Paddling into Autumn

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve driven past the Kezar Outlet put-in on Harbor Road in Fryeburg and noticed others either embarking or debarking from a canoe or kayak trip and always desired to do the same. Occasionally, I’d stop and take photos, and once I co-led a trip from the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake to the dam, but until August I’d not gone any further. And then our friend, Pam Katz, invited my guy and me to join her for a journey from the dam to Charles River, on to Charles Pond, and part way up Cold Brook.

The put-in can be a bit tricky with rocks and stirring water flowing from the dam, but somehow the three of us managed not to tip as we kerplunked into our kayaks. That day inspired all of the subsequent trips for really we were scouting out a route for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend paddle co-sponsored by the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Upper Saco Valley Land Trust.

On that first journey and two that followed, we were wowed by the floral displays including, Cardinal Flowers,

Pickerel Weed,

Sessile-fruited Arrowhead and . . .

Common Arrowhead,

Ground-nut, and . . .

Turtlehead. Today, only a few asters showed off their composite form.

We’d paddled along, my guy, of course, always in the lead so he was the first to reach the old beaver dam. Pam was surprised by it because the water had been higher when she’d last followed this route. But it was obvious from the fact that there were no new sticks and the water wasn’t at dam level on the far side that there was no current beaver activity. My guy, feeling chivalrous, hopped out of his boat and shuffled us around on the wet grassy area to the far right of the dam.

Upon the sticks and branches Emerald Jewelwings flew, males such as this one with the white dot on its forewing waiting for a second before attempting to dance with a mate.

Once all three of us were on the other side, the water was a wee bit deeper and it seemed we’d entered Brigadoon.

And then the community changed again and Swamp Maples allowed glimpses of the mountains beyond.

Before one of the final turns in the Charles River, we reached an abandoned beaver lodge.

And then Charles Pond opened before us.

We crossed the pond to Cold River, found a great lunch spot and reflected upon our sightings, which included a few ducks, an eagle, and a heron.

My second visit was with Trisha Beringer, Outreach and Office Manager for Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. It was an opportunity for me to show Trisha the route and for us to create our plan for the GMOW event. And to bask in the sun much the way the Painted Turtles did.

She was as wowed as I was by the journey and excited to share it with others.

Our turn around point was Charles Pond, but we paused for a few moments to take in the view.

And on the way back, as I contemplated sliding over the dam because the water was a bit higher due to some rain, three otters surprised me as they played below. Only one is visible with its head above water, but the others had just dunked under. Once they realized we were there, they took off. Our portage wasn’t a portage at all for rather than go over the dam, we did the dam shuffle, maneuvering our boats around it with a full-body back and forth motion.

Finally, it was time for the GMOW event, and the night before we decided to let those who had signed up know that we needed to postpone it from last Saturday to Sunday because of the weather. As it turned out, it was the right choice to make and Sunday dawned bright and beautiful with dew drops to top off the gathering.

Just beyond the Harbor Road bridge we passed under, a maple astounded us with the first official glimpse of the season to come and many of us paid it homage with photographs and words of awe.

At the beaver dam, the water was lower than on the previous visits, but thankfully two paddlers hopped out and helped everyone get out of boats and shift them around to the other side.

Continuing upstream, the Swamp Maples that offer the first glimpses of the mountains, showed that they too were trying on their new coats for the next season.

The group took in the view while crossing to Cold River and continuing on until we couldn’t travel easily any more. As always, the return trip was quicker and we finished up in three hours, grateful for an opportunity to explore the water that connects the GLLT’s fen property on Kezar Outlet with USVLT’s Stearns Property on Cold River and make new friends. It was a spectacular day and we were pleased that we’d made the choice to postpone.

One who had to back out of the GMOW trip at the last minute, asked if we’d offer it again, thinking we’d gone ahead with our Saturday plan. She really wanted to check out the course because though she’s lived locally forever, she’d never been below the dam on Harbor Road. And so this morning, I met Storyteller and GLLT member, Jo Radner. As we moseyed along, we began to notice bank tunnel after bank tunnel for so low was the water. In a muddy section, we found prints with a tail impression thrown into the mix and deciphered them as beaver.

It made perfect sense when we noticed a sight not spotted on the previous trips: beaver works on a maple. Given that, we began to wonder what the dam might look like.

Despite the fact that we found more and more evidence of recent beaver works, the dam certainly was bigger, but not because it had been added to by the rodents. Rather, the water level was much, much lower than I’d seen on any previous visit.

It seemed the beavers were active, but we couldn’t help but wonder why they hadn’t added to the dam. That meant that they were probably not at the lodge either, but we still had more water to travel through before reaching that point.

The trip around the dam was more challenging than upon any other visit, and we were both sure we’d end up in the water, but somehow we did it with more grace than we realized we possessed.

And then the spot that I’d called Brigadoon on the first visit showed off a much more colorful display.

Closer to the pond, the curtain hiding the mountains also had undergone a transformation.

Just beyond, we reached the lodge that is longer than tall and always reminds me of a New England farmhouse: big house, little house, back house, barn. Jo’s canoe helped characterize the length of the lodge.

We too, lunched on Cold River as has become the habit, and then turned around.

It was on the way back that the Painted Turtles, basking in the sun in order to thermoregulate, began to show themselves. As usual, they took on a Yoga-like pose with back feet extended to collect additional heat.

Like Jo, I want to come back to this world as an otter because they love to play in summer and winter, but a Painted Turtle might be my next choice if I ever feel the need to let winter pass by while I nestle into the mud.

Speaking of otters, we found stone pile after stone pile above the water, each a copy of the next. They line both sides of the river. In high water, they’re not visible, but with today’s low height, they were quite obvious. Upon this one we found a beaver chew stick that wasn’t there a week ago.

All are almost pyramid shaped, in a rounded sense, and constructed of varying sizes from gravel to stone potatoes. Not only did we find beaver chews upon a few, but fresh water mussel shells and the ever present acorns that are currently raining in such a fashion that one feels like the sky is falling.

The mussel shells would have indicated that the otters had been dining. And so we began to develop a story about otters piling the stones on purpose to confuse us. Beavers also took advantage of the piles so they became part of our interpretation.

I’ve asked several people about these formations and have a few theories of my own, but would love to hear your take on this. I suspect a few fishermen may have the answer about the stone piles.

Four hours after we started, today’s journey ended. I suspect it will be a while before I return, for so low is the water, but . . . you might twist my arm.

Thanks to Pam, and Trisha, and Jo: today I got to paddle into autumn in a most amazing place.

The Wonder Tour

When my friend JVP and I made a lunch plan for today, I offered to take her to some of my more recent stalking sites, those places I’ve been frequenting of late because of the wildlife sightings. She liked that plan and I fear announced to the world (or at least one or two others) that we were going on an adventure and our finds would be many.

But . . . yesterday’s River Otter turned out to be only slushier ice today.

And the fairground fox was nowhere to be seen, though we did get to chat with Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair. Yes, the foxes have again taken up residence within the infield directly across from the Grandstand. I’ve yet to see the kits, and had hoped that today would be the day, but my day will come. For JVP’s sake, I was disappointed that she didn’t even get to see an adult. Our time spent with Roy, however, made it worthwhile and he shared stories and photos of last year’s fox families.

It seemed that I was striking out on the promised tour and it appeared I wasn’t alone.

But the views of Fryeburg Harbor, its fields flooded from the sudden snowmelt, with the backdrop of the White Mountains, was a treat to enjoy on this bluebird day.

And speaking of birds, we went to one area to see Kildeer, but only saw gulls . . . until we realized that American Kestrels were also part of the picture. Finally, things were picking up.

As we wound our way through the harbor, following the Old Course of the Saco River, we did catch a few glimpses of Wood Ducks, so I was feeling better about our wildlife sightings.

Once again, however, where last week I spent a while admiring a Great Blue Heron, we didn’t see anything of interest.

Until, that is, we noticed movement in the great beyond and realized a pair of Hooded Mergansers were swimming about.

I continued to strike out when I tried to show her the Sandhill Cranes, a pair I’d come to count on during my almost daily visits. Just yesterday another friend said she’d spied them in the field they’d been frequenting.

No cranes to speak of, but we did spy a pair of Canada Geese.

And a pair of Mallards in the flooded field.

Dabbling as they do.

And then, where the cranes had been previously, I spied what I thought was a lump of mud and snow, but JVP’s sight was keener and she said newborn calf. And she was correct.

As we watched, sweet nothings were whispered and no matter what we saw or didn’t see, our tour was worth a wonder and thankfully I didn’t have to reimburse JVP for the admission price.

Holey Mysteries

It all began with a photo sent to me by a friend two days ago. “Any ideas? 8 inches wide. 20 yards from a bog,” he wrote. 

I asked him about tracks in the area, but other than deer, he saw none. He did, however, see two track makers–a fisher and a weasel. 

And so, I contacted a few other friends and invited them to join me on a quest to figure out what the hole was all about. 

We met at the designated location, determined it would probably be in our best interest to wear snowshoes rather than Micro-spikes, and set off to search for the hole and clues. 

But first, something else stumped us. Oh, wait. I wasn’t stumped. I knew it was sumac and a bird must have been munching on the seeds. But . . . I didn’t remember sumac having such long hairs and there certainly were strands associated with the droppings. 

The color, however, made it incredibly obvious. Sumac indeed. 

Until . . . 

it wasn’t! Corn on the cob? On ice? And then we remembered that there was a cornfield located directly across the road. So . . . that made sense. But, how did it get to the other side? We’d noticed plenty of turkey tracks. Would turkeys carry cobs of corn? Not the ones that visit my backyard on a daily (sometimes twice daily) mission to eat as much bird seed I’ve tossed on the ground as possible. They scratch about and eat whatever is available on the spot rather than carrying it–as far as the four of us knew anyway. 

Did the deer bring it across? Again, we’ve always seen them dine on site. And . . . we noticed that the cobs, and even occasional husks, were left within their prints, so the corn arrived after the deer. 

As we continued to look around, we began to see kernels in small piles everywhere. 

And with that, we suddenly spied something else that looked oddly familiar. 

The hole! Notice its spiral shape. Discernible tracks? No. Dirt? Yes. Hoar frost? Yes. Hmmmm . . . 

We looked around for signs. “So and So lives here” would have made it too obvious. But, we found hoar frost on an adjacent hole, which raised a few questions: 1. Were the holes connected? 2. Was a critter breathing within? 3. Or, because we were near the bog, was there warmer water below that was creating the frost? 

Then we found something none of us had ever seen before. A smattering of sawdust on the snow located about five feet from the hole. Scat? Upset stomach? Two of us got down with a loupe to take a closer look and came to no conclusions. 

As we continued to look around, we noticed that though there wasn’t a discernible track, it did seem that activity led to two hemlock trees.

And there were snipped off twigs cut at an angle below the trees, plus some comma-shaped scat. 

With that in mind, we returned to the hole in question. 

Bingo! There was a sign that clearly read “So and So lives here.” A quill! When I first looked at the photo the other day I’d suggested porcupine or fox. Porcupine it was. 

Within the hole which we could tell was deeper to the left, we spotted more quills. 

Mystery solved–almost, for we didn’t know about that smattering of sawdust. Porcupine scat consists of sawdust because their winter diet includes tree bark and needles. Did the animal have a bellyache? 

Our excitement at finding the hole wasn’t diminished by the unsolved portion of the story. And still, we continued to find corn cobs as we moved closer to the water in hopes of finding tracks. 

Indeed, there were some and we tried to figure out the pattern to determine what mammal had crossed the ice. 

But before taking a closer look, there was ice on the bog’s edge to admire and we each found artistic displays to our individual liking. 

Back to the tracks on the ice.

At first, with porcupine on my mind, I thought I recognized the pigeon-toed behavior. 

But my companions couldn’t see it. And then I realized that I was seeing a different pattern instead. Opposite diagonals became important in the overall look of two feet together. 

Studying that one pattern of a waddling animal, we soon realized another had crossed over it–in a leap and a bound. Do you see the intersection of the two in the middle of the photograph? 

And, there were a couple of corn cobs on the ice. 

It was all too enticing, and so we got up the gumption, threw risk to the wind, and stepped out. One of us, stepped onto all fours as she slid across, the better to distribute her weight. It also gave her a better view of the tracks. 

Another came forth with caution, though she admitted she’d hoped we’d go for it. 

Her husband was the smart one and he stood on shore–looking at tracks in the snow created by one of the critters we were examining on the ice. And ever ready to call for help should we need it. 

Back to the pattern–do you see three sets of two feet? In the lower set the diagonal is higher on the left and lower on the right. It switches with the middle set of prints. And goes back to the same with the upper set. 

Where debris had frozen into the impressions you can almost see the toes. The smaller, almost rounder right hand print is a front foot and the longer left hand print is the opposite back foot. That’s how it goes with a waddler such as this. 

We’d actually seen clear prints near where we’d parked and so we knew this mammal had been in the area–those baby hand-like prints belonged to a raccoon. Raccoon tracks and corn on the cob. Hmmmm. We were beginning to make some connections. 

With that figured out, we moved on to the next set of tracks and determined they belonged to a snowshoe hare–the larger front prints actually representing its back feet as they had landed after the front feet bounded forward. 

As we studied the hare track, we noticed lots of movement had previously been made by another critter and I’m going to go out on a limb to say based on its size and behavior that it was related to the next mystery we encountered. 

First, there was a hole around a couple of tree stumps and it was the layers of ice that drew our admiration. 

Right near it, however, was another frozen over hole and we could see some tracks that were difficult to read. 

But the ice was glorious and there was another small tree stump in the center. 

We weren’t sure who had made the holes until we spied another and some prints in the snow. 

The five tear-drop shaped toes provided a huge hint. 

And a bigger hint–a hole nearby. 

As usual, it commanded a closer look. 

And what did we find? Fish scales. With that signature, and the prints and even the pattern of the older tracks near the snowshoe hare activity, we knew a river otter had recently eaten. 

Eventually, we made our way back to the road, crossed over and checked the cornfield for we still weren’t sure who had brought the cobs to the bog. It made sense that the raccoon may have, but all of them? 

We found plenty of deer tracks, many of which were again filled with either kernels or nearly complete cobs. 

But it was the one stuck up in a broken red maple limb and the chitting nearby, plus scat below, and the actual sighting of a particular mammal that we think gave us the answer as to why so many piles of kernels–red squirrels. 

With that, it was time for us to take our leave. First, we gave great thanks, however, to Parker for sending me the photo of the hole. When I’d shown it to another friend, he asked why the spiral. I think that was the lowest point and the porcupine climbed out and then made its typical swath around until it reached the higher ground each time it exited and entered.

The question none of us could answer–what about that sawdust smattering?  

Ah well, we saved that for another day and left thankful for the opportunity to solve most of the holey mysteries. 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England

All month I’ve been thinking about which book to recommend and then a recent purchase came to the forefront. Finally. It’s a good thing given that this is the last day of November. 

Here’s the scoop: I was scanning book titles at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Bookstore and happened upon Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England. Since I already had National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England on my bookshelf, I wasn’t sure I needed Kaufman’s guide. But my friend Karen Herold highly recommended it and said she preferred it to the other book. I’m am hear to state that I wholeheartedly agree. 

Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England was written by husband/wife team Kenn Kaufman and Kimberly Kaufman. Both are naturalists extraordinaire, he being the author of other field guides (which I don’t yet own) and she the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio. 

The Kaufmans have color coded each section of the 7.75 X 4.75-inch book, making for easy reference. And though it’s a wee bit heavy (no heavier than the other book), it fits easily into the small pack I carry for explorations of the natural world. Of course, David Brown’s Trackards, accompany it. 

Speaking of tracks, the Kaufmans do offer a few identifying features of such, but they also recommend two other sources: the Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks and Paul Rezendes’ Tracks and the Art of Seeing.  I highly recommend both as well,

plus Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder,

which just happens to include me in the acknowledgements. But . . . 

my go-to guide in the field remains David Brown’s Trackards

Back to the Kaufman guide: I wish I’d had it with me this past summer when I encountered sulphur butterflies puddling on a dirt road in the western Maine town of Fryeburg. First off, the section on butterflies and moths begins with an explanation of their life cycles and the differences between the two, including an illustration of their antennae. 

In addition, a feature I really like is the view of the upper and underside of the wings since . . . 

 some butterflies “keep their wings tightly closed above their backs when at rest, 

showing their bright undersides mainly in flight,” state the Kaufmans on page 302. 

I could have fluctuated between Clouded Sulphur and Pink-edged Sulphur in my determination, but the description on page 302 reminded me that the latter prefers bogs and blueberry barrens and I was standing in the midst of a farm where milkweed, other wildflowers and hay grew. The other thing that supported my attempt at ID was that though my butterflies did have  pink-edged wings, the dots matched those of the Clouded in the book. 

And since it is now winter, the guide will be handy to pull out when showing others what a critter looks like–especially if we have the joy of spying one. 

Occasionally that happens, such as on one occasion last winter when a few of us saw this mink. Please forgive the fuzziness–a result of my excitement. 

And had I purchased the book sooner, I could have pulled it out as two friends and I watched an otter frolic in early summer. 

But . . . now I have it and it is the perfect addition to my pack, whether for solo hikes or with others when we question what we’re seeing. 

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this book is the voice of the authors, which echoes my own thoughts. (And their sweet dedications to each other on page 4.)

In the introduction, Kenn writes, “Once a person goes outdoors with senses attuned to nature, the sheer diversity of living things is both delightful and maddening, both reassuring and overwhelming.” Just this morning, Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I exchanged an email conversation about the very same thought and gave thanks that we still have so much to learn. 

Kaufman continues, “If we try to look at everything in nature, we find so many things that we never get past the edge of the parking lot.” I chuckled when I read that because my peeps and I have said the same thing, whether I’m tramping with the docents of the Greater Lovell Land Trust or a group of Maine Master Naturalists

Does the book cover every single species to be discovered in New England? That would be impossible–or at least too heavy to tote along on a tramp. “Our intent has been to cover those things that people are most likely to notice, so we have exercised a bias toward the most conspicuous plants and animals.” With that in mind, my suggestion: purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England and throw it into your pack. Then purchase any other guide books and refer to them when you get home. 

Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England by Kenn Kaufman & Kimberly Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Celebrating Mud Season

Mud Season — unique to northern states, indecisive weather, sloppy. What’s to love about it?

m1-breaking ice

Everything when thirteen Tuesday Trackers headed out for the final expedition until next winter. And no thin ice went unbroken by this hearty group.

m2a-turkey track

Prints in the snow we found along the way, but most were difficult to discern. In the mud, however, they were magnificent and we kicked ourselves for not thinking to bring some Plaster of Paris for great casts those would have made.

m2-Jo tells a snake story

Our tracking efforts were only part of the journey for along the way we were enraptured as we listened to Storyteller Jo Radner share a tale about a water snake, her grandmother, and some visitors to a children’s camp on Kezar Lake . . .

m3-bog

passed through the black spruce peat bog at the Kezar River Reserve on the eastern side and remembered time spent there with GLLT’s former executive director Tom Henderson (I told you, Tom, that you’d be with us and you most certainly were as we felt your spirit and heard your voice among the trees. We decided we need to return in the near future and spend more time getting to know that place–today, it required careful footwork and so we didn’t stay long) . . .

m4-Canada Geese

and finally found our way to Kezar River, where the Canada Geese and a couple of ducks awaited our arrival.

m6-ice

While some ice art in a stream that feeds the river drew our attention, we were there to look for evidence of a mammal that frequents the area.

m6a-otter scat

With youngsters among us, our eyes were more eagle than ever, and one of them found the sign we sought. At first sight, it appeared to be lichen on bark, but then our eyes focused and we knew what was before us–river otter scat.

m6b-otter scat formed

Some was matted as it had disintegrated a bit and only the scales remained, but others were formed in a tubular shape, all filled with fish scales, bones, and crayfish parts.

m7-otter scat

We rejoiced as we’d found a latrine site, a spot the otter returned to as a place to defecate, urinate and roll around in what’s known as a brown-out. It all provided information that we appreciated but meant even more to others of its own kind. “Hi, my name is Otty, I’m good looking and would be happy to meet up for a cup of fish stew. You available?”

m9-MUD

In the same area, we noted slides leading to the water and imagined the otters movement. And then some of our crew channeled their own inner otter and headed down to the feeder stream where the mud was difficult to resist.

m14-MUD

Mud! Worth showing off.

m11-washing off

And then the joy of cleaning off by stepping into the river.

m15a-mud angel

Mud season–celebrated with mud angels.

Otter Spotter Mondate

Fresh snow. Blue-bird sky. Mid-range temperature. Day off. All the makings for a fine Monday date with my guy.

m1-apples

We weren’t sure if snowshoes would be the right choice as we feared the snow might stick to the cleats and make us feel like we were walking on high heels–hardly our style. But, actually, conditions were perfect. Of course, my guy tried going without at first, but after creating one post hole after another, he strapped his on while I headed over to an apple tree to enjoy the view.

We were on a private property in Lovell that is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

m2-coyote track

I’d been on this property only a few days ago and the tracks were many, but with the advent of yesterday’s snow, we found only a few. One set was that of a coyote. And fairly fresh was it.

m4-brook below

We moved quickly (of course we did for I was with my guy–but I was equally anxious to get to two destinations) and in no time found ourselves walking along beside a brook.

m5-brook crossing

As we approached we wondered how open the brook might be and decided we’d cross that “bridge” when we got to it. But really, there was no bridge.

m3-icicles at brook crossing

The ice, however, delighted our sense of sight, understanding, and artistic form. Like the water from which it was created, it flowed in much variety.

m6-one coyote became 2

Without any problems, we found our way to the other side and realized we were in the company of others who had done the same. One moment it seemed we’d followed one, but then realized we were on the trail of two coyotes when their path split.

m8-porky body

And it split for a reason. To check out a previous kill site. But they only seemed to sniff and not partake.

m9-porky tail

Just as well for it was a porcupine. But really, I was surprised they didn’t try to flip it over to get at the stomach. Maybe somebody else had already taken the pleasure.

m10-rookery and coyote track

On we trekked, until we reached water again. And this time we stopped to look around, while the coyotes moved on.

m11-heron nests

High in the trees across the way we spied the heron rookery–one of our reasons for visiting. We knew the nests would be empty, but still, it’s fun to take note.

m13-heron rookery

And they’re easier to see in the winter than spring/summer when this rookery is monitored for the state HERON project: the Heron Observation Network of Maine. I’ve had the honor of visiting this particular rookery in the past and helping to document the number of residents. Though it was active last April, something happened later to upset the neighborhood and so I’ll be curious to see what the status will be in the future.

m14-heron rookery

For today, the nests looked like they were in great shape and even two in the condominium were awaiting the return of the snowbirds who’d spent the winter south of this location.

m16-lungwort

Because we were there, I also turned to check on another tree–which sports a healthy colony of lungwort–photosynthesizing because it had been snowed upon.

m15-mesmerizing scene

We stayed for a while, my guy and I, enjoying the peace and quiet and colors and textures of the afternoon that curled around us.

m18-crossing over

At last, we pulled ourselves away and crossed back over the brook. It was a piece of cake. Well, at least we didn’t fall in.

m19-chipmunk

Our next destination took us past a condo of another sort–one created by a chipmunk who kept an eye on us, then swiftly disappeared. We could only wonder about the inner chambers of its home.

m17-striped maple beaver works

It was after that that we began to encounter the works of another rodent, this time upon striped maple.

m20-beaver works

The art pieces were sometimes large,

m21-beaver works small

other times small,

m23-beaver works mistake

and sometimes mistaken–as in logistics of the felling.

m22--false lodge

But that didn’t matter for their buildings were many. Oops, the first one we spied was actually a boulder.

m24-beaver lodge 1

Further along, however, we found the main building. It was topped with fresh wood and well mudded, so we assumed warm bodies dined and wined within.

m25-beaver lodge 2

There was another nearby, and we could see indentations denoting visitors had stopped by prior to yesterday’s storm. We also noted that the ice had melted all around it. Was someone home? We knew not.

m26-looking back from the dam

On we moved and then turned back to enjoy the view as shadows grew long.

m27-beaver dam

Turning 180˚ again,  we looked toward the beaver dam that stretched before us. I’d last visited in late November and wondered what it would look like today.

m28-below the beaver dam

It looked . . . snow covered.

m30-otter track

But . . . in that snow we spied our critter. Do you see him?

m32-otter moving from brook to land

We followed him downstream–he was on the other side of the brook, but moved in his telltale manner . . .

m33-following the brook

across the landscape . . .

m35-otter again

in and out of the water . . .

m43-otter slide and bound

bounding and sliding . . .

m42-otter slide

and sliding some more . . .

m40-prints, trough, scat

leaving behind fresh scat and prints . . .

m44-ice and tree and water and reflection

for our pleasure. We had the time of our lives watching the otter–did you see him?

Truth be told, we never did actually see him, but in our minds eyes we knew his every motion. When we first spied the prints and trough on the other side, we thought he had moved in the same direction as we did. But when he crossed to our side, and we could get an upclose look, we realized we were traveling in opposite directions. He had moved through not long before we arrived. Was he also checking out the beaver lodges? Probably. And hunting for his next meal.

Though we didn’t get to actually see this member of the weasel family, the signs left behind were enough to tickle our fancy and on this Mondate we were indeed otter spotters.

Mustelids, Oh My!

kiosk sign

This morning I drove to the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Sucker Brook in Lovell. This is a Greater Lovell Land Trust property.

Station !

My mission was to photograph the eight station signs along the nature walk so another docent and I can spend some time this spring updating them.

station 2:a

Before I even reached Station 2, I realized I had a bad case of NDD. Nature Distraction Disorder. OK, so I think I just coined a new term and acronym, but maybe I heard it somewhere else and had it tucked away in my mind. (NawDee for short?–corny joke alert and I might be the only one who gets it) Anyway, what it boiled down to was what you see on this sign and then some.

Fisher

Fisher tracks were all along the brook and through the woods. I’m almost certain these are fisher. I was beginning to question my “I’m always 100% correct when alone” statement. These were quite fresh.

mink1mink slide

Mink tracks and slides were also visible, especially in and out of Sucker Brook.

otter

And then I found these. River Otter.

Silent and graceful are the weasels. From them I should learn so many lessons as they move about quietly observing and discerning what is important. I always think of them as fun loving with all the sliding some of them, like the mink and otter, do. But . . . they are carnivores who have to consume a lot of food to keep warm in the winter.

hole activity

This hole was one of several that I saw. It was across the brook, so I don’t know who entered here. Perhaps they all checked it out. Or maybe it’s a sleeping space for these nocturnal animals.

little brown thing hair

And I found what remained of hair from a little brown thing–either a deer mouse or white-footed mouse. There were tracks leading up to it, but it’s difficult to discern the difference between the two. Who had dinner here? The fisher, I believe.

pinecone tracks

It wasn’t only mammal tracks that I found. Look at the trail left behind by this pinecone.

morning lightbrook 1brook 2

The morning light was beautiful–the beginning of a crisp, clear day.

water and ice 2

Movement frozen in time. water and ice 3

tranquility

And then the brook calms down. Chickadees sing their cheeseburger song while white-breasted nuthatches call, “Yank, yank,” over and over again.

platform

Finally I reached the platform–a hidden oasis that encourages us all to take time to pause and wonder.

bog

And search the brook and bog for signs of wildlife. One of these days, I’m going to see a moose. I think I heard a river otter here either last summer or the previous one. And I’ve been on owl prowls to this very location–occasionally even heard them respond to our calls.

false tinderhoof

Now for some other fun stuff I saw along the way–false tinder polypore. I love that I can now identify this one by its hoof-like appearance on top, but also the way the pore surface angles down toward the tree’s bark. And it’s a perennial, growing taller with the years. I sound so smart, but I’m only just beginning to understand woody fungi. Only a very wee bit.

Some signs that spring is around the corner . . .

wintergreen

Wintergreen appearing where the snow is melting. You may know it as Checkerberry and Tea Berry. We used to chew teaberry gum when we were kids. You can purchase it at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, New Hampshire. Today, however, the wintergreen extract is produced synthetically.

Hobblebush 2Hobblebush

Hobblebush! While most of the buds we see in the winter landscape have scales to protect them from the weather, hobblebush buds are naked. How do they survive? They are hairy–maybe that helps. I can’t help but wonder. I do know that it won’t be too long before the flat heads of flowers the size of my hands will bloom.

One last thing to share about today’s wander. I thought I was seeing the tracks of this true hibernator and then I saw the real McCoy.

chipmunk

Actually, I saw two of them. It may snow tomorrow, but methinks spring will make  an appearance this year.

Thanks for wondering along beside me on today’s wander. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.