“A Perpetual Astonishment”

It was actually still winter when I joined Lakes Environmental Association’s Education Director Alanna Doughty and LEA member Betty for a “Welcome Spring” snowshoe hike at Holt Pond Preserve this afternoon–but really, for western Maine, it was a delightful spring day.

Our hearts smiled as our journey began beside a clump of pussy willow shrubs, so named for their resemblance to tiny cats’ paws. Actually, the white nubs are flowers pre-bloom. Their soft, silvery coating of hairs provides insulation thus protecting these early bloomers from cold temperatures.

That being said, they aren’t protected from everything and if you look, you may see pineapples growing on some. Those pinecone-like structures were created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows. It’s a crazy world and everything seems to have its place.

Hanging out with the pussy willows were speckled alders, some with protrusions extending from last year’s cones. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were alder tongue galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. I’ve yet to see it in its early form but time will tell.

We passed a spider walking across the snow and then came upon another member of the lilliputian world–a winter stonefly on the move. How they and the spiders survive the cold and snow is dependent upon special compounds including glycerol, proteins, and sugars that act like antifreeze. By its presence, we knew we were approaching a fast-moving stream.

More evidence of the stream’s presence became immediately apparent when we moved from the field to woods and immediately spied a sign of beaver works.

Stepping down beside the Muddy River, we began to see beaver tree after beaver tree. Each a most recent work.

Alanna stood upon an old dam, but though it was obvious they’d crossed over it by the well traveled trail of tracks, repair work was not yet part of the scheme for the water flowed forth.

We stood there for a few minutes and tried to understand what they had in mind, when one in our group spied the beaver chews in the water–their snack of choice.

We wondered if they were active downstream or up, and decided to follow the trail north.

A few minutes later, we came upon another trail well-traveled and knew that they’d been working in the vicinity.

In the brook, covered with spring ice, which features a different texture than the frozen structures of winter, was a small tree.

And then our eyes followed the beavers’ tracks back and we saw from whence it had been sawn.


And dragged through the snow. In our minds’ eyes we appreciated their efforts.

Still, we didn’t know what the beavers were up to, so we moved on in hopes of learning more about their activities. All the while, there were other things to notice, like the orange brain fungus growing on the inside of a stump. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate it for snowfleas, aka spring tails, also searched the surface.


Since we were beside the river, it might have made sense that we checked out the beaver works via canoe, but . . . the snow is slowly melting and it will be a while before we need to bring our own paddles, personal flotation devices and duct tape (just in case the canoe springs a leak).

From the boat launch we followed the secret trail and made our way out to the red maple swamp.

In a sunny spot we spied a swab of earth–a taste of what is to come. And the ever delightful wintergreen offering the first shade of spring green with a dash of spring pink.

Slowly we made our way back out to the Muddy River, where we stood and looked across at two beaver lodges on the other side. We didn’t dare cross, but from where we stood, it appeared that the lodges may be active given that we could see the vents at the top. It also appeared that they’d been visited, though we weren’t sure if the tracks were created by predators. Was this where the beavers who had been so active downstream were living? Or were these the homes of their parents? Were the new beaver works those of the two year olds who had recently been sent out into the world to make their own way? Our brains wondered and wondered?

We weren’t sure, but with questions in our mind, we moved on toward Holt Pond.

There were other things to see as we walked across the wetland, including the woody structures of maleberry capsules and their bright red buds.

Rhodora, that delightful pink beauty showed us that she’s waiting in wings.

As we made our way back, more wood chips on the ground indicated that a carver of another type had been at work–of the bird type rather than rodent.

To identify it, we looked not only at the shape of the chiseled structure, but also the scat we found among the chips.

Because it was filled with the body parts of carpenter ants and we knew its creator’s name–pileated woodpecker.

And then we found an insect of another type. Why was a hickory tussock caterpillar frozen to a twig? Was it shed skin from last fall? How did the structure last throughout the winter? We left with questions, but gave thanks for the opportunity Alanna provided to share the afternoon wandering and exploring and thinking and looking forward–to spring.

In the midst of our wandering, we did discover a fairy house and suspect that tonight some wild dance moves are on display under the Super Equinox Worm Moon.

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”

British Author Edith Mary Pargeter, also known by her nom de plume, Ellis Peters (1913-1995)

Prehistoric Creatures of western Maine

I heard it before I saw it as I reached the summit of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Flat Hill this afternoon. The rhythmic tapping sounded as if a structure was being built and so I looked upward expecting to see a treehouse under construction. Scanning all the trees in the mixed forest, I saw only their crowns.

And then I smartened up and looked at the snow. Bingo! Fresh debris atop this week’s layers of snow from two storms and I had a better idea of the construction worker’s location.

Sure enough, high up in a deteriorating yet live red oak stood the one with a crown all his own–brilliant red as it was in the afternoon sun. By the red mustache on its cheeks, I knew the pileated woodpecker was a he. Call him either PILL-ee-ated or PIE-lee-ated; the word means “crested.”

Sometimes, when these birds are intent on their work, I find I’m able to quietly move in a wee bit closer. Mind you, he was up quite high (at least 25 feet above me) and there were other trees between us. I hoped if he was aware of me that he knew I meant no harm. I just wanted to observe.

And so I did for a good while. Check out that chisel-like bill.

In a seemingly effortless manner, he pounded away. Did you know that a pileated can peck up to 12,000 times a day? Not all on the same tree, of course.

Thank goodness for extra-dense neck muscles and a compressible skull bone. Between hammering, this guy paused periodically. To admire his work? To check on the food supply? Or just to take a break?

Can you see one of his four-toed talons grip the edge of the excavation site?

One cool thing about woodpeckers is how they use their tail feathers for support–as if the third leg on a three-legged stool.

As I watched, I noted that Woody Woodpecker, a name I give all pileateds because their rattling call reminds me of the television cartoon I grew up with, kept digging a bit deeper.

And deeper still.

Then he’d take a break and turn his head away from the tree and I finally realized that the tree was at such an angle that to remove debris he needed to drop it below.

Eventually, he flew off and so I checked on the woodchips in hopes of finding scat filled with insect body parts. There was none. For all of his work gouging the oak, he didn’t seem to have found any carpenter ants or wood-boring beetles. Maybe that’s why he moved on. And so I did as well.

About halfway down the trail, I came upon a sight that might have delighted the woodpecker. I know I was thrilled.

Within a few feet I spotted a second one. They were snow scorpionflies. Much like the fact that Flat Hill isn’t actually flat, nor can the snow scorpionflies fly!

On his website “Bug of the Week,” entomologist Dr. Michael J. Raupp explains, “They belong to a small order of insects known as Mecoptera. The “scorpion” moniker derives from the fact that males in this group have unusually large and upward curving genitalia that resemble the stinger of a scorpion. The “fly” part of the name comes from the fact many species of Mecoptera have wings and can, well, fly.”

To fly and not to fly. Predator and prey. Despite their extreme differences, both finds today certainly struck me as being prehistoric creatures of western Maine.

Clockwise Circumnavigation of Holt Pond

Though we were headed to a place we frequent, we thought we’d change up our trek by hiking in the direction that is opposite our norm along the trail system.

h14-trail map

And so for us, 12 o’clock was at the point where the trail was closest to Grist Mill Road. As we stepped on to it, I wore micro-spikes and my guy just his hiking boots. Within about fifty feet, I’d already banged snow off my spikes twice and decided they’d serve me better by being in my backpack.

h1-Following the boardwalk

It meant being aware of the boardwalks, most of which were covered with ice and snow, and post holing occasionally, but even if we’d worn snowshoes, we’d have ended up taking them off for the temp was in the 40˚s and snow not too deep.

h2-bear

One of the things I love about visiting a place often is that each time it has something different to offer. As we made our way to one and two o’clock on the map and passed through a hemlock grove, we discovered a bear den. Bears don’t always hibernate in caves and this one chose an old tree stump to spend the winter.

h3-quaking bog

I was with my guy, so it was no surprise that within no time we were at 3 o’clock, where we had to shuffle across the ice covered boardwalk in the quaking bog.

h4-bog rosemary

On the way back to the main trail, I mentioned that I’d be a bit slower, for there were reasons to take notice, like the bog rosemary leaves . . .

h5-pitcher plant flower pod

and dried pods of a pitcher plant.

h6-snowshoe hare tracks

Moving on toward 3:15 on the map, we began to notice snow lobsters everywhere. This particular hare, whose pattern reminded me of our marine crustaceans, had come from the quaking bog and passed into the red maple swamp. Do you see the pattern I’m referring to? The snowshoe hare had hopped toward the point where I stood, its front feet landing on a diagonal first, while its larger back feet swung around and landed in front. Consequently, the front feet served as the lobster’s tail, and the hind feet its claws.

h7-through the red maple swamp

Through the red maple swamp we journeyed to 3:30 with my guy obliterating more snowshoe hare prints as he went. Notice how his tracks were rather sloppy–he was again trying to keep from slipping off the icy boardwalk.

h9-two lodges

At about 4:00 by following the map, we stepped precariously onto the boardwalk that led to the Muddy River. Where once stood one beaver lodge, there were two–and both looked active.

h10-river to pond

In the opposite direction, we looked out to Holt Pond, from which the frozen river formed.

h11-canoe

The canoe launch, further along the river, is located at 4:30. The only ones using it recently were some red squirrels who had created a midden beneath. But should you choose to venture out, bring your own pfd and paddle.

h12-beaver dam

As we moved on toward 5:00, we began to encounter beaver dams–at least three of them, for so active had been this community of large rodents.

h13-mink tracks

And at 5:30, as we followed the river out to Chaplins Mill Road, we started to encounter tracks on a diagonal that spoke of their creator–a mink. Notice how one print in each pair is just ahead of the second. That’s a typical characteristic for all members of the mustelid or weasel family.

h16-southern end of Holt Pond

Lunch stump was at 6:00, where the trail veered back off Chaplins Mill Road and returned to the pond. As we ate, we realized we weren’t the only ones who chose to dine in this spot, such were the pinecone caches under every white pine and hemlock.

h17-mink

Continuing on toward 7:00, we spied more mink tracks. I didn’t have my usual tracking gear with me, but the AARP card measured about three inches, the trail width or straddle of a bounding mink.

h18-mink

For straddle, we typically measure the distance from the outside of one foot to the outside of the other within a set of prints. Stride, or the distance from one set of prints to the next, varies greatly with bounders like a mink, so that’s not important. But that diagonal orientation–rather consistent.

h21-snow and ribbon lichen

As we made our way toward 8:00, a hemlock tree gave me pause–for the intersection of lines and color upon its bark–the vertical white snow enhanced the horizontal green ribbon lichen.

h22-fisher tracks

By 8:45, we had reached the northern end of the pond, which was to our right. It was there that we realized another traveler had joined the dance–as evidenced by its larger prints. A fisher.

h23-fox

And then we kept encountering a red fox from 9:00 on. Well, not the fox exactly, but its own telltale prints.

h24-water obstacle

All along, we wondered what we’d encounter at our 10:00 point, the trail intersection closest to Fosterville Road. We could hear the water before we saw it. And then my guy met it up close and personal, breaking through ice and coming up with wet feet. I, too, had one wet foot for one of my Sorel boots had a blowout and the upper split from the sole–a major disappointment for though the boots are old, they have plenty of traction left.

h25-water over boardwalk

Anyway, we contemplated the underwater boardwalk and knew we had an escape route behind us, for we could have walked up to the road. But . . . we didn’t. The water was about four inches deep and we went for it, figuring we were already wet and we only had about a half mile left to cover in the five mile journey.

h26-pileated tree

On the map, we were at 10:15 when my guy noted fresh pileated woodpecker works.

h27-pileated scat

I had to look. And wasn’t disappointed. Several scats were visible, filled with seeds and insect body parts.

h28-northern end

We moved on to 11:00 and passed through another red maple swamp . . .

h27-winterberry

where the color of winterberries had changed from bright red to wine,

h28-frozen mink tracks

frozen tracks spoke of an earlier journey by a mink,

h31-yellow warbler nest

and a yellow warbler nest remained attached in the crouch of a shrub.

h29-northern end of Holt Pond

Our last look at the pond was through the shrub level and though we couldn’t actually see it, we knew it was there, outlined to the south by the evergreens.

h33-my guy's print

At last I followed my guy out. We’d reached 12:00, the beginning and ending point of our clockwise circumnavigation around Holt Pond.

 

 

Melt Down

After a few weeks of extreme cold, January did what it always seems to do–cranked up the thermometer. That might have been okay except that with the warm temps (40˚s and above) came the rain. And with the rain came the fog. And with both disappeared the snow.

j1-soggy bluejay

And so our deck was clear, except for the bird seed, of course. And a rather bedraggled bluejay. I’d noted in the past few days that all of the birds are much skinnier than I remembered, given that they didn’t need to puff out their feathers and insulate themselves from the cold.

j2-squirrel feast

The gray squirrels also came by, their mouths like vacuums as they scoffed much of the sunflower seed supply.

j3-squirrel feast 2

They, too, offered a rather bedraggled appearance, but the rain didn’t stop them from getting their fill.

j4-snow thaw and debris

And then, the rain ended, clouds moved swiftly southward, arctic wind gained strength, temperature dropped dramatically, and sun shone brilliantly. Abruptly, the thaw ended. That was fine with me for I was afraid we’d lose all of our snow cover. As it was, we lost well over a foot in the past two days. And what’s left was riddled with natural debris.

j6-vernal pool

I decided to check on the vernal pool, curious about its condition. As expected, it was still frozen, but with that yellowish brown ice of warmer days.

j7-leaves embedded in ice

Fallen leaves remained entrapped in the thin, mosaic layer.

j10-ice on ruts

Nearby, I found open water in many places; some of it with thin ice designs decorating the edges.

j25-ice

Ice forms in various ways . . .

j11-ice forms

and these three offerings were a few feet of each other.

j8-squirrel tracks

I discovered the ice as I followed red squirrel tracks created when the snow was a wee bit softer. By the time I moved across it had started to freeze again and though my snowshoes made a lot of noise and got a wee bit wet and frosty, I was thankful for them as they made my tramp easier.

j9-squirell prints

The beauty of the squirrel prints was that their toes and toe nails showed. It’s a rare occasion when conditions are just right for good prints.

j12-my squirrel cache

My next destination was to check on the creator of the tracks. And I felt as if a sun spirit was doing the same. Meanwhile, the squirrel chatted at us from a nearby tree.

j14-cones exposed but not touched

The top of its pile had been exposed, but I suspected the cones hadn’t been touched. Instead, the snow had melted off of them. I think he’s saving this pile for another rainy day.

j15-midden exposed

In the meantime, he has been busy as demonstrated by a midden slowly growing near another of his stashes.

j16-turkey prints

I decide to let him feast in peace, and instead followed some turkey tracks to another location.

j11-witches butter fungi

Along the way, it was the witches butter on an old pine stump that gave me pause. It’s also called orange jelly fungus and some say it looks like a brain. I wish I’d seen this small patch more recently, because I wondered if it had grown under the snow or if the melted snow and rain had affected it. Either way, it’s always a fun find and especially now as it adds a dash of color to our somewhat monochromatic landscape.

j17-pileated tree

My next great find was a pileated tree. I last saw it a few weeks ago, but it seemed to me that even more chiseling had taken place.

j18-pileated tree

At first, when I saw the gray wood above, I thought it might have been older work.

j19-pileated tree

And that the newer work was much lighter in color. Do you see the chisel mark? Just imagine the head banging that went into this masterpiece.

j20-pileated debris

Like the squirrel, a growing pile below added to the story. For me, it was the realization that the gray wood was excavated at the same time as the lighter wood. My new theory, the gray wood had been caused by a fungus or rot of some sort and then the insects followed and finally the woodpecker. If you know otherwise, please enlighten me for I want to understand. Of course, I looked for scat, but came up empty handed. Drats.

j21-second vernal pool

At last I reached a second vernal pool, though the going was a wee bit difficult given the conditions. This one was more open than the first.

j22-ice melting

And on this winter day that began with the tail end of a heat wave, but had chilled significantly, a watery reflection was a fun treat.

j23-sun setting behind vernal pool

On my way home, I made one more stop at the first vernal pool while the sun began to set behind it. I trust it will freeze up again, probably tonight.

What surprised me was how much had melted in the last two days. And from the looks of photos I’ve seen posted by others today, my neck of the woods shows only a wee bit of the January thaw.

We’ve had a melt down. Now it’s time for a freeze up.  Back into winter we shall go–thankfully.

 

Time Well Spent

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.

b-pileated 1

And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.

b-pileated 2

Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.

b-ash tree 1

Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?

b-ash tree 2

And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.

b-scat 2

Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.

b-pigskin poison puffball (Earthball)

Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.

b-pelt lichen1

I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.

b-many-fruited 2

Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.

b-field dog lichen

On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.

b-spring tails 1

The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.

b-mealy pixie cups

And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.

b-pixie cups fruiting

And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.

b-lichen design

Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .

b-foliose and fruticose

and form.

b-lichen 3

My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.

Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.

 

Mondate with Tom and Friends

My guy and I–we drove to Portland this morning for a two-hour meeting and then enjoyed lunch with one of his sisters at the Miss Portland Diner before moving on to South Portland to run an errand and finally returning home.

Too much food and sitting time. And so the woods beckoned.

v-turkeys-1

Right out the back door, male turkeys took advantage of our offerings. The snow is crusty and while acorns were plentiful, foraging for them has become a more difficult task. But birdseed is free feed and once discovered means often frequented.

v-turkey-1

That’s OK for now because it gives me a chance to get to know these guys. We live in an 1870s house on former farmland (I often refer to the cowpath), all of which played a part in the reduction of forest land, one of the factors that led to the extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine. Slowly, the land has reverted to forest, which helped in reestablishing turkeys to their former range. At the same time, our neighbors, thankfully, continued to mow the adjacent field that we look upon, which provides for prime turkey nesting habitat.

v-turkey-2

Tom and his brother Tom and his other brother Tom are handsome devils in their own unique ways. Their featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps called  caruncles change colors with their moods.

v-turkey-3

And on their chests, bristle-like feathers that don’t look at all like feathers are referred to as beards (by us humans–I’m not sure what turkeys call them). Though some hens sport beards, theirs are not as robust or long as those of the Toms.

v-turkey-4

“You looking at me?” asked Tom.

“Yes, I am. I’m admiring your iridescent feathers layered like slates on a roof and those spurs on your legs used for defense and dominance. Do you object?”

“Well, I guess I am rather handsome.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Yeah, the turkeys and I, we talk. We’ve long had a relationship and I truly don’t think you should eat them. Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll tell you my turkey story.  I know they can leave a mess in the yard and become aggressive, but . . .

v-turkey-tracks-2

I encourage you to follow their tracks into the woods. You never know where they might lead.

v-turkey-tracks

Following them today led to the vernal pool. Note the pen, my form of perspective in relationship to size because it’s what I had in my pocket. The pen measures 5.5 inches. Turkey prints are large.

v-vernal-pool-adventures

The pool wasn’t teeming with amphibian life yet, but for the first time all winter, it was obvious that visitors had stopped by.

v-vernal-pool-action

Their timing wasn’t the same, but the turkeys strutted across, while deer slid and skidded on the ice. Life happened over and over again.

v-deer-prints-2

It appeared to be more than one deer–perhaps a mother and a skipper or two wanted to skate, much as our sons used to do at this very same spot.

v-coyote

And among the prints, those of a predator, though its journey appeared to be earlier than the deer. Gray squirrel tracks circled the perimeter and maybe that was the intended prey, though really, any of these critters would have made a desirable meal–the forest being what it is, groceries gleaned when needed.

v-deer-hemlock

Continuing the journey, plenty more turkey tracks and then the white tails of deer  flashing in the distance. Beside the trail another item on the grocery shelf–fresh hemlock bark scraped.

v-pileated-holes

One final item in a different aisle–fresh pileated woodpecker holes. They wake us each morning with their drumming and the sound continues throughout the day. Wrapped around the tree, a vine that added to this bird’s food.

v-pileated-scat

Its scat told of the source–not only a few carpenter ants, but also bittersweet fruits. Yes, this is how the seeds of this invasive species spread.

And so it was today that I traveled the woodland trail alone after a morning and afternoon spent with my guy. And . . . the Toms shared their story and those of others. It was indeed a Mondate–spent with others.

(Did you think I was going to mention Tom Brady? Congrats to the Pats on their Super Bowl victory.)

 

 

Ho-Ho-Ho Ho Hoing Away

I remember a time when a Pileated Woodpecker sighting was rare. And now, it’s a daily event, but one which I still feel blessed to experience.

h-pileated

Stepping out the door this afternoon, I immediately heard one hammering and realized another was drumming in a nearby tree. Within minutes, a third flew in and birds #2 & 3 sang their eerie tune as they approached #1. He chased the couple and they flew off, their flight strong, and marked with slow, irregular woodpeckery flaps.

h-woodpecker-hole-1

After watching #1 for a bit, I went in search of woodpecker happenings scattered throughout our woodlot. Though they’ll eat lots of wood-boring insects and occasionally berries, seeds and suet, carpenter ants are their mainstay. Better in a woodpecker’s stomach than our home. Sometimes the holes they create are about six inches across and almost as deep.

h-woody-condo-2

h-woody-condo

And those holes became homes for other critters occasionally, so when friends and I see trees such as these, we think of them as condominiums providing living quarters perhaps for small birds and little brown things (mice). Included in these condo units are some smaller round holes, created by the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers that also live in our neighborhood.

h-wood-chisel

Occasionally I come across trees such as this one that hadn’t been so much excavated as chiseled. Woodpeckers are just that–peckers of wood. They don’t eat the wood. But to get at their preferred food, they must hammer, chisel and chip the bark.

h-woodchips

At the base, always a scattering of wood chips. I, of course, cannot pass up any opportunity to search through the chips in hopes of locating scat. I was not rewarded with such a find today.

h-hole-in-snag

Leaving dead snags encourages woodpecker activity. They become prime locations to forage, roost and maybe even nest, though I hardly think this snag was large enough to serve as the latter.

h-pinesap

While I was out there, I did stop to admire a few other sights including the now woody structure of pinesap;

h-winterberry

winterberries contrasted against the wee bit of snow that still graces patches of ground;

h-deer-tracks

deer tracks indicating we’d had visitors during the night;

h-violet-upper

h-violet-toothed-under

and a tree skirt of violet-toothed polypores. They are rather like the Lays Potato Chips of the natural world. You can never have just one. (Note: I’m not talking about eating them, but rather how they grow.)

h-woody

It’s been said that Pileated Woodpeckers are skittish. That’s not always the case. I’ve stood beneath one for over twenty minutes, the bird intent on its work and seemingly oblivious to my presence.

The next time you are in the woods and hear the ho-ho-ho ho ho, ho-ho-ho ho hoing that reminds you of that cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, take a look around. You, too, might be blessed. And don’t forget to check for scat. 😉