Anybody Home?

Only a few days ago we felt like we were melting as we complained about the muggies and buggies, but those temperatures are now only memories and it’s beginning to feel like fall in western Maine. And so my guy and I bundled up before we followed a trail and did some bushwhacking this morning, exploring a property Jinnie Mae and I had visited only a week and a half ago.


It was to the beaver lodge that we first made our way, noting all their old works near the water’s edge.

m2-lodge 2

But, we were disappointed that we saw no evidence of new work and it didn’t appear any winter prep was yet occurring. Were the beavers still about? Or had some parasites in the lodge forced them to move on?

m3-infinity pool1

We hoped not for they’ve worked hard in the past to create a home with an infinity pool that would be the envy of many.

m1a--otter scat

We did note that they’d had recent visitors who left behind a calling card in the form of a slide and scat–otter scat, that is.

m5-doll's eye

And we spied the fruits of a former flower that graced their neighborhood–doll’s eye, aka white baneberry.

m4-dam 1

As we circled around the pool, we commented that the dam seemed to be in excellent shape and held the water about five feet above the stream below. But again, no evidence of new wood.

m7-dam works

Despite that, it’s an impressive structure. While some landowners might be upset to have beavers changing the landscape, we happen to know this one and she takes great pride in their works.

m9-dam 2

We stood for a while, indulging in our own admiration while wondering where the beavers might be. Of course, it was close to lunch time for us, and not an active time for them if indeed they were home. Possibly we were misinterpreting the view.

m8-beaver pond

After some time of quiet reflection, we made our way back, crossing the stream just below the dam.

m13-quiet reflection

And then we continued along the old logging road (recently bush hogged, eh Brian? Well done), and bushwhacked some more, crossing another stream to find our way to another reflective spot along the brook.

m12-rookery 2

This time, our destination was that of another stick builder–great blue herons.


Their spring/early summer nests are equally impressive. I hadn’t visited this spot since April, when the herons were actively setting up home. And I’m not sure it was a successful breeding season for them, but even if it was, they wouldn’t have needed these homes today. The nests will remain–available for grabs next year by those who return.

m16-jack in the pulpit

After a snack by the brook, we pulled ourselves away knowing it was time to head to our own home. Our wildlife viewings had been nil, but we spied a jack-in-the-pulpit in fruit, and that plus the doll’s eye were enough. And the time spent wondering about the critters.


Back at our truck, we decided to check on the insect action in the gardens at our friend’s home. Only the bumblebees seemed to be active.

m19-hickory feast

But we saw plenty of activity of another kind–a cache of hickory nut shells at the base of the tree, and really . . . everywhere nearby.

m18-hickory bark

Shagbark hickory is more common south of this spot, so it was a treat to take a closer look.


Its alternate leaves are compound, consisting of five serrated leaflets usually (sometimes there are seven).

m18-hickory 2

And of those five, the three terminal leaflets on each twig are the largest.

m21-view of Balds

Once again, it was time to leave this beautiful spot where the fields and forest flow into the mountains. And where the beavers and heron share the place without too much human intervention. Though not a soul was home today, we trust all will return when the time is right.






A Blue Bird Kind of Good Friday

When Jinnie Mae picked me up this morning, our destination was the Narrow Gauge Trail. But somewhere between here and there, she pulled a U-turn and drove to Narramissic Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society.

It had been just over a year since I last visited and I wanted to show her the shagbark hickory buds. And maybe even the bear trap.

n-Pleasant Mtn to Narramissic1

We crossed the field behind the house and started off on the path to the quarry and bear trap, but snow and water in the woods resulted in another U-turn. We’d been talking so much, we’d hardly noticed our surroundings, but the view stopped us in our tracks.

n-Pleasant Mountain

To the left, the long ridge line of Pleasant Mountain, where the ski trails of Shawnee Peak Ski Area made themselves known.


And in front of us, the Temperance Barn and Peabody-Fitch homestead, built in 1797. We had the place to ourselves and reveled in the quiet of the day–when we weren’t talking, that is.

n-shop and flagpole

Heading to the road for our tree bud search, we passed by the blacksmith shop where horseshoes were probably made in the day.

n-temperance barn

And at the Temperance Barn, so named “because it was raised without the traditional barrel of rum,” I can never resist admiring the structure even though it’s in great need of repair.

n-ash tags

And then we were stumped by a flowering tree. It sure looked like an ash as Jinnie Mae suggested, but what were those lacy tips? What came to my mind first were the tags on red oaks that I didn’t understand a few years ago until a friend helped me realize that they were leaf stems left behind when the wind finally claimed the dried leaves. Was this the same?

n-double-wide stonewall

Climbing onto the double-wide wall, I took a closer look.

n-white ash danglers 1

Turns out Jinnie Mae was right. But my question still remains. Were these the stems of the ash samaras or compound leaves?* For some reason I’ve never before seen them left behind. Ah, there are so many things to discover in this world.

n-black walnut 3

We continued down the road, noting budding pussy willows and flowering red maples. And then I spied the bulbous buds I wanted to show her. Only, it turns out that we hadn’t reached the hickory trees yet.

b-black walnut leaf scar 2

The monkey face leaf scar should have been a clue. But my brain was stuck in hickory mode and I completely forgot that black walnut leaves leave such a formation. At home, I pulled out Forest Trees of Maine and then seesawed between black walnut and butternut (aka white walnut). Both feature leaf scars shaped like a monkey’s face. But the top of the leaf scar serves as the give away–this one did not have thick fuzzy eyebrows like a butternut, so I’m going out on a limb and declaring this a black walnut.

n-shagbark bud hairy 1

A bit further down the road we spotted more bulbous buds. These were definitely the ones I was looking for–shagbark hickory. In the moment and because the two trees weren’t close together, we thought they were all one in the same. But hindsight being 20/20 as it is, the photographs tell the story.

n-shagbark bud 6

The subtle colors and fuzziness wowed us and we both took numerous photos.

n-shagbark leaf scar1

Then there were the leaf scars–definitely more heart-shaped than the previous trees.  And lacking that smiling face. We smiled for them.

n-Long Lake below

It wasn’t enough to find the small saplings beside the road and so we crossed another field in search of the mother tree.

n-grasshopper 1

Along the way, Jinnie Mae spotted a wee grasshopper–the first of the season for us.

n-shagbark bark from distance

And then her newly trained shagbark hickory eyes keyed in on the momma.

n-shagbark bark 3

If you go, it’s located behind the barn.

n-shagbark bark 5

And shouts its name in presentation.

n-shagbark bark 4

Looking upward, we could see the bulbous buds on the twig tips contrasted against the bright blue sky.


Happiness is a blue bird kind of day–sweetened by time spent exploring with Jinnie Mae, making discoveries and watching bluebirds move between the field and the trees. Indeed it was a Good Friday.

Now we need to return and find the mother black walnut.

*Thanks for Maine Master Naturalist Pam Davis for IDing the ash strand as the rachis of the compound leaf. She reminded me that I have seen these on the ground in the fall. But–to be still dangling from the tree was new to my eyes and mind.


Window on the World

Friends and I explored a property that the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust is trying to purchase. Though in many ways it is similar to the natural communities of western Maine, there are some noted differences. And now that I’m home and can reflect upon it and check my reference books for more information, it’s all beginning to make sense. With every walk in the woods, the vision before me becomes clearer.

white oak leaf

I’m always happy to encounter these round-lobed leaves because I don’t see them often. White Oak abounds at the 215-acre Knights Pond & Blueberry Hill property in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

white oak crown

The crown of a parent White Oak presents itself with joy.

shag leaf

Another species I don’t get to see every day–Shagbark Hickory with its compound leaves. Actually, they are pinnately compound. Hmmm, you say. Compound in that the blade consists of 5 leaflets  and pinnately because the leaflets form in a row on either side of the common axis–think feather-like formation.

shagbark hickory leaf and galls

Interestingly, some hickory leaflets were covered with galls, giving them a warty appearance–in a miniature candy-apple kind of way. I was thinking they might be caused by a mite, but turns out it may be either a midge or fly that makes these little balls.

shagbark hickory

Shagbark Hickory certainly is a shaggy looking tree, with gray-brown bark that curls away from the trunk in long, thin strips.

hop hornbeam

Near the hickory trees are numerous Hop Hornbeams with their flaky bark.

shag and hop

In the grassy glade, they grow together. I love it when trees stand together, making it easy to compare and contrast their features.

In Natural Landscapes of Maine: A Guide to Natural Communities and Ecosystems, authors Gawler and Cutko rank the Oak-Hickory Forest as S1–the rarest of communities.

“This dry forest type, characteristic of the Central Appalachian Mountains, occurs in small patches or as inclusions within broader expanses of oak-pine forest.”  Yikes, I think the authors may have been walking with us today.

“It is dominated by a mixture of shagbark hickory and oaks (white, black, red or chestnut) over park-like sedge lawn. Sugar maple, white pine or white ash may be canopy associates, and hop-hornbeam is a characteristic sub-canopy species.” Bingo.

Other associated species that we saw included Witch Hazel, Maple-Leaf Viburnum and Striped Maple, Low-bush Blueberry, Asters, Canada Mayflowers, Sarsaparilla, Wild Oats and probably more that we didn’t note.


As usual, it took us forever, but occasionally we continued down the trail.

Indian Cucumber Root

Our frequent pauses included stops at Indian Cucumber Root,

maple leaf vibur2

Maple-Leaf Viburnum,

New York fern

New York Fern,

lady fern

Lady Fern

hairy solomon's seal

and Hairy Solomon’s Seal.

stone wall

Stonewalls crossed in a couple of places, making us reflect on their construction and purpose.


And a snake paused for a photo shoot.

bog 1

Suddenly, the trail opened to Knight’s Pond, a 45-acre, dammed pond. According to the brochure, “The pond is a significant breeding ground for waterfowl and wading birds and is an important refueling spot during migration.”


Among the life at the pond, a zillion carnivorous Sundews, with their nectar-tipped tentacles waiting to trap insects.


Dragonflies and damselflies were also on the hunt for prey.

 window on the world

We had stopped frequently along the way to key out species or share our stories related to them. By the end of our wander, I was in awe of the beauty and thankful for the opportunity to glance through this window on the natural world.

Thanks be to The Trust for Public Land, Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, the Royal River Conservation Trust, all of those individuals who have contributed to the purchase, and my friend, K.H., for sharing it with us today. May you receive the Land for Maine’s Future funding soon.

You’d Better Look Out: Santa’s Reindeer May Be Watching


Apparently, Santa’s reindeer frequent the area. Of course they do. Isn’t he always making a list and checking it twice because he needs to know if I’ve been naughty or nice?


This morning, I revisited Robinson Woods, owned by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, with two other Maine Master Naturalists. A funny thing happened on the way to the forum . . . as we stood in the parking lot looking at materials in my tree notebook, two other women who had just completed a nature walk with elementary school students, came over and asked what we were doing. Feeling rather smug, I replied, “We’re Maine Master Naturalists.” I was about to go on when one woman immediately said, “So am I.” Gadunk. Turns out she was in the first class of the program, which graduated in 2012. We’d found another member of the tribe.

shagbark hickory

Last week, my friend and I found this young tree with buds. We keyed it out and were pretty sure it was Shagbark Hickory, but we couldn’t see any parent trees. Well, today we found them not too far away.


Shagbark hickory is found most frequently in southern Maine. Those who named this one got it right–certainly shaggy with those long, loose plates.

shagbark 1

Because it is strong, tough and flexible, historically it was used to manufacture tool handles, carriages and wagon wheels. My hardware store owner husband tells me those are made of resin today. Shagbark Hickory is  now used for wood pallets, pulp and firewood.


After leaving the preserve, I drove down the road to Fort Williams Park, home of Portland Headlight, to eat my PB&J. I do eat other food occasionally–honest. Popcorn. With grated cheddar cheese.

According to the Cape Elizabeth town Web site, “On April 13, 1899, President McKinley named the one-time subpost of Fort Preble, Cape Elizabeth’s first military fortification, Fort Williams. Named after Brevet Major General Seth Williams, Fort Williams grew to be a tremendous military asset during World War II. Besides protecting the shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, the infantry and artillery units provided the Harbor Defense for Portland. After the war, many of the forts in Casco Bay were closed, including Fort Williams, which traded in its defense of the coast for caretaker status and Army Reserve accommodations. Fort Williams was officially closed and deactivated on June 30, 1963.” I was four and a half years old.


The Goddard Mansion still stands on the property. It’s not in great shape certainly, but was the home of Colonel John Goddard and his family during the 1800s. As youngsters, our boys loved to explore the nooks and crannies of this property that overlooks the fort.


More remnants of the fort. You’d better watch out, because Santa might be hiding in there.


One last look at the water before heading west.

Thanks for wondering along with me today . . . and Santa.