Walking With(out) Kyan

One of these days I’ll get to explore the route I traveled today with my young neighbor, Kyan, who is recovering from a blood marrow transplant. In the meantime, I took him along with me in spirit.k-1

Our first stop–the frog pond, aka vernal pool, that we both love. After all the recent rain, it has once again filled with water.

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As I stood before it and thought about spring moments spent observing the wood frogs that use this pool as a breeding place, I wondered if I’d see any action. I wasn’t disappointed–springtails and mosquito larvae. When I return with Ky in tow, I’ll pull out the small shovel I carry so we can scoop these up for a closer look. Of course, he’ll probably need to remind me to do that. Such is age.

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And then I retraced my steps, dodging puddles at first because I had my hiking boots on. Oh, they’re waterproof, but suddenly the water is deep in spots. I’m not complaining–by any means!

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Rather than my woodlot trail, I decided to cross the field that Ky’s grandfather owns as I headed home to change into my Boggs. And so I happened upon a mystery. What was this white stuff? Fur? No. Fungi? Maybe. Stay tuned? I hope you will. Had Kyan actually been with me, I’ve a feeling he could have told me right off.

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Back on the trail, where the puddles were shaded, nature presented its artistic flair.

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I trust Ky would have appreciated the various forms the ice took. Had he been with me, we could have stomped our feet through the ice and felt its thickness. But then again, he may not have wanted to ruin such beauty.

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That being said, over the course of several hours, I found plenty of puddles that were ice free and walking through them was the easiest mode of travel. Plus . . . who doesn’t love to jump in a puddle, right Ky?

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Had Ky been with me, we would have marveled at all the tracks left behind by creatures who passed in the night or early morning hours.

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And I’d have shown him how to make a positive ID of a print, in this case–Eastern Coyote. We’d have looked at the key characteristics, like the winged ball of the pad, the x between toes and pad, the symmetrical front toes and inward facing nails. And I would have shared my Trackards with him so we could both better understand how the critters with whom we share this space move about.

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In this case, it appeared there were several coyotes and they shared a brief tussle.

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We’d have looked at the contents of coyote scat, of which I saw tons. Ky would have reminded me that the apple skins meant the coyote visited the neighborhood orchard.

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And I would shared with him that the grassy scat meant perhaps one of the coyotes had an upset stomach. If you are grossed out by the scat, please forgive me. But . . . it’s natural. It’s a sign. It tells a story. And Ky is 12. Then again, I’m in my late 50s–and I LOVE scat.

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Had Ky been with me, we’d have wondered about the swatch of hair deep in the woods. And maybe we would have looked around more than I did to search for other signs of why the hair was left behind.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have noted numerous deer tracks as well. And coyote tracks in the same vicinity.

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We’d have seen where the deer browsed.

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And where one rubbed its antlers–perhaps leaving an important scent for others to note.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have seen some downed hemlock twigs.

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And known to look for their comma-shaped scat.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have found a bunch of puff balls or stink bombs.

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And most definitely we would have poked them with our feet and watched the spores flow out like a cloud.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have noticed the little things, like a peeled acorn stuck in a tree and wondered how it go there.

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We would have enjoyed not only the sight of the Auricularia auricula-judae or brown jelly fungus, but also it’s other common name–wood ear because indeed it does resemble an ear.

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Had Ky been with me, we would have felt bad for the wee shrew that took one for the family’s sake. Despite releasing a toxin that prevented his predator from consuming him, he still died from the attack. But perhaps his siblings and parents will not be attacked by the same predator–a lesson learned. Maybe. And we would have marveled at what a long nose he had and what tiny ears.

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Had Ky been with me, we might have bushwhacked, only getting fake lost on our way home. If he wasn’t comfortable doing that, however, we most certainly would have turned back and followed the trail.

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And finally, had Ky been with me and we had bushwhacked, he might have noted some white fluff on the ground, the same as what I saw in the field earlier. And then he would have noticed the source.

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One never knows what one might discover deep in the woods. Had Ky been with me, would he have recognized Myrtle? Was it a dog toy at one time? If so, how did it find its way to the middle of nowhere? I know–it walked. But really, it was over a half hour from home and the terrain not easy, yet I found no other stuffing. Of course, it could have traveled a different route than I took.

At the beginning of today’s journey I’d thought about seeking out the color orange again in honor of Ky, but perhaps he’s tired of orange. And it was much more fun looking for things I thought Ky might appreciate had he been beside me. I know he’ll see things I’ve never noticed and I can’t wait to learn from him. Perhaps soon we can venture together, maybe once the ground is frozen and snow falls. Or in the spring.

One of these days, I will surely walk with Kyan.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.)

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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. 😉

Looking At This, That and the Other Thing

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I’m not the only one to cross boundary lines. You can see a deer run passing between the trees.

Acres and acres of land behind us are maintained under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law that was enacted in 1972. This law allows landowners to create a productive woodland, while supporting the wood products industry. They must develop a management plan, which includes periodic harvests. For the last two years, a lone logger has been harvesting trees on much of the land which is owned by one person. While I complain about some timber projects, this one seems to be well executed. And the deer love the opportunity to find lots of browse as a result.

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Red Maples that have been cut will stump sprout, thus providing lots of munching opportunities.

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They don’t all get consumed in one day, fortunately. These Red Maple buds are beginning to swell. If the deer don’t eat them, it will be fun to watch the transition over the next two or three months.

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While poking about looking at this, that, and the other thing, I found more evidence that this land once had an agricultural use before reverting back to forest. Barbed wire served as a boundary beginning in the late 1800s.

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In parts of the woodland, the evergreens are now the most abundant trees. The needles on the balsam firs caught my eye today. Normally, they lay rather flat, but suddenly I noticed that some were standing upright, showing off the two white lines or stomata on their undersides.

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Typically, balsam fir has dark green needles that are blunt-ended and about an inch long. Some of the ends feature a small divot or notch. The silvery whitish lines on the lower surface are the stomata (pores). In today’s sunlight, the needles had a bluish hue as they stood up. What’s up? Why are they standing on end?

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Spruce, on the other hand, have shorter needles with pointed ends. They feel prickly to the touch. Everything seemed normal with them.

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And then there’s the ever dainty hemlock with its half-inch long needles. Guess what? It also has two lines of stomata on its underside. So . . . don’t let that be the defining factor when you are trying to figure out what tree you’re looking at. Notice how the needles are attached, their length, their feel and the overall look (GISS) of the tree. Oh, there’s more, but save it for another day.

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I was excited to find this Sugar Maple. The bark on a Sugar Maple tends to twist as you look up the tree. At least to my eyes.

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And when I walked around, I found evidence of the sugar maple borer–the line that is left looks like a frowning mouth. I know I’d certainly frown if something named a borer attacked me.

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Whenever I see a fresh pile of wood chips created by a pileated woodpecker. I have to investigate.

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And I wasn’t disappointed. Pileated woodpecker scat! 🙂 It’s filled with insect exoskeletons, since that’s why the woodpecker excavates the tree.  A few weeks ago I spent some time at Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton with a fourth grader who was working on a school project. We found some of this scat. She wasn’t particularly impressed but took it to school anyway. I hope she wowed her teacher and classmates. This morning, I met with a GLLT docent and the first thing I did was pull out my scat collection. After she guessed at each one, which I keep in separate petri dishes, she looked at me, grinned and said, “I don’t think anyone has ever shown me their scat collection before.” What can I say. My social skills are . . .

deer and squirrel, hemlock cover

I’ll end with this photo. Life happened here. A deer bedded down under a hemlock tree. And sometime later, a red squirrel climbed the tree while holding an Eastern White Pine cone, which it proceeded to strip in order to eat the two little pine nuts at the base of each scale on the cone. And you thought I was showing you more scat, I bet.

Thanks for joining me today on this wonderful wander.