Today's Mystery Tour

The message arrived in the form of a text: “Meet me at North Fryeburg Fire Station at 10:30. I’ll drive.”

And so we did. Upon our meeting we realized we’d each left some gear home, but between us, much like we share a brain, we shared resources that would benefit us along the trail. The back of the Subaru packed with snowshoes and hiking packs, up the road we rode, one of us driving while the other two anticipated the near future.

Beside two Norwegian Fjord horses named Marta and Kristoff blankety, blank, blank, (cuze one of their owners couldn’t remember his full name), our driver did park.

Before us, a groomed trail presented itself–leading to infinity and beyond or so it seemed.

And within a mailbox, tucked into plastic sleeves, maps and track charts were available.

Rather than take either, we took photos of the map; and knew that we had a set of David Brown’s Trackards for our trail finds.

We were still by the road and farmhouse, when we noticed sap buckets tied to Sugar Maples and realized that the season had begun.

One of our good fortunes, and we had many as the day progressed, was to stumble upon Jim, the owner of the property who explained to us that the sap had only just started to flow and he had 200 trees tapped. Sap season can be fickle, but we hope the good fortune his land shared with us could be returned many times over in the form of gallons of syrupy sweetness.

Up the trail we finally tramped, stopping frequently to take in as many treasures as possible as we tried to gain a better understanding of the world that surrounded us.

One item that drew our attention was the thick twig and dome-shaped bud of an ash. Its corky leaf scar below the buds was filled with a smiley face of dots we knew as bundle scars–where sugar and water had flowed between last year’s leaf and twig/trunk.

By the shape of the leaf scar, its bud dipping into the cup and creating the form of a C, we knew its name: White Ash. Had it been a Green Ash, the bud would have sat directly atop the leaf scar, which would have looked like a D turned on its side.

I keep trying to come up with a mnemonic to remember these two species and may have just discovered such: C = cup = white cup of coffee; D = hmmmm? So much for that thought. Stick with C and if it doesn’t look like that, chances are it’s a D.

We paused beside many buds, examining them all for their idiosyncrasies, but equally prevalent on the trail were the tracks left behind by so many critters. Deer, snowshoe hare, birds of varying sizes, chipmunk, red squirrel, and the list went on. Red fox were part of the forest mix. And coyote as well. We so wanted bobcat and several times tried to convince ourselves that such was the case, but indeed, our further study made us realize it was no more than a wish.

We also wanted porcupine tracks and bear claw trees to make themselves known. We searched and searched for all three: bobcat, porcupine, and bear claw marks, but found none.

What we did discover, however, was the namesake of the trail upon which we tramped. My, what deep impressions it had left.

Perhaps the creator was Sasquatch?

No indeed. Where it had traveled upon the trail we followed before it traversed cross country, it left discernible prints that gave another sense of its size and we talked about the fact that its stomach would have been at our eye level.

By the crescent-shaped halves and dew claw marks, we knew that somewhere in the forest beyond moved a moose. Actually, by the number of tracks we saw on the trail, we thought that at least two had traveled this way.

And directly above we could see that it had dined, for the tags on the Red Maples where buds had once been bespoke its breakfast source.

At last we came to Moose Bog and briefly let our minds slip into seasons to come and offerings yet to be, but quickly pulled ourselves back into the moment and reveled in the fact that beside the sign was a sign left behind by the one for whom the bog was named.

The impressions were so deep that we decided to measure them.

Fifteen inches. We had barely sunk in an inch or two on our snowshoes, so the moose’s prints lead us to realize the immensity of its weight.

While in the same area, an abnormal growth on Speckle Alder gave us pause. At first glance, we recalled the fluffy colonies of Woolly Alder Aphids and wondered if what we saw was somehow related. A bit of white appeared in the structure, but it didn’t quite match anything we’d seen previously or our understanding.

About twenty feet down the trail, we found it again, this time on an American Beech twig. The curious thing, it only grew on one side.

Upon closer examination, we realized it looked a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within our hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.

It wasn’t until I contacted Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood several hours later that we realized we were on the right track. Anthony is my go-to entomologist and I bug him (pun intended) frequently for identification or explanation. He never fails to reveal some amazing fact.

Today’s find: The Beech Aphid Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. We were thrilled to discover that we were on the right track thinking it was related to aphids, and we knew that ants like to farm them so they’ll secret honeydew, but . . . a poop eater. The natural world just got more otherworldly for us and our wonder will never cease.

Trees continued to attract our attention, but upon the trail were a slew of tracks, the prints of coyote and fox especially decorating the way. And then, and then some coyote scat and pee, the former so full of hair and a selection of the latter at another spot that sent us all staggering from the strong scent.

A bit further on we found an older coyote scat that contained large bone chips. Do you see one in the upper left-hand corner of the specimen?

We also found fox scat filled with hair and seeds, for like coyotes, omnivores are they.

And then, some small, cylindrical shapes within a print.

X marked the spot where the latter scatter crossed its own path.

And then it flew off. Who dat scat? A Ruffed Grouse.

At least five hours after we began our tramp, the farm house finally came into view. And so did Becky, one of the owners. She was actually looking for us for so long had we wandered.

We’d taken a photo of the trail map, as I said earlier, before we set off, but never again did we look at it. No wonder Becky was worried about us. The trail we followed was only eight tenths in length, but because we’d stopped every three steps or so to look at the next best thing, it had taken us five plus hours to complete the loop.

We chuckled again for after meeting up with Becky and reassuring her that we were fine and happy and well (super well and thankful for such was the day and all that her land had offered us), we wondered if she and Jim had made a bet on how long it would take us to travel the last few hundred feet to the road.

There were still things to note, including sap seeping into buckets.

Red maple buds growing more bulbous with age also garnered our focus.

As for our mystery tour: we were treated to the Moose Loop at Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch. That would be in North Chatham, New Hampshire.

As we were greeted, our journey ended, with a smile from Kristoff and grins across our faces for the finds we’d discovered, understandings we’d made, and time spent together exploring.

Many, many thanks to Jim and Becky Knowles for sharing their land with all of us, and for Pam K for discovering this treasure and providing the mystery tour. Well done.

PS. Our last few hundred yards took about 25 minutes–who placed the correct bet on our time–Jim or Becky?

It was a dark and dreary day . . .

I’m working on a challenging article and can’t quite figure out how to introduce the topic. After a bunch of attempts, I suddenly had an inspired idea . . . drop the pen, walk away from the legal pad and head out the door.

And so I did despite the freezing rain that was falling atop this morning’s snow. Heading down a trail I haven’t had a chance to step upon in months, I realized that I was among old friends who had passed by prior to the storm.

In fact, every where I went for the next two plus hours, they had been there before me.

Their tree of choice also gave away their presence and I fear that there won’t be too many red maple leaves in bloom come spring. Imagine this: a moose needs to consume fifty to sixty pounds of vegetation daily–that’s a lot of buds, twigs, and bark.

With their lower incisors and hard toothless upper palate, they grabbed the twigs and yanked to pull the buds off for consumption. Left behind were their calling cards–long dangling tags. Some were at least three feet above my head.

Also think about that moose face–homely and ungainly as it may be with a large upper lip that can wrap around the twig in order to dine, and the bell or dewlap dangling below its mouth.

With utter glee I found some hair stuck to one twig and it wasn’t the hollow shafts of its dense coat, so I wondered if in the process of browsing, hair had come off its face or dewlap.

As I said, the moose had traveled throughout the woods and I began to follow their tracks exclusively, for they always lead to coppiced red maples that are trying to make a comeback in these woods that were logged within the last five to ten years.

It was on one of the trees that I did find the hollow hair shafts, and I’ve used black arrows to try to point them out to you. There were three which seemed to intersect at the point where the twig had been swiped. Notice how straight they are, especially in contrast to the slender, curly hair.

The more I looked, the more soft, curly hairs I found. Hmmm, I have a feeling any of my hunter friends can enlighten me, for now I’m considering belly hair? Is it softer? Or am I correct in thinking about the chin hairs?

It doesn’t matter. Well, it does because I’d like to know.

And maybe the chickadees were trying to tell me as they flew in and landed on maples while singing their “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” song. But what mattered most was that I got outside and cleared my brain and came up with an introduction to the challenging article: It was a dark and dreary day . . . oh drats, I can’t use that–especially since despite the snow and rain, I hardly found it dark or dreary.

I think instead, I’ll begin in the middle and see where the article takes me from there. In the meantime, though I didn’t see them, I’m tickled to know that there are still several moose in the woods behind our house.

Keep an Open Mind

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.

o-deer

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.)

o-deer-1

Being on the receiving end of such a gift can lead to want or greed. And when I spied several deer crossing the trail before I slipped into the woods today, I expected to find numerous more antlers.

Certainly, I thought I’d find at least one, but the possibility for several seemed realistic given the local population.

o-deer-tracks

To that end, I followed fresh tracks and examined areas they’d pawed as they sought acorns and mosses. My eyes scanned the surface, but perhaps it was the fault of the fresh layer of snow that hid the possibilities. Then again, we’d only received a few inches of fresh white stuff and it was rather warm for a January afternoon, the snow’s surface dotted with drip drops.

o-landmark

I didn’t pay attention to my direction as I moved and then suddenly found myself nearing an old landmark, surprised as usual that it still existed. I did notice that the deer didn’t travel below this widow maker. Nor did I.

o-moose-tracks

Eventually my wanderings found me following tracks left behind by a larger mammal.

o-gray-birch-forest

I worked my way through a thicket of gray birch, those early successors in an area logged about ten years ago, and then heard a sound–a crashing noise.

o-red-maple-browsehair

As I stood still and waited, I looked around. Everywhere, the young gray birch and red maple buds had been nipped. Everywhere. It was almost as if no tree had been left untouched. Sometimes I noted traces of hair.

o-moose-rub-2

There was no further sound of crashing branches, but plenty of evidence of who had been crisscrossing through these woods on a regular basis. Signs indicated action and I had visions of antler velvet being rubbed off.

o-bent-branch

Sometimes bent . . .

o-moose-rub-3

and other times completely broken, I saw moose behavior that meant antlers in my future.

o-moose-rub-1

On some trees, rubs were smooth in the middle and ragged on the ends, with points scratching the surface. At least that’s what I thought I was seeing.

o-moose-food-1

Scrapes, those areas where the moose had used their lower incisors to pull bark and the cambium layer from the trees, were also visible everywhere I looked.

o-moose-bed-1

In a matter of minutes I found a bed and that’s when I realized that this was probably the moose I’d frightened off, given the freshness of the structure.

o-moose-heart

One of my favorite parts of the find–moose scat within a moose track. And all in the shape of a heart.

Indeed, no antlers. Indeed, other offerings. And a reminder to keep an open mind. And heart.

 

 

Nature’s Never Static

Mid-morning found me slipping into my smiling place where I decided to follow a route I usually save for snowshoe season.

slipping into the woods

I know it will come eventually, but the realization that we can’t predict when the first snowstorm will arrive or how much snow we’ll get over the course of the year reminded me that nature is never static.

trail boggy

I, for one, am looking forward to snow and hoping for lots of it because it will be so much easier to make my way through this boggy area.

creeping snowberry

In the meantime, I focused my attention on the ground–checking each step as I went. It’s easy to get caught on the slash the logger left behind. And when I looked down, I noticed things I don’t get to see once the white stuff falls, like the creeping snowberry that grows abundantly here.

hawk 1

Pausing frequently to look around, I suddenly noticed I had company.

hawk 2

The curious thing–this sharp-shinned hawk slowly made its way east, while further down the trail

bird flock 2

a flock of birds chitted and chatted as they moved among the tree tops.

chickadee

An ever curious chickadee landed nearby to check me out. And visa versa.

goldfinch

A goldfinch sporting its winter coloration also paused to peek. Lucky for all of them, the hawk was headed away rather than closer. Maybe it had already feasted.

mud

Eventually I found mud. I LOVE mud. With each step it squelches and squerches as it sucks my boots in and I pull them out. (And takes me back to Clinton Harbor at low tide, where my father always insisted that people paid millions of dollars to sink their feet in mud.)

my tracks

The beauty of mud here in western Maine is that prints are well defined and easily identified–homo sapien, female, average height and weight, just over middle age, blue eyes–wait a second. I wish I could read that much information in the prints I find, but I’m satisfied to be able to identify the animal to species.

coyote 2

Reaching into my pocket, I discovered I had my trusty six-inch ruler–left there since early spring. It helps to give perspective of a print–in this case a coyote. Middle toes parallel, nails leaning inward, 2 inches across, x-shaped ridge between toes and heel pad.

coyote and bobcat

I love it when nature happens side-by-side. Coyote on the left and bobcat on the right. The coyote had passed this way more recently, when the ground was softer and moved through quickly as evidenced by the slide into position. The classic C of the bobcat’s ridge between toes and pad is clearly visible.

 moose 2 directions

Moose frequent the area and I’m not sure if this is the same one passing to and fro or two different moose. It’s obvious that the first print was made as the animal moved in the direction of the ruler and the second shows the moose moving away.

deer, direction change 1

And then there was the deer that decided to change directions. Did it hear the mighty hunter coming along? Or another predator? Maybe me, though I suspect these prints were fresh last night and not this morning.

ice-mud

The other thing about mud–combined with ice it becomes nature’s artwork.

ice ground 2

Sometimes it sits upon icy pedestals begging to be noticed.

ice puddle abstract art

And ice itself is ever forming, ever changing. That’s the thing about nature. It isn’t static. Nor am I. Growing. Evolving. Seeking. And thankful for the opportunity.

 

 

Three-Season Mondate at Back Pond Reserve

OK, so it wasn’t three seasons all packed into one Monday date, but walking up the   Mountain Trail at GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham today brought back memories of previous visits by my guy and me.

yellow

The woods are awash in golden-green yellows right now, especially where the trees include beech, big-tooth aspen and striped maple.

a dose of red

Climbing higher, variations of red join the carpet display.

summit 3 of 5 Kezars

We were surprised by how quickly we reached the summit, which is what got us recalling previous visits.  Today, the water of three of the Five Kezars sparkled while Pleasant Mountain stood watch in the background.

summit, summersummit, winter

As I looked through my photo files, I realized we have never hiked this trail in the spring. In the summer there are wildflowers to make us pause, and winter finds us exploring mammal activity–thus our treks are slower.

summit, Mt Washington

Today’s view included snow on Mount Washington, the grayish-white mountain located between the pines.

Ganong chocolates

As we enjoyed the view, we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with the last couple of truffles we had purchased at Ganong Chocolatier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, earlier this month.

water bottle 2

And water, of course.

which way do we go?

Instead of letting the arrows confuse us, we turned 180˚ and followed the connector trail between the Mountain and Ron’s Loop. It’s not on the map yet and still needs some work, but it’s full of surprises–only a few of which I’ll share right now.

winter, connecting trail

We’ve always enjoyed this trail and today realized that though it’s much easier to follow than it was a few years ago, many trees have blown down along the way.

numerous trees 2

They’re easy enough to climb over. If you go, do know that there are two or three mucky spots along this trail as well, but again, easy to get around.

lone red pine, connecting trailred pine, winter

This lone red pine always makes us wonder. Perhaps it found its way here via a seed on a skidder?

winter bobcat prints

Today we found moose tracks, plus red fox and coyote scat. If there was bobcat scat, it was obscured by the leaf litter, but we know they frequent this area.

winter, snowshoe hare

We also know the bobcat’s favorite meal lives here–we saw this guy in early March and of course, always see his prints on winter treks.

artist's conkcrowded parchment, connecting trail

Lion's Mane past peak

A couple of fun finds along the way–artist’s conk, crowded parchment and an old lion’s mane.

the bridge on Ron's Loop

winter, the bridge at Ron's Loop

The bridge on Ron’s Loop is all decked out with autumn colors–a contrast to its winter coat.

honoring Ron

We’re forever thankful to Ron for his leadership and foresight,

bench on Ron's Loop

even when we can’t see the plaque that honors him.

Kendra and Jewell

We met no other people on the trail today, but one of my fondest memories dates back two years when one of GLLT’s interns, Kendra, offered her arm to Jewell for a safe journey. Once upon a time, Jewell was Kendra’s Sunday School teacher and on this summer day, Kendra was Jewell’s guide.

water bottle by Ron's Loop

As we walked into the parking area of Ron’s Loop, we noticed that someone had left behind a water bottle. If it’s yours, it’s still there.   wasp nest Ron's Loop

Each time we visit, we take a moment to check out the wasp nest at the kiosk.

Ron's Loop kiosk, Jan 2015

We can’t remember when we first noticed it, but it’s been there for a while.

coffee sign

One last thing to note before we walked back to the Mountain trailhead where our truck was parked–Magnolia coffee. Wish I’d ordered more than one this past year. Dark roast.

One Mondate–three seasons. And now the quest is to turn it into a four-season destination. Stay tuned.

Signs of Life

I headed up to the vernal pool this afternoon with every intention of pausing along the way to sketch.

Mt Wash

The only snow left is atop Mount Washington.

vp1

Egg masses continue to accumulate. Blue sky with a few cumulous clouds, warm sunshine (almost too warm, but I’m not complaining), a gentle breeze, white-throated sparrows singing to each other–signs of life were everywhere.

FROG

Including this secretive wood frog. From above, his coloration matched the leaves beside and below.

frog2

We eyed each other as he floated near a large mass of eggs that have turned green with envy, I mean algae, in the past few days.  Their egg masses can include 500-1,500 eggs. Yooza!

sally eggs

Salamander eggs are either clear or opaque, like these two masses. They usually contain anywhere from 30 to 250 eggs.

at mansion road

My guy was sanding the dock at camp and I had finished several writing projects this morning, so I decided that rather than sit and sketch, I’d walk out to the log landing. Walking along the snowmobile trail was like walking in Clinton Harbor at low tide. The mud squelched underfoot, sucking in my boots. Rocks underneath felt like clams–maybe I was just hungry.trail

I headed down the logging road with mixed emotions. My heart cried, but my head knew better. Like other paths that I’ve frequented over the years, I loved this one and knew its quirky features well enough that I recognized the slightest change. Yup, that’s change you see in front of you. This logging operation has been going on for two years. Prior to that, the gray birches, paper birches and speckled alders, plus hemlock and white pine saplings bordered the old road. It was last logged about thirty years ago so those species grew in first. They’ve all been hacked down to make room for the equipment and trucks.

gray birch

I went in search of beauty and life among the destruction. Sometimes, you just have to look for it.

moose

One of the good things about such an operation is that it provides easy vegetation for wildlife, like the moose that are frequenting the trail.

moose bobcat

The herbivores, like moose and deer, love the easy feeding. And the bobcats like that the herbivores are easy feeding.

bobcat

A closer look at the bobcat tracks.

bobcat1

And even closer. I don’t often see bobcat claw marks, but muddy conditions warranted their use. In the back of the foot pad, you might see the imprint of hair.

bob scat

I was bound to find this. Bobcat scat–filled with dark organ meat and lots of hair. Bobcats, being carnivores, grind their prey right up with their sharp-pointed molars.

coyote scat

Coyotes, on the other hand, are omnivores and their molars are flatter, thus big bone chips pass through. The funny thing (to me anyway) about this scat, is that it looks exactly like some I found near the beaver lodge pond that I shared in yesterday’s May Day Celebration. Both were filled with extra large bone chips and hair. I took some of the scat I found yesterday. Today, I left it all.

Yes, my fetish for scat continues, but I only take a sample that will be an effective teaching tool. Really. And, I need to keep in mind that scat is a sign for other mammals–health, wealth and status quo are all wrapped up in it. If I take it, they have to work harder (or scat more) to get the word out about who and where they are. So, the next time you wander with me and we see some scat and I get all buggy-eyed over it, give me a nudge. OK, enough about scat.

weaselsquirrel

Dinner anyone?

Weasel and squirrel.

turkey

And the ubiquitous turkey.

landing

This is the second of two landing areas. When the job is completed, we’ll have new trails to explore via snowshoe–it’s rather wet and the trails are currently covered in a lot of slash.

The logging operation is a one-man job and he’s been selective. The end result, as ugly as it may look now, is that the ecosystem will be healthier because of this project. Grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and tree saplings will grow in–early succession. And the fauna will follow.

eggs at landing

The vernal pools associated with the area are still here for the most part–and show signs of life. I found wood frog and salamander egg masses. Even startled a couple of frogs, including a bull frog.

single

And just when you think that wood frogs only return to their natal vernal pools . . . here is proof they’ll take advantage of any water.

eggs

An opportunist recently used a wet depression in the landing.

Signs of life. No matter how devastated an area may look, they’re there.

Thanks for joining me on today’s wonder-filled wander.

We Will Be Known Forever By The Tracks We Leave

So said the Dakota Sioux, who were woodland people. That Native American proverb was with me today as I moved along a logging road behind our land. A muddy, sometimes frozen, sometimes gushy and smushy, logging road.

coyote and deer

I think I missed the party. Deer and coyote prints were abundant and if I’d only visited a few hours earlier, I may have seen some of the action. But, part of my problem is that I don’t walk like a Native American, who supposedly could move through the woods with fabled stealthiness. Of course, that may be referring to a much grassier woodland than we know–especially in a logging area where slash is left behind. But, logging or not, I clunk along–crackling through ice, splashing through puddles, sloshing through mud and crunching through snow. I’m hardly quiet–ever.

ice and rocks

The logging road has changed over the last two years, but it’s not all bad. I get to see sites like this where the water and rocks make art together.

It used to be that the gray and paper birch, those early succession trees, hung over the road. After a heavy snowstorm, my guy and I, or a friend of ours (that’s you, D.B), would snowshoe down the road, trying to relieve the trees of some of their burden. It was rare that anyone else ever went there, so the three of us made it our mission to take care of the trees. Those trees are all gone now to make way for the logging truck, but their offspring will soon fill in the space.

In the meantime, a playground has been created for our local wildlife. And play they did. Their tracks are everywhere–traveling to and fro.

bobcat

Including bobcat.

moose

And moose.

moose 1deer

Moose and Deer

muddy boots

Not to be left out, I also got a bit muddy.

my boot

And left behind my own set of prints.

landing

I crossed the landing and decided to return home via one of my snowshoe trails. This time I was walking on top of the snow for the most part–thanks to last night’s low temperature.

following snowshoe trail

As usual, I stopped frequently to scan the woods, looking for movement or some anomaly. I startled a few ruffed grouse, who in turn startled me. Of course, I couldn’t catch it in film.

grouse

But I did capture this moment. A grouse must have burrowed into one of my former boot prints–maybe because the snow is crustier some nights. It munched the fungus on a small branch and left a pile of its trademark scat.

Sometimes, when we’re on a hike and I pause to take a photo or extropolate on something I see, my guy points to my tracks and says, “I wonder if the deer look at these and say, ‘A human came this way. Don’t you detect a whiff of PB&J?'” I have to remind him that he likes making discoveries just as much as I do.

fresh deer

A little further along, a flash of movement. I looked up and saw only the tail of a deer as it dashed across my trail. But it left behind a bit of a muddy footprint. Dew claw marks and all.

And then the  crème de la crème . . .

moose scat

Moose scat. Mind you–it isn’t fresh. You can see the hemlock needles atop it. But it’s a firm winter scat–I’m thinking it was deposited earlier this season.

moose scat 1

My glove loved modeling in these photos. Ya know, some people make jewelry out of moose scat. I didn’t have a container to collect this today, but I know where it is. Maybe tomorrow or sometime in the near future. And maybe I’ll think about Christmas presents–hmmm . . . who wants to be on my list?

snowmobile trails

Finally, I’d finished the loop and found myself back on the snowmobile trail.

Red maple

Time to look at the Red Maple twigs.

red maplesketch

It won’t be long now before they burst into flower.

I hope you’ll find some time to search for tracks during this mud season. And think about the tracks you leave behind–literally and figuratively. I’ve left some that would best be washed away in the rain, but others that I wish could last forever.

Thanks for wondering my way.