing, this at the base of an old Yellow Birch turned silver in age like the rest of us.
We circled through a beaver’s territory, hoping that if we couldn’t catch sight of the bear, we might at least see the beaver, but both alluded us. Fred, the Red Squirrel, however, scolded us at every opportunity.
The next day dawned brisk and chilly, as most did, and found us first finding our way to Reversing Falls, where the incoming tide hit some rocks that splashed the water “backwards.”
Click on the link to catch a brief glimpse of the action.
Over the course of the day, we explored a few trails of Cobscook Shores, including enjoying lunch on a bluff overlooking sandbars at low tide.
Boot Head Preserve along the coast offered a variety of terrains and natural communities, including upland forests, bogs, coastal wetlands, and steep rocky shoreline.
My mom would have loved this–the rocky coast of Maine spoke to her.
We also appreciated all the bog bridging and benches placed to take in the vistas and gave thanks to those who had hustled to create such infrastructure, including my colleague Rhyan, a former intern at Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The chicken wire along the bridges sang as we trudged, boot tread hitting wire, wire strumming against wood, and song echoing with each step as the wire bounded back off the wood. There was that to be thankful for, as well as the facts that it kept us from slipping, and from stepping upon the fragile environment at our feet.
Despite the daily chill, flower flies such as this bee mimic continued to pollinate asters in a manner hectic as the days grow shorter and temps lower.
Behind the asters we saw plenty of juicy Rose Hips and I thought of my dad who loved to eat these on our beach walks in Connecticut.
Because we followed a smattering of trails, the berry choices changed from Cranberries to . . .
Withe-rod or Wild Raisin,
and Mountain Ash in the shape of a heart.
Those berries fit right in with our daily cobbled beach quest for hearts and we found many, a few which followed us home. But this one, not exactly perfect, as no heart really is, my guy gave a pulse. A pulse with a smile. And then he left it behind.
Our favorite heart selection we did not disturb because it appeared in the midst of a fairy ring created by the tide.
Our adventures found us exploring different areas of the Bold Coast than we’d visited a year ago, but it seemed imperative that we make a quick stop at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the end of one day. It’s the easternmost point in the United States, thus bragging rights.
The cool news is that as of our first day of vaca, the border between the USA and Canada opened for travel without pandemic protocol and so we drove across the road bridge located about two minutes from our room, showed our passports, and within two minutes entered one of our favorite countries, this time to a place we’d never been before: Campobello Island. Once there, we drove east to the companion light of West Quoddy–and then climbed up and down two steep sets of stairs and across this wooden bridge, with lots of slippery seaweed in the mix to reach . . .
East Head Quoddy Lighthouse.
Driving back toward trails we wanted to hike, we paused to take in the scene of Head Harbour Public Wharf where lobster boats were docked in the moment.
It struck us as a safe harbor for the effects of the business.
Our next destination was Friar’s Head, where according to interpretive signs, “While occupying Eastport, the British navy was said to have used the stone pillar for target practice, altering its outline to that of a hooded monk or Friar in deep contemplation.
Native American Passamaquoddy legend referred to this rock as the Stone Maiden. “The legend speaks of a young brave leaving on a long journey, telling his lover to sit and wait for his return. Many months passed and the brave did not return. The young maiden was terribly upset and sat on the beach below the head and waited. When the brave finally returned to the village, he found his young maiden turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.”
Finally, it was time for a tour of the cottage of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. It has 34 rooms of which 18 are bedrooms and six bathrooms. Until he was afflicted with polio in 1921, Franklin spent every summer on the island, his parents having owned a property next door. As a belated wedding present, FDR’s mother, Sara, gave the young couple this summer home, which they filled with five children, servants, and guests.
One of my favorite rooms was the site of Eleanor’s desk, where she wrote at least 500 words/day five days a week.
In the backyard stands a reminder that the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park is a US Government Agency and a Canadian Government Corporation, established in 1964.
Next door is the Hubbard Cottage, where the rusticators were known to party–men smoking their cigars as they played pool and women gathering around the grand piano, but . . . it’s the oval window that offers a breathtaking frame on the world beyond, ever changing as the seasons.. Mr. Hubbard was a very successful real estate developer from Chicago and his cottage was the envy of many. The oval window in the main room apparently was imported from France.
Not ready to be done with our Canadian journey, we visited Eagle Hill Bog and then from Raccoon Beach we hiked along a loop path through bogs and fields and forest and along the coast, where we spotted a natural sculpture of faces and wondered if they represented people lost at sea or those looking for loved ones or perhaps those who came to wonder and wander like we did.
At Ragged Point, we followed a short spur to SunSweep, one of three sculptures carved from a slab of Canadian black granite and located strategically at this location in New Brunswick, a second in Minnesota, and a third in Washington. All are aligned to follow the sun’s path from daybreak to nightfall. We were there as evening approached and still had some hiking to do, so onward we journeyed.
But first, we made a quick stop at Sugar Loaf Rock, which reminded me of an iguana, and from this site had the good fortune to watch Minke whales feeding in the distance.
Before leaving Canada, we had one final stop to make–a visit to Mulholland Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the country. It’s a wooden octagonal structure that was erected in 1883 and decommissioned in 1963. During its heyday, it guided ships through the Lubec Narrows, where even FDR, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, once made an inspection trip along the Maine coast aboard the U.S.S. Flusser. On a plaque it states: Taking the helm, the future President captained the vessel through the narrow channel between Lubec and Campobello Island, earning the respect of an initially concerned Lieutenant (later Admiral) William F. “Bull” Halsey. Admiral Halsey later wrote, “As Mr. Roosevelt made his first turn, I saw him look aft and check the swing of our stern. My worries were over; he knew his business.”
Our fascination with the lighthouse was that from our room at Cohill’s Inn we looked straight across to the lighthouse–the room being the double window just above the white door as we took in the opposite view.
But even more fun was spotting Harbor Seals who came snuffuluffing along with the incoming tide. It was a great way to end our Campobello/Lubec leg of the journey.
A few hours drive the next day and we began an exploration of Millinocket. I think in the back of both our minds we expected to end up there, but the plan didn’t fall into place until almost midweek. Thankfully, we found a place to stay and headed off on a trail soon after we pulled into town.
Whereas the colors along the coast were a bit muted, it was peak fall foliage in this neck of the woods, where Mount Katahdin dominates the landscape.
One hike found us making our way to Rainbow Lake, home of Eastern Brook Trout and Blueback Char. Though we didn’t see any fish actually jump there, we saw lots of activity while eating lunch beside Clifford Pond–ask us how high the fish jumped and you’ll get a different answer. Mine is maybe six inches, but according to my guy: two feet. That’s a fish tale if I ever heard one.
At the urging of an article by Carey Kish in the Portland Press Herald published on Oct 2 entitled Hiking in Maine: A hidden gem in the midst of Baxter State Park, we decided to check out the River Pond Nature Trail–and we’re glad we did. If you go from the Golden Road, we suggest following the trail counterclockwise. There are lots of blow downs that are easy to maneuver around or over or under if you begin from the opposite direction, but those might have dissuaded us at the start.
Instead, we enjoyed beautiful vistas before encountering the blowdowns. And always looked forward to the interpretive signs along the way.
I’m pretty sure that just as the moon follows us when we drive at night, so does the mountain when you hike this trail.
We were dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colors no matter where we looked.
It was pure magic enhanced by reflections along the way.
Of course, there were other things to see, like Stairstep Moss, one of my favorites known for producing a new level of growth each year. (And one that will always remind me of my dear friend, Jinnie Mae, RIP, for we discovered this species on a rock on her land.)
We added to our red berry collection when we spotted several Bunchberrys in fruit form.
A Jack Pine was also a welcome surprise, known for its bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.
And then we headed into the land of the Bad Hair Day Giants, for so the Polypody fern covered erratics did seem.
Our destination–ice caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area! The cool environment in a deep hole under a jumble of boulders can retain ice sometimes as late as August (though I doubt that happened this year given how hot it was over the course of the summer). While we didn’t need nature’s air conditioning on this day, it was still a cool opportunity to explore.
One more stop on this day was a visit to The Crib along Penobscot River’s West Branch, where we recalled memories of dining above during a rafting expedition about 35 years ago and then how I ducked into the boat when we later passed this spot. Really though, when we rafted, they’d opened the dam above and there was much more water, but still . . . it was fast and furious. Oh, and do you see that mountain in the background? The Mighty K once again.
Our wildlife sightings on this part of the journey included a couple of startled Ruffed Grouse, a Fred the Red Squirrel who followed us, I swear, for we endured his scolding on every trail in both locations (and we hiked over 70 miles all told) and this Garter Snake. But then, the creme de la creme presented itself across from River Pond where we’d first stopped on the Golden Road to photograph Mount K and actually spotted its tracks in the morning.
Yep. We got us a moose! A male yearling I think.
On the way home a day later, we decided we hadn’t bumped across the Golden Road enough, and so headed west on it toward Greenville. Approaching Greenville, we spotted a sign for the B52 Memorial and made a sudden decision to follow the seven-mile road to the site.
The story is a somber one of a United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on a low level navigation training mission during the Cold War that went awry. After the aircraft encountered turbulence on an extremely cold and windy January 24, 1963, a vertical stabilizer came off and the plane went into a nose dive on Elephant Mountain.
Only the pilot and a navigator survived. Signage explains the experience: “The pilot landed in a tree 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching almost −30 °F (−34 °C), in his survival-kit sleeping bag atop his life raft. The navigator’s parachute did not deploy upon ejection. He impacted the snow-covered ground before separating from his ejection seat about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the wreckage with an impact estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. He suffered a fractured skull and three broken ribs. The force bent his ejection seat and he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself in his parachute.”
Fortunately an operator on a road grater saw the plane turn and the black smoke that followed the crash. Rescuers looked in the wrong area that day. The next day, after plowing ten miles of fifteen foot snowdrifts and snowshoeing the final mile, they reached the site.
Today, pathways lead to the strewn pieces and viewers are asked to remain silent out of reverence. Visiting the site gave us pause and we offered thanks for those who protect us and those who complete rescue missions.
We’re glad we stopped there, just as we’re glad we revisited the two locales we enjoyed last year. Except for this one spot and West Quoddy Lighthouse, it was an entirely different adventure. Oh, and we celebrated my guy’s birthday, while also celebrating our beautiful Maine and Canada.
Along a paved trail seemingly flat that follows a track to a vanishing point did I walk today.
It’s a place some see as desolate, but nature always has something to present and today it was signs of the season to come that drew my attention.
Hints of autumn’s hues . . .
contrasted sharply with summer’s chlorophyll-induced greens.
Redder than red winterberries bespoke the presence of a nearby male–since as a dioecious species, female flowers and male flowers grow on separate shrubs. They also signaled bird food and seasonal decorations–depending on who arrives first: Avian species or human.
Disturbed though the land is, Asters such as this Calico, invited visitors like the Paper Wasp to stop by for a sip of nectar.
Goldenrods also sent out messages and Bumble Bees RSVPed . . .
for they had baskets to fill one pollen grain at a time.
In the mix along this route of disturbed soil and gravel, there were those whose seedheads, while reminiscent of a dandelion, proved more beautiful than the Pilewort’s actual nondescript flower.
Less obvious, but no less beautiful, Wood Sorrel quietly softened the edges of the rocks upon which it grew.
Jewelweed, also known as Touch-Me-Not for its seed’s habit of springing forward when touched, had a visitor all its own whose name I wasn’t allowed to catch.
Similar in color to the Jewelweed, a Monarch butterfly filled up . . .
perhaps a last series of sips before the long journey south.
All of this color and action was observed by a Chippy, who was busy adding to his collection of goods, while his kin added their clucks to the chamber music orchestrated by grasshoppers and crickets.
The Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine (home to the Fryeburg Fair), is hardly flat and not at all desolate–it just needs people with eyes to see and ears to hear and minds to wonder as they wander. Okay, so maybe it was desolate in terms of being deserted of people, but I kinda like it that way. As for being dismal and bleakly empty–I beg to differ.
My garden. It’s a classroom. I’ve long been a teacher, but in this particular classroom I am the student. And I give thanks for the daily lessons. In fact, this past week, I’ve given thanks for hours on end as I’ve done my usual stalking, I mean research.
It all began when I started to circle one garden, that is hardly a work of art because I welcome all who grow there, especially several species of goldenrods, their composite flowers offering rays of sunshine on any summer day.
I knew I was in luck when I spied this flower fly . . . that wasn’t flying. That could mean only one thing.
Ambush Bugs were in the area. And indeed they were. So . . . this pair of Jagged Ambush Bugs wasn’t canoodling as some of you probably think. One of the lessons I learned is that this is a prelude to the actual event, where their bodies face each other.
While the Ambush Bugs were busy getting to know each other better on the flowers above, closer to my knees a Bumble Bee buzzed in to gather some pollen and nectar from Giant Blue Lobelia flowers. Another lesson, that gets reinforced each year, is that If one stands still for a long period of time, the bees and wasps and other insects will fly in and out and leave you alone.
And when one looks up again, you’ll discover that the male Ambush Bug was still wooing the female. He’s the smaller, darker insect on top of her. Still another lesson is that when they are in this position, and, mind you, they don’t stay still, his antennae quiver with what I interpret as excitement. I’m sure it has some more scientific meaning or purpose, like maybe he was sending out a signal to her to stay with him or to other males to stay away, but still, how fast did those antennae move.
In the same garden does Turtlehead grow, and I knew it had a visitor when I heard a loud buzz as a Bumble Bee rustled about inside. This plant gets its common name from the flower’s long arching upper lip, or hood, which overlaps the lower lip like a turtle’s beak, minus the eyes of course.
Some say Bumble Bees exit Turtlehead head first but my experience is that they back out of the tight flower. Since this was very near the Ambush Bugs, I thought for sure they’d take a break from their canoodling preparation and try to capture a large meal.
They did not. And then when another flower fly bumped into them, I thought this would be the moment of separation. It was not. Though Ambush Bugs will feed while in this position, or at least the female might, what I observed over the course of five days is that they never did. I also noted that other insects frequently nudged them or came close to doing so, but quickly flew off. Perhaps they sensed danger?
As for the wooers, at about 6:00 on the morning after I first started stalking the goldenrods, I saw that they were still in their pre-nuptial position. At least I assumed it was the same two for it was the same spot and I’d last spotted them at about 7:00 the night before.
While it seemed all they could think about was their progeny, I kept thinking that they needed energy. There were so many options for food, from the black Midas Fly to the green Sweat Fly, but in the moments that I watched, and they were many, none of these became food.
Watching so many different species visit the flowers, I wondered if an Ambush Bug, which I knew could fly, though they seldom did, would attack in flight. But I learned that is not how they operate.
Instead, they wait. And sometimes walk about upon the flowers, perhaps in search of the right spot from which to attack. This is the female with her light colored face.
Notice her front legs, shaped as they are to capture prey, with a pincer that snaps back toward the second larger segment when in action. They remind me a bit of lobster claws.
And this is a male with his much darker suit and head. With those beady little eyes, it’s amazing that they can see insects twice or more their size. Or maybe that’s why they go for larger victims.
The more time I spent watching, the more it was reinforced that an on-the-fly capture was not going to occur. Even still, I kept encouraging such an attempt because it seemed to me that they don’t eat often.
The offerings continued to be plentiful each time I took a spin around and through the garden, but still, since first finding that skeleton of a body that started my quest to watch for more action, I hadn’t seen any evidence of a meal consumed.
And then. And then. And then, no not a meal. Well, maybe not a meal in that moment, but in flew something that I saw out of the corner of my eye and then couldn’t locate.
The Katydid’s camouflage was perfect, even better than that of the Ambush Bugs. Growing up in southern New England, I used to fall asleep to their Katydid songs, but here in western Maine I seldom see or hear one.
Back to the Ambush Bugs, another lesson I’ve learned before but that was reinforced is the fact that they don’t hang out just on Goldenrods, though their camo is certainly better on that flowerhead than on the False Dragonhead. Actually, the Ambush Bug looks more like a dragonhead than the flower does. But I can’t take credit for naming any species. Yet.
Watching the male Ambush Bug proved to be humorous for me, for he always seemed to have his back to any incoming insects such as this hover fly.
Maybe he saw the Bumble Bee approach?
But again, he turned his back on a potential meal.
Even as it drew closer.
Once the bee took off, the Ambush Bug turned again and I had to wonder if it questioned its positioning. Probably not as I’m not sure such a critter can question anything, but if I were an Ambush Bug, I’d like to think I would have done so.
Finally, on day three of my observations, I discovered a successful female. With those claw-like front legs, she’d captured her prey and pierced its body with her beak-like proboscis.
First she injected saliva into the victim’s body and paralyzed it. The fluid also broke down the interior organs and muscles, thus extending the abdomen of her prey. Then she sucked out those succulent digested innards. Yum!
It’s a process that takes time. And given her overall length of about a half inch, it’s impressive that she can take down bigger insect.
Interestingly, once I found one meal being consumed, on the same plant I began to find several.
The other curious thing was that all the predators seemed to be females. That doesn’t mean the males don’t eat, and I’ll certainly keep looking, but it was interesting to note.
Today, on that same plant, I found two meals being consumed that gave a sense that Ambush Bugs really do hide within the flowers before making their ambush. If you look closely you should spy the legs of a fly in the center, and a moth dangling on the right.
Class isn’t over, for I’ll certainly continue to observe and learn and eventually I’ll have conquered my ABCs. Or at least my ABs, thanks to the Ambush Bugs.