Book of February: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer

Yikes. Here it is the end of February and I’ve spent the month mentally flipflopping between two books to recommend–one about tracks and the other about tree buds.

And then this day dawned. Not long into the morning as I sat at my desk beside a window, a swift motion captured my attention . . .

and I knew immediately that Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer by Mary Holland would be the February Book of the Month.

In this factual, yet delightful story, Mary tells of Ferdinand’s birth, childhood activities, and growth as he and his siblings are born and eventually weaned. Her amazing photographs fill the pages and alone are worth a reason to purchase this book. But there’s so much more and one doesn’t need to be 3-8 years old to enjoy it. Even those of us who are more “mature” can surely learn from the information shared on each of the book’s 32 pages.

And there’s even more to the book because at the end is a section her publisher labels “For Creative Minds.” Though one can’t copy other pages in the book, we are encouraged to use the material in this section for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Included are “Red Fox Fun Facts and Adaptations” with photographs and brief blurbs to describe various behaviors of these canines. (I remember a time when I had to get it through my brain that a fox was a canine and not a feline.)

One of my favorites from this section: “Red foxes are most active at dusk and dawn (crepuscular). In summer, they are more active at night (nocturnal) because their prey, mice, are more active then. Foxes may hunt during the day (diurnal) in the winter because it’s harder to find food.”

Bingo! That brings me to the reason why I chose this book for February.

Remember that motion I mentioned observing this morning. Well, I went to the kitchen door and there on the snowbank by the back deck was my neighborhood fox.

He was on the prowl. Do you see all the gray and red squirrel tracks on the snow? And Mary’s comment that foxes will hunt during the day in the winter. One would think that given all the squirrels and mice folks were dealing with last fall, a result of the previous year’s mast crop production of acorns, pinecones, and beechnuts, the foxes and coyotes and bobcats would have plenty to feast on. But . . . there wasn’t so much food for those little brown things to cache this winter and so it’s a rare occasion that I find a squirrel midden or even mouse tracks in the snow right now. Instead, they are all at my bird feeding station. And my daily fox knows this. Though I haven’t seen him find success, he returns repeatedly and follows the same route each time so I suspect he’s helped himself to a few local delicacies.

Notice that long snout–the better to smell you with, my dear. Oh wait, that was the big bad wolf, not the big, bad fox.

Just after I shot this photograph, he pivoted and dashed off in the direction from whence he’d come.

And then he returned, with nothing dangling from his mouth. His eyes, in the front because he was born to hunt (eyes on the side, born to hide–like a deer), focused on something in the quaking aspen that I couldn’t quite see from my vantage point.

He went back to the tree and for a second I thought he was going to climb it. Hmmm, gray foxes climb trees, not red.

Again, this was from the edge of the door and I couldn’t quite see what had captured his attention. Prior to his visit, the feeders and ground had been a party spot for a slew of squirrels and birds. I doubted a bird would hang out in a tree while a fox lurked below, but wondered if a squirrel was trying its darnedest to blend in with the tree trunk. And if it was a red squirrel, it was keeping its mouth shut for a change for I heard not a bit of its usual chatter.

After a minute or two, Fred, as I’ll call him (after all, Mary named her fox) moved a few feet away, sat down and began to scratch behind his ear. Those darn fleas.

He sat there for a few minutes and then got up and began to walk away. But his eyes . . . still they were focused on that tree.

At last he gave up on that particular quarry and ran off, following his usual route across the yard toward the neighbor’s house. I wonder how many cats they have left.

I gave Fred a wee bit of time to move on so I wouldn’t disturb him and then I headed out because, after all, who can resist the opportunity to check out brand, spanking fresh tracks? Remember that red fox’s feet are quite hairy so their prints look rather muffled, even in the fresh dusting of snow that fell overnight.

Do you see the X between toes and pad? Some semblance of nails? And can’t you just envision him loping across the yard?

Remember how he sat down to scratch behind his right ear (looking head on it would have been his left to us)? Well, I found the spot where he’d left an impression on the snow. And more. A tad of pee and SCAT! He’d dined on something.

I backtracked him for a while, crossing over stonewalls and into neighboring tree lots curious about where he comes from, but as Mary Holland reminded me, “As the weather turns cold, Ferdinand and his siblings sleep outside on the ground and no longer use their den.” Instead, they curl up and their bushy tails keep them warm. At last, I came to a tree where he’d dillydallied.

And then I spied a tiny amount of yellow snow–he’d tinkled (what fun to write “tinkled”) there. The sniff test results: skunky scent. Has he not mated yet? One day more than a month ago he did bring a gal by, but I haven’t seen her since. Red foxes typically breed in January and February, and it is, after all, still February for a few more hours.

At the end of our cowpath, he’d turned south as he always does and his track became but a memory.

Mary’s book can help keep that memory alive. It’s only one of numerous children’s books she’s now written. All have cross-curriculum teaching activity guides that one can download from www.SylvanDellPublishing.com.

Mary is also the author of Naturally Curious, which is now out of print (though someone told me there is an updated edition, but I’m not sure its been published yet), and Naturally Curious Day-by-Day, and she shares a blog post about five times a week with those who wish to learn more.

I’ve had the honor of being in her presence twice, both times here in western Maine, and she is delightful, down-to-earth, and extremely gifted as a naturalist, photographer and author. She’s also quite approachable and I’m always amazed that she takes the time to answer questions via e-mail.

If you follow her blog or read her books, you’ll feel as if she’s either walking beside you or just ahead. Mary, if your ears are burning, it’s because those of us who do follow in your tracks often comment on the fact that what we see you just happened to post. Thank you for helping all of us, no matter our age, become naturally curious.

Once again, the February Book of the Month: Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer.

Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer by Mary Holland, Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2013.

Counting Birds

In the name of citizen science, Kathy McGreavy and I ventured forth at 8am this morning as the temperature hovered just above zero.

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Our eyes were on the birds within view along a route outlined in orange. Up and down roads we journeyed, stopping periodically to jump out of the truck and focus our binoculars on our feathered friends and then keep track of them on the list provided. At the same time, other groups traveled different routes within the circle and also tallied their discoveries.

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Together, we saw blue jays, crows, robins, tufted titmice, a female cardinal, brown creeper, some chickadees, and lots of juncos. We also enjoyed driving down roads less traveled and reveled in the ice and snow-coated scenery before us.

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At noon, Kathy had to depart and so I headed home for a quick lunch before venturing out again to finish up our tour. And at Salmon Point boat launch I was rewarded with more robins.

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But my favorite spy of the day, two northern flickers at the outlet where Stevens Brook flows into Long Lake. I first spied one and then two on the trunk of a red maple. After a few minutes they flew below to dine on winterberries. But I wondered–northern flickers in December? They weren’t on the list, nor were they rare; just not typical winter visitors in western Maine.

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Seven and a half hours later, back at home, which was out of our part of the quadrant, a female downy woodpecker enjoyed some frozen suet. I couldn’t include it on the final report, but still . . .

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The same could be said for the white-throated sparrow that I frequently spot amongst the junco flock that partakes of our feeding station.

Participating in this citizen science project is great fun and I’m thankful it’s a winter tally for I can ID most of the species I see. Were it to occur in summer when all those warblers breed in this northern territory, my bird brain would be more challenged.

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Another benefit of said participation is the opportunity to visit places such as the old dam on Stevens Brook during the winter season.

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Because I was there, I saw tons of otter sign including numerous slides. A huge grin covered my face.

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And then, there was a certain rare sighting lower in the brook that drew my awe.

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We had a form to complete for rare finds. But . . . it was for rare bird finds. Would my northern flickers suffice? I wasn’t sure and so filled in the information to be on the safe side. But . . . that which I saw in the brook itself was probably rarer.

An ice disc.

According to Mary Holland’s recent post about such on her Naturally Curious blog: “An ice disc is a large disc of ice spinning in a river. It’s thought that this relatively rare natural phenomenon is likely caused by cold, dense air coming in contact with an eddy in a river, forming discs ranging anywhere from 3 to 650 feet in diameter.

While eddies contribute to the spinning, they are not the only cause. If they were, small discs would spin faster than big discs, and this is not the case. Discs of all sizes rotate at roughly the same rate. One would also expect that discs in still water, where there aren’t any eddies, wouldn’t start spinning, but they do.

The melting of the ice disc contributes to its spinning as well. When an ice disc starts to melt, the melted ice water is denser than the ice, and thus sinks below the disc. This movement causes the water to spin, which in turn spins the disc.”

Common and rare–and another fabulous day spent participating in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count for 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Anniversary of Wondermyway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 28 2016: Gallivanting Around Great Brook

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

March 18, 2016: On the Verge of Change

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

March 22 2016: Wet Feet at Brownfield Bog

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

April 13, 2016: So Many Quacks

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

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

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

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

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

May 21, 2016: Wallowing in Wonder

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

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

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

June 10, 2016: The Main(e) Exotics

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

June 18, 2016: Paying Attention

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

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

July 9, 2016: Wondering About Nature’s Complexity

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

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

Indeed.

July 27, 2016: Searching for the Source of Sweetness

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

August 21, 2016: Sundae School

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

August 27, 2016: Halting Beside Holt Pond

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

September 9, 2016: Golden Rulers

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

September 15, 2016: The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

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

October 17, 2016: Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

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

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

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

October 22, 2016: Cloaked By the Morning Mist

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

November 6, 2016: Focus on the Forest Foliage

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

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

November 20, 2016: Forever a Student

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

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

December 4, 2016: The Art of Nature

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

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

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

January 19, 2017: Keep an Open Mind

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

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

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

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

February 8, 2017: Embracing the Calm

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

February 16, 2017: When Life Gives You Flakes

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

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

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Second Anniversary!

 

 

 

 

 

Book of January: Naturally Curious Day By Day

Twice now I’ve had the pleasure of being in the audience of Mary Holland at local speaking engagements and I give thanks for each opportunity. But even if I can’t be in her presence to catch her excitement about the natural world and listen to her tales of wilderness adventures, I’ve contented myself with turning to her book, Naturally Curious. It’s like having a naturalist beside me at all times. And when I encounter something I’m not sure about, it’s to Mary that I turn–or at least her book.

It was with great joy then, that I learned she’d published a new book this past year (in addition to children’s books and calendars and . . .). I purchased a couple of copies at my local independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to give as presents. Of course, I also added it to my own wish list.

And so it was that I was grateful to open a certain shaped package of just the right weight on Christmas morning. Quite often we disguise our gifts to each other, but this one I knew immediately.

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Book of January

Naturally Curious Day by Day by Mary Holland is exactly that. She breaks the year down into more than months as she did with her first book. For each day, she includes two or three photos and a paragraph or two. No too much info, not too little.

True confession here. I keep it in the upstairs library, aka bathroom. It’s just the right amount of information and I’m always looking for something to read when I’m seated there. (I’ve been known to read the packaging on a myriad of bathroom-related items.)

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My reading experience includes credits and acknowledgements, dedications and prefaces. And what to my wondering eyes should appear in NC Day by Day, but a photo credit to one of my mentors: Bridie McGreavy, PhD. I remember when Bridie first shared the photo of the mouse impaled by a shrike with some of us. Turn to page 419 and see if for yourself. (Congratulations to you, Bridie.)

After I opened this coveted gift, a relative asked how Ms. Holland knew what to include for any particular day–that that animal or plant species would be seen that day. Ah, but Mary knows this because she is a seeker who has spent decades in the woods and on the water and she understands the rhythm of the natural world. How often do those of us who follow Mary’s blog and venture outdoors realize that we saw the very item she writes about the previous day or trust we will notice it that day?

It’s only day 5 and already, I’ve photographed most of the things Mary writes about from

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pileated woodpecker holes and

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associated scat (filled with insect bodies and bittersweet berries),

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snow on conifers,

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white-breasted nuthatches, and

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puffed-up chickadees,

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to mammal prints,

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maple buds (in this case Red Maple), and

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even a snow scorpionfly.

Each month begins with a lengthy description appropos to what’s happening at that time of year, e.g. woodpecker holes and other signs of birds feeding, the survival of evergreens through the winter season and our local nuthatches, both white- and red-breasted.

How does Mary know what to include for each day of the month? It’s easy. She’s paid attention and encourages all of us to do the same. Probably, in hind sight, it was difficult for her to narrow down her topics.

Thank you, Mary Holland, for taking us along on your treks through your photography and prose, for teaching us and learning with us, and for providing resources for us to return to day in and day out.

Naturally Curious Day By Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visits to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016. $29.95.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Winter clothing? ✓

Hand warmers? ✓

Camera and extra lenses? ✓

Water? ✓

Trackards? ✓

Scat shovel? ✓

Snowshoes? Oh no. I didn’t realize until I met up with two fellow trackers for today’s Tuesday Tramp that I’d left my snowshoes home. “I’ll be fine,” I said. “Other’s have probably walked the trail before us.”

Indeed, they had. But I also knew that because we were tracking, we’d wander off trail. Indeed, we did.

It’s a good thing I had warm snow pants and tight boots on and brought along my sense of humor and adventure.

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We began at the kiosk of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Chip Stockford property, where an Eastern Phoebe’s moss-lined nest awaits the return of its residents. Perhaps the funnel spider who took advantage of the nesting site is keeping the home fires lit amid the grasses and mud therein.

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And then we reached the former log landing and the current site of Speckled Alders. We’d only seen squirrel evidence at that point, but knew to check on the fuzzy little woolly alder aphids who inhabit these shrubs.

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We were surprised to see a black coating that seemed associated with the aphids and reminded us of black knot on fruit trees. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the aphids were covered in black.

When I arrived home, I looked for more information and of course, Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious, came to the rescue:

“Once leaves start to fall, one often observes white, fuzzy patches along the branches of Speckled Alder (Alnus incana). These fuzzy patches consist of colonies of aphids feeding on the sap of the shrub. In order to get enough nitrogen, they must drink volumes of sap, much of which is exuded from their abdomens as a sweet liquid called honeydew. The honeydew accumulates and hardens onto the branches as well as the ground beneath the shrub. Yesterday’s Mystery Photo was the honeydew of Woolly Alder Aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellates) which has been colonized by a fungus known as black sooty mold, a fairly common phenomenon.

Fairly common means we need to pay more attention. That’s how it is in the natural world–you see something for the first time and then realize it’s everywhere, you’ve just missed it all your life, or at least up until now. I love the noticing.

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In places we predicted, we found snowshoe hare runways. Typically, I give thanks to them for the technology that holds us up closer to the surface of the white fluff that covers our winter world.

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Where the trail splits, we were greeted by the keeper of these woods. It was here that we also found porcupine tracks, the prints a bit muted but the sashaying pattern easily decipherable. We followed its trail for a while, me making post holes, but moving with relative ease. Winter hiking is so much easier even when the snow is deep.

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We’d come to track mammals despite the freezing rain, sleet and snow, but other things also drew our attention, like the lines that decorate a beech tree. Usually it seems obvious that they are made by either a formerly attached vine or branches from other trees that scratched in the breeze. We couldn’t say for sure with this one, despite taking a closer look.

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At the scenic look out, other young beech trees provided a hint of light in the gray of the day as we took in the sight of Lower Bay below.

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A turn to the right and we noted a number of artist conks decorating a tree.

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And beside our feet, evidence that a Ruffed Grouse had passed under low limbs.

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For a while, our tracking seemed limited to squirrels and then at the old foundation, we noticed a bounding pattern. Of course, we needed to follow it, up over what was probably a rock and then noted where it had passed under a branch close to the snow. It was under the tree that its prints gave us a few more clues and we determined it was a fisher. (Note: Fisher, not Fisher Cat. They are members of the weasel family, not feline.)

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As we rounded the bend below the foundation, snow snaking across the limbs of a downed tree made us pause and admire.

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And then we paused again–at The Rock. In the summer, it’s a great place to admire “Life on a Rock,” and in the winter we always expect some small mammal to take advantage of its protection. One of these days maybe we’ll be rewarded with evidence.

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It was just beyond The Rock that we decided to go off trail again and further explore the porcupine’s trail. It led us to its home and then climbed upward. My two companions went first, making their way across what we soon realized was an old stump dump.

Seconds later, I disappeared . . . down a hole . . . well, at least up to my waist! Our first thought as I pulled my body out–would I discover quills on my boots? Thankfully no. I maneuvered  and my friend, Joan, who is half my size, pulled me up as we laughed about the possibilities.

We skedaddled across the rest of the dump and bushwhacked back to the alder trees.

So maybe I didn’t exactly disappear down a rabbit hole, but for a brief moment it felt like such. And will become part of our memory of a snowy, icy day spent on the prowl.