Hunkered Down

Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.

p-chickadee

But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.

p-snow on trees

There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.

p-snow on limbs

As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

p-snow on insulators

With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.

p-snow on park sign

Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.

p-snow on tree trunk

Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.

p-snow on tree trunk 2

Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.

p-snow on roots

Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.

p1-snow on bittersweet

And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.

p-snow on fences

Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.

p-snow on bridge

Enhanced the bridge.

p-snow on bench

And buried a bench.

p-Stevens Brook

Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.

p-snow on trees reflected

And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.

p-kneeland spring

At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.

p-mallards 1

I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.

p-mallards 2

In fact, one female took time to preen.

p-mourning dove

I found mourning doves standing watch.

p-Robin

And heard robins singing.

p-snow spider

And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.

p-winter stonefly

Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.

p-winter dark firefly 2

I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.

p1-snow on me

At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.

p-final photo

We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”

 

 

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

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

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Book of December

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

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

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

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

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

s-target

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

b-twisted maple

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

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

m-beech sunshine

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

b-marcescent leaf

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

b-ash bark

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

b-aspen bark

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

b-aspen 2

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

b-grandaddy birch

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

b-yellow birch

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

b-basswood

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

b-paper-birch-old

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

b-gray birch

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

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

n-Central Park 1

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

b-red pine plantation

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

hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

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

spiky spruce

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

b9-tamarack gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liked by you

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

 

Power-filled Mondate

It may not have been a hurricane, but the storm that began as Philippe, left its mark as it whooshed through New England. Along its path, the world darkened. We lost power about 1am, but it was restored by the time we awoke this morning. And yet, many may be without electricity for days.

Our tentative plan had been to hike, but we realized last night that we’d need to consider Plan B. And when the sun shone this morning, we were rather oblivious to the havoc caused by downed trees and flooding. We did check the weather report, however, and saw that there would be a few showers and the wind would continue to blow. So, Plan B it was–yard work between rain drops.

For my guy, that began with work on the back screen door for a bang we’d heard in the night turned out not to be the grill or furniture sliding off the deck, but rather the door banging against a bench. And after that, it wouldn’t shut properly.

o2-bee on lavendar

While he worked on the door, I headed into the kitchen/cottage garden, which had become quite overgrown due to my lack of a green thumb. While my intention was to put the garden to bed, some flowers like the lavender needed to remain for they still invited visitors.

o3-spring tails

As I poked about, cutting some plants back, I made a few discoveries, including the sight of snow fleas or spring tails climbing a stalk.

o1-bird nest fungi 1

And buried beneath, I unearthed bird’s nest fungus, which look like such for which they were named, only in miniature form for they are no more than a quarter inch in height or diameter. Nestled inside the nests, like a bunch of eggs in a basket, are the fruiting bodies that await drops of water in order for their spores to spring out and find their own substrate on which to grow.

o5-beebalms last bloom

And then I approached the beebalm, where a few blossoms still bloomed on this late date.

o4-meadowhawk 1 on bee balm

Most of the beebalm had long since gone to seed, and today one structure became a resting spot as the wind blew. A male autumn meadowhawk seemed to hold on for dear life.

o6-meadowhawk 2

Of course, I took advantage of his moments of rest to take a closer look at the divine body structure . . .

o7-meadowhawk 3

from a variety of viewpoints.

o8-meadowhawk 4

Gender determination is based on the terminal appendages. Male dragonflies have three, known as claspers, which they use to grasp and hold a female during mating. The upper or from this view, outer appendages, are called cerci, while the lower, or middle appendage, is the epiproct–meaning its the appendage situated above the anus. Females have only a pair of cerci, and I’m not sure of their purpose. That beebalm still stands–in hopes he’ll return again.

o9-quaking aspen buds and leaf scars

As I continued to work and observe the world around me, my guy found one project after another to complete–each of which required a trip to the hardware store. Hmmmm. And so, I too, decided to go for a trip–into the woods. Donning my blaze orange vest and hat, and knowing that I wasn’t going far, I took off. My first stop was at a branch below the quaking aspen that had fallen in the night. Though it had reached its end of life, the waxy bud scales and leaf scars were a sight to behold. The smiley-face leaf scar showed where the stem or petiole of this past year’s leaf broke from the branch. As the leaf pulled away, it severed the vessels through which water and food moved. The dots within the scar indicate where those vessels had been connected and are known as bundle scars.
o10-pathway in woodlot

In our woodlot, my trail was littered with pine cones and branches, but that was the extent of tree damage.

o13-selfie

I found puddles that invited me in.

o11-jelly ears

Some branches, decorated with a variety of lichens and jelly ear fungi also found their way to the puddles.

o12a-vernal pool

At last, I reached the vernal pool and was surprised to find it only partially filled.

o12-vernal pool leaves

Atop and within it, the mosaic of broad leaves and needles formed a tapestry of shape and color–in the moment.

014-goldenrod bunch gall 1

Nearby, I paused by a goldenrod that sported a bunch, rosette, or flower gall, for really, it resembles all three.

o15-goldenrod bunch gall 2

The Goldenrod Gall Midge, which is a tiny fly, laid an egg in a leaf bud, hatched into grub form, and prevented the stem from growing, though the plant continued to produce leaves that formed a tight cluster.

o16-maple samara between milkweed pods

I finally made my way home, and turned to other gardens on the eastern side of the house, where milkweed pods also needed to remain standing. I even left the sugar maple samara because I thought it was a fun place to land.

o-17-aphids on milkweed

Also at home on the milkweed were a hundred aphids all clustered together.

020-monarch chrisalys

But the best find of all–the delicate remains of a monarch butterfly chrysalis. I had no idea it was there, but presume it housed one of the monarchs that consumed my attention a few weeks ago.

Just after we headed in, my sister-in-law called to say her sump pump had conked out. Off my guy went again.

It wasn’t the hike date we’d hoped for, but our day was filled with power tools and powerful insects and power-filled love.

 

Book of August: BARK

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Book of August

It was my journey through the Maine Master Naturalist class several years ago that lead me to this book of the month: BARK–A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech.

The book actual evolved from Wojtech’s work, under the tutelage of Tom Wessels, toward a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England.

Between the covers you’ll find information about bark structure, types of bark and bark ecology. There is a key for those who are so inclined.

And then the biggest chunk of the book is devoted to photographs and descriptions for each type of tree that grows in our New England and eastern New York State forests. These include the common and Latin names, family, habitat, range maps, leaf and branch pattern, leaf shape and notes.

For me, there are two take away items from this book. First, I learned to categorize bark based on its pattern from smooth to ridges and furrows, vertical strips, curly and peeling to others covered in scales and plates. He breaks bark type into seven varieties that I now find easy to identify.

Second, I came to realize something that I may have known but never gave much thought to–except for  American beech bark, which remains smooth all its life (unless it’s been infected by the beech scale insect), bark differs from young to mature to old for any particular species. Oy vey!

Though this book is useful in the winter, now is the time to start looking. To develop your bark eyes. The leaves are on and will help with ID, thus you can try the key and you’ll know if you’ve reached the correct conclusion or not.

Go ahead. Purchase a copy and give it a whirl. I must warn you, it becomes addictive and can be rather dangerous when you are driving down the road at 50mph. As Wojtech wrote in the preface, “If you want to experience a forest, mingle among its trees. If you want to know the trees, learn their bark.”

While you are at it, I encourage you to visit the small western Maine town of Bridgton, where the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge leads into Pondicherry Park. Each of the sixteen bridge beams is constructed from a different tree and the bark is still on them. Test yourself and then grab one of my brochures at the kiosk to see if you got it right. If there are no brochures, let me know and I’ll fill the bin.

And while you are there, stop by the independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, to purchase a copy of BARK.

BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011.

Book of October: Reading Rural Landscapes

Book

There are many reasons why I love living in western Maine, and the fact that I can walk into Bridgton Books, an independent bookstore, and be handed a book that   shop owner Pam Ward thinks I would enjoy is one of them. Pam was so right.

Reading Rural Landscapes by Dr. Robert Sanford, professor of environmental science at the University of Southern Maine, is a perfect follow-up to Tom Wessels book, Reading the Forested Landscape.

Sanford takes us one step further in looking at the remnants in the woods. Here in western Maine, I often stumble upon stone walls, barbed wire, foundations, mill sites and other evidence of life gone by. All of this appears in places that seem so far away from civilization. How can it be? Did people actually live in these out of the way places? Why?

Sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that the make-up of the neighborhood was completely different from what we know. We forget that following the Civil War many people left the area for greener fields and less of that good old stone crop. We forget that numerous farms once decorated our landscape. We forget that all the trees we love, didn’t exist.

Reading Rural Landscape’s size (5″x8″) means it fits easily into a backpack and has become one of the guides that I often carry. Sanford includes information about plants and trees at homesites, transitions that occur after fields have been used for pasture or agriculture, examinations of house, barn and outbuilding foundations, mill sites and early commerce, indications of rural roads from farming and stagecoach to logging and trolley, the meanings of stonewalls and barbed wire, plus cemeteries and symbols on gravestones.

Sanford includes a glossary, chapter notes that are as interesting as the chapters, and an extensive reference section. For $19.95, this is a valuable resource.

Ultimately, Sanford encourages stewardship of the land–protection of these historical places. He also encourages us to support those who continue to farm the land and work in the forests in sustainable manners.

Reading Rural Landscapes: A Field Guide to New England’s Past by Robert Sanford, PhD, published 2015, Tilbury House Publishers

To Old City and Back

Leaving camp

From camp. To Old City. Bridgton to Sweden. Via Moose Pond.

Toward Black Mtn

The temp was about 40 degrees, but with the brilliant sunshine, it felt even warmer. We reminisced about kayaking and rowing as we headed north on the pond.

Mink 1

Beside one of the islands, a mink had made numerous trails and holes.

Mink 2

I love it when a critter behaves like it’s supposed to. In this case, the prints are on the slant that the weasel family is known for. A mink is a small mammal with a long body and short legs. It has partially-webbed feet, an adaptation to a near-aquatic habitat. A few years ago, an acquaintance and I were helping with the Moose Pond watershed survey. We were sitting on some rocks by the shore, with a dock in front of us, as we jotted down notes. Much to our surprise, a mink came up from under the rocks by the dock. We starred at it, it starred at us. We had cameras. Did we take a photo? Nope. Another one for the mind’s eye.

Mink3

Bound and slide. Like otters. I still want to be an otter in my next life, but minks do have fun too.

following tracks

Tracks tell the story about behavior, but it’s often a guessing game. I think I got this one right. Homo sapiens. Male. About 6 feet tall. Handsome. Puts up with a lot.

finding a seat

He borrowed a resting spot while I examined those mink tracks and holes. There were tons of holes.

on the trail

At the northernmost end of the pond, we followed the snowmobile trail toward Old City. Today it’s a wooded snowmobile trail around the base of Black Mountain in Sweden, Maine, but during the 19th century a road passed by at least six homesteads. All were reportedly occupied by young men who chose not to live at home–perhaps increasing their status as eligible bachelors. Their names included Cushman, Farrington and Eastman, among others–names long associated with Sweden and Lovell. (Sweden was originally part of Lovell)

foundation

The area was abandoned at some point after the Civil War, but foundations like this one remain. This may have belonged to P. Farrington or J. Edgecomb, but I’m thrown off because it occurs on the wrong side of the current “road.” That doesn’t mean the road was originally in the same spot.

stone walls

Stone walls, like this one near the I. Eastman property, formed boundaries to keep animals in or out. I suspect this guy was a major landowner.

stone wall 2

I’m fascinated by stone walls. Not only are they beautiful and functional, but they also represent a tremendous amount of labor. And the stones have their own story to tell about the lay of our land in New England.

color in the woods

I’d been looking at tracks, trees (always looking for bear claw marks on beech trees and quizzing myself on bark) and stones. On the way back, this touch of color caught my eye. Red Pine bark is among my favorites. Then again, I haven’t meet a tree I didn’t like. And the contrast with the hemlock needles, beech leaves and touch of blue sky gave me pause.

vine?

This also caught my eye. Last fall, a friend had sent me a photo of a beech tree with a similar case of strange scars. I didn’t know what it was, so I sent it on to a forester I know. He sent it on to someone in the invasive insect department at the state level. It all boiled down to what they thought was wounds from bittersweet vine being wrapped around the tree at one time.

vine 2

That made sense then. Today, I dunno. As I looked around, I noticed the same phenomenon on other beech trees. But I didn’t see any evidence of vines nearby. Of course, there’s still a lot of snow on the ground, as my guy can tell you since he chose not to wear snowshoes. The area had been logged at some point. But, I’m just not sure.

heading back to camp

Back on the pond and heading toward Bridgton and camp. Shawnee Peak and Pleasant Mountain provide the perfect backdrop. Yesterday, my guy took one of our grand-nephews for another ski lesson. The young’un skied straight over moguls on the Pine, slipped off the trail into the woods several times and fell a kazillion times. On the ride home this tired seven-year-old said that his younger brother probably spent the day playing Xbox. When asked if he wished he’d done the same, he remarked, “No, this was the most fun day I’ve ever had in my ENTIRE life.” I can hear my mother-in-law guffawing in heaven. 🙂

islands and mountain

Only another mile to go before we rest. Thanks for wondering along with us on today’s wander.