Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

Since posting this blog yesterday, my Maine Master Naturalist mentor, Susan Hayward chimed in and corrected me. If you’ve read this previously, please be sure to scroll down to the Squawroot discovery. (Or not Squawroot). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge once again and setting me on the right track.

Our intention today when Connie Cross and I visited the wetland at Sebago Lake State Park’s Campground was to . . . well . . . walk with intention. There were several miles of trails to explore during the offseason, but we decided, or rather I did, that we should circle the beaver pond to see what we might see.

b1-horseshoe bog

It was raining as we drove to our meet-up point. And so we piled on extra layers to ward off the damp chill, and thought about snowshoes–to wear or not to wear? Connie chose to throw hers into a backpack and I went without.

b1a-raccoon prints

Our journey down to the wetland was one that had been recently traveled by others, including a certain waddler who showed off its finger-like prints in the melting snow. It made perfect sense to us to follow the track of a raccoon for it would lead to water.

b2-beaver works

Everywhere by the water’s edge, we noticed the works of another mammal–some old and others more recently hewn by the local beaver family.

b6-lodge

And then we spied the lodge and noted the mudded sides and recent additions to the chimney stack at the top and knew that it was active.

b3-duck on lodge

As we watched, we noticed that someone decided to call upon the residents–for a female mallard hopped from the water to the lodge and began to climb up.

b4-duck on lodge

One might expect a fox or coyote to pay a visit to a beaver lodge and reenact the story of the big bad wolf and three pigs. Or as noted on tonight’s PBS show entitled Nature: Leave it to Beaver, the visitors might be a muskrat, mouse, or frog who check in at the inn, but a mallard?

b5-mallard

Apparently, she liked the contents amid the mud used to insulate the house.

b7-sky reflection

As we watched, the sky above began to change and we noted such in the water’s reflection. Clouds, sun and blue sky marked a morning in transition.

b8-mallard couple

Continuing along the trail, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard became our friends and seemed to follow us, that is, until he signaled to her rather like a dog points, and a few seconds later off they flew.

b9-beaver

In the meantime, we heard a splash in the water behind us. What caused it? There was no snow high up on the trees that might have fallen. And then . . . we saw the creators. Beavers. There were actually three–moving about slowly and then suddenly splashing again and disappearing into the depths below. And the chambers within. We were in awe and felt honored to have shared a few minutes with members of the family.

b12-squawroot

Finally, we pulled ourselves away. And then . . . we came upon another find. And somewhere from the depths of my brain after some word association like Indian pipe and Pine sap, I pulled up the name–Squawroot. Connie looked it up on her phone and tada, I was right. Another name for this parasitic plant is American cancer-root for it only occurs where it can attach to oak roots and we were in a forest of red and white oaks. Like Indian pipe and Pine sap, this plant doesn’t have any chlorophyll and therefore no green color. It actually reminded us of a pineapple.

And tada, I was actually wrong. Though they look sorta similar, this is what Susan shared: “Your squawroot looks to me to be the favorite food of those beaver.
Bullhead Lily or Spadderdock Root. Squawroot is later in the summer. There is rarely any residual after the winter; maybe a clump of twiggy dried stems. The Lily root is much more substantial tissue than squawroot. It is carbon loading for the beaver.

I had never seen the roots of Spadderdock before. I learn something knew every day–thankfully.

b14-checking the trail

We continued to circle the bog, and on the northwestern side I gave thanks that Connie had packed her snowshoes, for she packed the trail while I followed. We did try to figure out why it was called Horseshoe Bog. The shape didn’t speak to the name, but perhaps someone once found a horseshoe in the area–or so we wondered.

b13-snowman

We weren’t the only ones wondering. A snow creature posed over the space with many a question about the future on its mind.

b15-from the other side

As we circled, the skyview changed and we finally began to feel the warmth of the day.

b16-another lodge

We also noted at least three other lodges that had provided warm spaces in previous winters.

b17-a closer look

The one noted in the last photo showed no signs of mud when we took a closer look so we knew it wasn’t active this year. If they had intended to stay, the beavers would have worked hard to interlock the sticks and then add plenty of mud like we add insulation and siding to our homes.

b19-beaver lodge trail

After three hours, we’d completed our journey–traveling maybe a mile in all that time. But we rejoiced for we’d spent time with the mallards and beavers and squawroot. Mallards, Beavers, and Squawroot, Oh My!

 

 

Transitions

Life, it seems, is always in transition. Or perhaps it is a series of transitions that we experience on this fast boat as we whiz through time and participate in endings and beginnings, with learning opportunities thrown into the mix. So it feels, when one season overlaps another.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not taste adversity then prosperity would not be so welcome. ~ Anne Bradstreet

s3a-the crew

And so this morning, I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the natural transition from winter to spring at Sebago Lake State Park with a group of seven led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller. (JoAnne donned the lime green coat.)

s1- Ice on Songo River

We began our journey at the boat launch beside Songo River, where signs warned of thin ice and Canada geese honked in the distance.

s2-Songo River curves

Tree buds added a subtle hint of color to the landscape. And the ice in the oxbow indicated nights of cooler temps followed by days of warming.

s3-Jan examines beech scale insect

Trees within the forest showed other signs of change for we noted the cinnamon tinge on many a beech tree. Not all transitions were good.

The trees were dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. Two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengia. What we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies.

s4-Y in the road

For the most part we followed the groomed trail system, though we did do some post holing as we crossed from one route to another. And then we came to a fork in the road–so we took it! Actually, first we went left and along the way startled some deer. And realized we weren’t exactly where we wanted to be so we backtracked and journeyed on to the right. How often does that happen on this boat ride? Frequently. But the best part about today was that no one complained because we were all happy to travel the trail and enjoy the world around us.

s5-beach on Sebago Lake

At last we arrived at the beach on Sebago Lake, where snow and sand in the cove and small bits of ice moving with the gentle waves spoke of what is to come.

s7-pitch pine

It was at the same spot, where we paused at a picnic table to eat a snack, that we stood in awe of the pitch pines as they showed off their plates of bark thickened by age and unique manner of needles growing from the trunk.

s8-pitch pine cone

Even their cones, each scale topped with a rigid prickle, were beginning to break down as they began their journey of giving back to the earth.

s9-tree roots

But what struck us the most were the tree roots all along the beach. And we began to wonder what had happened.

s10-roots

How old were the trees? Had the sand eroded?

s11-trees

Was the lake once much higher? And how do those trees survive? If only they could talk, we would hear their stories of pounding waves and raging storms. And maybe other adversities. Maybe they do talk and we just don’t know how to listen.

s13-back to the river

In what seemed like a flash, I realized we were on the opposite end of the oxbow I’d photographed when we first arrived–our journey had been a circular one, well sorta.

s14-buoys

By the boat launch two channel buoys waited patiently for spring to return in full force so they could move onto the river and do the job for which they were best suited.

s15-Canada geese

We took one last look before saying our goodbyes and going our own ways on this journey we call life. That’s when we spied the Canada geese–a sure sign that spring really is just around the corner.

Thank you, JoAnne, for organizing such a delightful hike and allowing us to absorb the richness of the woods, river and lake as they remind us about the transitions in life.

*And Tom, this trek is for you, and your own transition.  Love all.

 

Changing Focus Sundate

Because we’d traversed the trails along the western portion of Sebago Lake State Park a few weeks ago, my guy and I thought we’d try the eastern portion today. The sun shone brilliantly and there was a slight breeze as we drove down the park road to the boat launch parking lot.

s-map (1)

Studying the map, we decided to follow the Outer Loop in a counter-clockwise fashion.

s-following my guy (1)

Snowshoes were a must, but the trail was well traveled. My guy’s attire spoke to the breeze and a bit of a chill that greeted us.

s-songo 6 (1)

Whenever we could, we took in the view of the Songo River that winds its way from nearby Brandy Pond in Naples to Sebago Lake on the Casco side of the park. This river has been the focus of the Lakes Environmental Association for the past ten years as it was once heavily infested with variable-leaf milfoil. Thanks to LEA’s good works, the invasive aquatic plant has been eradicated, though the milfoil crew conducts routine check-ups each summer.

s-sandbar 2 (1)

When we reached the lake, we chose a diversion and followed the trail along the sandbar.

s-Songo from sandbar (1)

It offered a backward view of the lagoon and we could hear Canada geese honking from the open water.

s-picnic tables (1)

And then we turned and headed to the beach. The park service grooms the trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, making for an easy hike when we stayed on trail, which we did for the most part today. Picnic tables and outdoor grills were abundant and we had our choice.

s-Sebago lunch view

We chose one in the sun for it had little snow on it. This was our lunch view. As Maine’s second largest lake, Sebago Lake is twelve miles long and covers a surface area of 45.6 square miles. The maximum depth is over 300 feet and its mean depth is just over 100 feet. The 105-mile shoreline touches the towns of Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham, Standish, Sebago, and Frye Island. All that and we’ve never spent any time on it. We’ll have to fix that in the future.

s-water (1)

Water clarity is excellent and the bottom can be viewed at 45 feet. That’s all good news for Portland and surrounding towns for the lake is the source of their drinking water–thanks to the Portland Water District.

s-songo river out of focus

We followed the trail along the boundary of the park, passing through hemlock groves and mixed hardwood communities. But really, there wasn’t much change in the terrain and we decided we much preferred the west side. A couple of hours later, we were happy to be back beside the Songo River, having completed the loop. And we were ready to change our focus.

s-wasp 3

Back at home, my guy decided to revamp our grill. And I decided to snowshoe some more. By 2:30, the temp had risen into the 40˚s and I didn’t bother with a jacket or gloves. Right off the deck, I found my first great find–a wasp moving sluggishly on the snow’s surface. Those wee claws at the end of its foot (tarsus) must have been frozen.

s-script lichen

I didn’t go far, but spent lots of time in quiet admiration. There were things to notice, like many, many mammal tracks. And this crustose lichen which is a script lichen. It’s “script” could easily be mistaken for a branching plant.

s-oak gall

Each time I stopped, I wondered what I might see that I hadn’t viewed before. And I wasn’t disappointed. One oak had several twigs with woody growth forms where buds should have been swelling. I decided they were galls and conducted some research when I returned home. I think the tumor-like swelling is a gouty gall that grows on oaks. Apparently, it’s created by a wasp. Hmmm. Not the one I saw, but a tiny wasp of the cynipidae family. The galls provide food and protection for the developing larvae.

s-red bud insect

I found another protective covering on the maleberry that grows near the cowpath. I’m not sure what insect created this cozy home, but being in the wind tunnel that comes down the powerline, its rather impressive that it still exists.

s-vernal pool

My last stop was the vernal pool. I wasn’t the only one who paid a visit. I found snowshoe tracks created by a neighbor who had stopped by to look and deer tracks that crossed the front edge of the pool. I think the snow will melt eventually and life will begin again for the spring peepers, wood frogs and salamanders–it always does.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love winter. But . . . I can feel a change of focus in the air and see it in all that surrounds me. I guess that’s why I love being a New Englander.

 

Hiking the West Mondate

How could it be? We realized this past week that we’d only hiked in Sebago Lake State Park together once–thirty years ago. Oh, I’ve skied there, visited friends who were camping, and participated in several eighth grade class picnics back in my public education days.  But today we decided to remedy our hiking opportunity–or lack thereof.

s-sebago-sign

Our intention wasn’t to camp, but rather to explore the trails that circle around and cut through the 1,400-acre property. For those of you who know my guy, though we certainly haven’t spent a lot of time in the park, he does feel a certain affinity–to the brown stain that the park staff purchases in five gallon buckets from his hardware store. 🙂

s-boundary-blazes

After looking at a map near the entry booth, we headed off on a trail marked with orange blazes. Or so we thought. Until we realized we were following the boundary. But all the orange paint made me think of our young neighbor, Kyan, and as it turns out he was on my brain for a great reason–he’s been in remission for the past six months following his bone marrow transplant and today had his central line removed. No wonder we spent an hour following those orange blazes. All the while, however, we did think the trails were poorly marked.

s-high-point-1

Unwittingly, we spotted a bit of brown–on the picnic table. We appeared to be on a high spot, home to the table and a cairn garden.

s-cairns-3

I’m of several minds when it comes to cairns. I know that some are historical and symbolic and others mark trails, but these, though each different in sculptural form, bothered me.

s-cairn

While my guy saw them as offering hikers something to do, I saw them as disruptive to the natural landscape. That being said, the landscape was formed by a glacier and these pieces spoke to the bedrock geology of the Sebago pluton with their pinkish coloration.

s-kneeling-before-map

Turns out we were at the summit of the Lookout Trail, the highest point in the park at 499 feet. And behind the cairn park, we found the trail itself, blazed with red triangles, which we followed down to the campground road where we found a map–worth kneeling and worshiping. Well, actually, given the snow depth, that was the easiest way to read it. From that point forward, we found “You Are Here” maps whenever trails intersected, though we did tend to wander off occasionally.

s-ice-bubbles

Over a brook, where balls of ice formed,

s-artist-conks

past artist conks decorating a decaying birch tree,

s-locust-bark

and through woods featuring the braided ridges of black locust bark, we hiked.

s-tree-silhouette

And then we reached the beach. On Sebago Lake.

s-rocky-coast-of-maine

We’d arrived at Witch Cove Beach.

s-waves-and-wind

The wind had kicked up the waves and it felt almost ocean like. Almost.

s-maple-and-pitch

Certainly, tree roots beside the lake spoke to wave action and higher tides (no, the lake doesn’t have a tide, but in storms and floods it must surge higher). Beside the water, a red maple and pitch pine tree embraced from their root source.

s-pitch-pine-bark-1

The bark of the pitch pine featured its reddish plates surrounded by deep furrows.

s-red-pine-bark

While it’s similar to red pine bark that grows nearby, there are subtle differences–red pine bark being plated but much thinner and tighter to the trunk. Plus, the pitch pine has bundles of three needles, while the red features two needles.

s-pitch-pine-growth

The other unique characteristic of pitch pines, their epicormic sprouting of needles on the trunk that grow from dormant buds on the bark.

s-sand-prints

Eventually, we moved on, leaving prints in our wake.

s-beach

Our substrate switched from snow to sand and back to snow, which we much preferred.

s-beach-eyes

Before we turned away from the beach, we found the sand goddess eyeing the world. Again, we noted the orange and thought of Ky, but didn’t truly realize its significance.

s-lunch-table

Into the picnic area we moved, after watching a few deer who eventually flashed their white tails before moving on. Lunch table beckoned us. It needs some fresh stain–there’s job security in that thought–for the park staff and my guy.

s-buried-table-2

Some tables spoke to the snow depth.

s-cache-fest

After we finished our sandwiches, we discovered that others had used the picnic ground–for a cache site. Somewhere in the park, at least one red squirrel prospered through the winter.

s-glacial-kettle

Our journey took us past the glacial kettle formed by the melting of large blocks of ice.

s-map

And then we figured out our final trails to follow.

s-songo-river

We crossed Thompson Point Road and followed the oxbows and meandering of Songo River, which actually proved to be bittersweet. I’d only been on the river twice and both with the milfoil team of the Lakes Environmental Association. As we hiked beside it today, I recognized various points Adam Perron, the milfoil dude had pointed out. Again I say, RIP Adam.

s-beaver-bog-from-table

At last we reached Horseshoe Bog, home to one of those picnic tables needing work. You know who spied it from a mile off.

s-beaver-works-3

He also spied the work of others and eagerly showed me.

s-beaver-teeth

My what big teeth grooves a beaver leaves.

s-beaver-works-4

It left its mark everywhere.

s-beaver-5

And sometimes such works met the forces of nature and all was well that ended well.

s-spur-trail

The same could be said for us. We began the day on a trail that wasn’t and ended by trying to follow a spur trail out, that we couldn’t quite locate (except for the sign at the beginning that identified it as a spur trail) and so we bushwhacked and then an anomaly caught our eyes–snow on a structure, which turned out to be the entry booth from which we’d begun our expedition.

As it turns out, we realized that our adventure thirty years ago was on the east (Casco) side of the park and this was our first visit to the west (Naples) side. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take us thirty more years to return for another Mondate–indeed.