Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Detecting the Nature of Wilson Wing

Before heading onto the trail beside Sucker Brook at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell, today, a friend and I walked down the road to the pond where we hunted for dragonflies and frogs.

1-Horseshoe Pond

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on this first day of fall and a crisp day it was, bringing smiles to our faces and adding sweatshirts to our attire.

3-green frog

Though we saw a few darner dragonflies and even a meadowhawk, it was the green frogs that we spent the most time trying to spy for they blended in well with their grassy surroundings at the water’s edge.

2-bobber

A bit further out, and unfortunately beyond our reach, we spotted a bobber and fishing line. While it offered a picture filled with color and curves, the reality wasn’t so pleasant.

4-Common Loon

Nearby, this loon and a youngster swam and fishing line left behind is bad news for them as they could get tangled in it. Please, please, please, if you are near the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, and have the means to retrieve the bobber, do so. And if you are anywhere else in this world, do the same–for the sake of all birds everywhere.

7-Sucker Brook

At last, we pulled ourselves away from the pond and followed the brook that flows from it–Sucker Brook.

5-Jack in the Pulpit

Right away, we were in awe of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants with fruits still intact. Jack is actually a curious plant and sometimes channels its feminine side. While the plant starts life as a male, if the soil is poor, it turns female, flowers and bears seed. It could turn male again. In the case of what we saw today, meet Jill.

6-thin maze polypore

As our journey continued, we noted fungi everywhere. Some had rotted and added to the earthy smell of the woods. Others displayed their unique structures, colors, and lines, including the Thin-mazed Polypore.

11a-earth tongue

We also found at least one Black Earth Tongue, its common name reflecting its tongue-like appearance as it stuck up from the ground.

11-Dead Man's Finger

And in keeping with human body parts, we noticed a singular Dead Man’s Finger. But . . . its presentation offered questions we couldn’t answer. It was our understanding that on Xylaria longipes the young fruiting bodies would be covered with a whitish or gray powder in the spring. The powder isn’t really a powder, but rather the asexual spores of the species. So, did we find a confused youngster? Or was it an oldster parasitized by a mold?

10-Choclolate Tube slime

Speaking of molds, we stumbled upon a log featuring a feathery appearance reminiscent of antennae on a moth or butterfly. Well, maybe a collection of antennae. A huge collection.

10a-chocolate tube slime

Turns out it was Chocolate Tube Slime, a new discovery for me. In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, author Lawrence Millman describes it as “dozens of erect, brown tubes mounted on thin, seemingly polished black stems.” Bingo.

9-green frogin sucker Brook

Also appearing a bit chocolate in color was another green frog. And being the first full day of autumn, I began to realize that my time spent admiring amphibians and dragonflies will soon draw to an end. But . . . on the horizon . . . tracks and scat 😉

8-Conocephalum salebrosum

Because we were beside the brook, and we’d seen this species before, we searched each and every rock and weren’t disappointed. Conocephalum salebrosum showed off its snakeskin-like leaves.

8b-cono

The conspicuous grooves of the thalli on this liverwort defined the surface and gave it that snakeskin appearance.

12-Moose Pond Bog

Continuing on, we finally reached the platform and climbed up to look out toward Moose Pond Bog. Of course, we hoped to see a moose. No such luck. We did spy one dog named Bella and her owner, Meg Dyer, the Lovell Rec Director, out for a Sunday walk in the woods. But they were on the trail below us and not in the bog. One of these days . . . maybe we’ll see a moose. When we least expect it, that is.

12-winterberry fruits buried

Back on the trail ourselves, our next great find–winterberries in a recently dug hole about four inches deep. Who done it? We poked the hole with a stick and determined that it didn’t go any deeper or have any turns, such as a chipmunk might make. Nor did it have a clean dooryard, which they prefer. Turkey? Perhaps. Squirrel?

13-winterberries among midden

We think we answered the question for on top of a tall hemlock stump that has long served as a red squirrel diner, some red winterberries appeared among the pine scales left behind.

14-liverwort?

Almost back to the road, we crossed the final bridge and then backtracked. We knew our destination was up the streambed it crossed over and were thankful that it held not much water. That meant we could climb up and take a closer look at the large boulders in the middle. And it was there that we made a new discovery.

14a-Peltigera aphthosa

You see, in the past we’ve not been able to get too close to the boulders and from a bit of a distance we were sure we had looked at more snakeskin liverwort. But our ability to get up close and personal today made us question our previous assumption. Suddenly, the gray-green leafy structure took on a more lichen-like appearance. Though its color wasn’t the same, it very much reminded me of rock tripe.

14c-Peltigera aphthosa

We studied its lobes and structure, including the tiny warts and questioned ourselves as we continued to examine it. I kept thinking it was an umbilicate based on the way it adhered to the rock substrate.

14b-Peltigera aphthosa

A little research and I think I’ve identified it correctly, but know some will alert me if I’ve assumed too much–Peltigera aphthosa, aka Freckled Pelt Lichen, also called Spotted Dog Lichen. The bright green center indicated it was wet. From borealforest.org, I learned that the little warts contain tiny colonies of cyanobacteria, which supply the lichen with nitrogen.

15-Racomitrium aciculare?

And right beside the lichen, we found a moss that also reminded us of a liverwort for it resembled Bazzania. But . . . if I identified this correctly, it’s Racomitrium aciculare. Some know it as Yellow-fringe Moss.

15a-Racomitrium

In his book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts, Ralph Pope described it as “common on wet rocks along streams and under waterfalls.” In watery seasons for this particular stream, that would be its exact location–under a waterfall.

16-dry stream bed

Today, the stream bed leading down to Moose Pond Bog and Sucker Brook was just about dry. But . . . because of that we were able to take a closer look.

In fact, it took us almost four hours to follow the mile or so trail, but it was all about taking a closer look through our 10X lenses and cameras, slowing down our brains,  and channeling our inner Nancy Drew as we paid attention to clues and tried to decipher the scene around us–all the while detecting the nature of Wilson Wing.

 

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

j8-heron

We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

j9-heron

And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

j11-wings

When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

j16-feathers ruffled

And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

j19-next course

And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

Eyes of Wonder

On the first and third Tuesday of each month since the snow first flew in 2017, I’ve had the privilege of tramping through the woods with our Tuesday Trackers group. As it happened this month, we were also able to tramp together today–the fourth Tuesday.

Each week, the participants vary as they come when they can. But no matter who shows up, by the end of our two-four hour exploration, we are all wiser for the experience–and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to spend a winter morning in the Maine woods. We are also grateful for the wonder that is right in front of us, not only materializing in the form of mammal tracks, but all manner of things that make up the web of life.

j1-otters romping across the snow

Usually the age of our attendees ranges from 50-something to 80-something. But today we were joined by four little otters who reminded us what it’s like to be a child again as they bounded across the snow’s crust, and rejoiced at the sight of any and every little thing that presented itself from squirrel and chipmunk holes to fungi.

j2-squirrel prints

Of course, we were there to track and though most prints were bleached out from the sun’s March rays, we did find a few that showed well their finer points such as toes.

j14-measuring straddle

And with any discernible prints, the kids reminded us to take time to measure straddle, in this case that of a gray squirrel. We also found what we believed was a bobcat track based on the round shape of the somewhat melted print and the stride.

j3-ice and water

Most of us began the journey with snowshoes, but soon joined the kids and shedded them as we moved from frozen snow to bare ground and back again. And then we discovered water. Actually, a few of us were a wee bit behind, when one child ran up to her mom and said, “A vernal pool.” If it does turn out to be a vernal pool, we feared it will dry up too soon, but that doesn’t mean the amphibians won’t take advantage of the spot in a few weeks. It was half covered in ice, which offered a challenge because two of the boys wanted to break through it with a stick. The third boy did break through–much to his dismay. But as his calm mom said, ” Well, now he’ll know next time.” (Juli–I can’t help but smile–you are the best.)

j4-helping hands

Fortunately, for his sake, we came upon a maple tree with a huge burl on which he sat while others on the journey came to his aid and squeezed a gallon of water, or so it seemed, out of his socks. His mom had an extra pair of mittens in her pack and those covered his toes for the rest of the trek. He wore his boots, of course. While we were there, we wondered about burls and tried to remember what created them. I suggested insects and another thought perhaps fungi. It turns out we were both correct. They may also be caused by bacteria or a virus. What the young lad sat upon was a reaction of the tree to the infestation which resulted in abnormal growth due to changes in the tree’s hormones. Think of its vascular system as a twisted ball of yarn.

j5-sucker brook outlet into Kezar Lake's Lower Bay

After the sock ringing and mitten fitting episode played out, we turned around to take in the beauty of the Sucker Brook Outlet at the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake for we were on the John A. Segur East Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

In the distance, one lad spied a beaver lodge. You might see it as a brown dot on the snow-covered ice directly above a swamp maple snag in the center of this photo.

j6-wintergreen and spring tails

We also looked at our boots, where we rejoiced in the site of wintergreen plants evolving from their magenta winter coats. And spring tails jumping about on the leaf litter like performers in an unorganized circus.

j9-squirrel table

Upon a downed birch tree, a certain young lady found the perfect spot to set up a dinner table for a squirrel. She was kind enough to include a dessert treat by stuffing pieces of a wintergreen leaf into an acorn cap.

j10-ice bridge

Much to the delight of the younger set, they next discovered an ice bridge and took turns walking across it. The rest of us decided to pass on that opportunity, sure that we’d ruin the effect.

j11-tree stump examination

Getting up close and personal was the theme of the morning and everything drew their attention and ours, including a decaying trunk of a hemlock that was downed by a lightning strike several years ago.

j12-tree holes

Because we were curious, we noted holes of the tree’s decayed xylem, the system of tubes and transport cells that circulate water and dissolved minerals. One of the boys decided to see if it worked and poured water onto the stump, which immediately flowed into the holes. We’ve viewed tree stumps and rings many a time, but this was the first time we recalled seeing the holes. No tree stump will go unobserved on our path from now on.

j13-lodges reflect mountains

Our turn-around point was at another spot along Sucker Brook where three beaver lodges reflected the mountains in the backdrop.

j21-beaver lodge

A few of us walked across the ice for a closer look because one appeared to serve as this winter’s home site. We trusted the family within included their own young naturalists.

We were certainly thankful for our time spent with four children who allowed us to look at the world through their eyes of wonder.

(On behalf of Joan, Dave, Steve, Dick, Jonathan, and I, we thank you, Caleb, Ellie, Aidan and Wes. Oh, and your mom as well, or especially–thank you Juli. We’re all in awe of you and the gifts you’ve passed on to your kids.)

 

Just Around the Bend

Due to the generosity of friends, this afternoon I picked up some items for the Lakes Environmental Association’s silent/live auction to be held at the Stone Mountain Arts Center on July 14th. And one of those pick-ups put me in the Horseshoe Pond area where a mourning cloak butterfly danced in the sky as I drove down the dirt road. Alas, I couldn’t photograph it, so it will have to remain in my mind’s eye, but I was excited for it was the first sighting of the season–a harbinger of spring.

w-Horseshoe Pond 1

Back at the boat landing by Horseshoe Pond, I parked, donned my Boggs, and hoped for another butterfly sighting. It wasn’t to be, but the view was worth a pause as I looked at the left portion of this upside-down, U-shaped pond.

w-Sucker Brook from the culvert

The water roared through the culvert and I walked to the other side of the road, where the pond outlet becomes Sucker Brook–which overflowed its main bed.

w-Sucker Brook 2

My friends suggested I might need snowshoes, but of course, I’d left them home. They were right. I should have worn them and dig post holes I did as I followed the brook. Of course, first I had to climb over the dirt-covered snowy embankment by the road in order to get onto the trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. It was worth the effort.

w-snow layers by yellow birch

One of my favorite spots along the brook is this yellow birch tree, which typically stands on stilts atop a rock at the water’s edge. Who would know? For now, those spindly legs are still blanketed under layers of snow.

w-squirrel works

I expected the tracking conditions to be better than they were, but instead needed to focus on signs if I wanted to figure out what mammals came before me. Several middens of cone scales spoke of red squirrels. And there was deer scat nearby.

w-hobblebush 1

Because this is a moist area, hobblebush grows here and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to enjoy its sculptural structure created by downy-coated leaf buds.

w-hobblebush 2

Equally beautiful were the expanding flowers–globe-like in appearance, with subtle hints of green.

w-Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog

And at the viewing platform, I was forced to climb up. Last year, Moose Pond Bog was a shrunken wetland, or so it seemed given the drought. Today–water, water, everywhere.

w-wintergreen

Back down the stairs, I searched about in a few sunny spots where the snow had melted. That’s when I spied last year’s berry dangling from a plant still sporting its maroon coloration of winterberry.

w-trailing arbutus leaves

And near it–a sight for spring-needy eyes . . .

w-trailing arbutus buds

trailing arbutus leaves and flower buds. Yes, Virginia, spring will come to western Maine. And we’ll all appreciate it more for it’s a season that never likes to rush.

w-mourning dove feather 1

I continued on and when I paused to look at some common polypody ferns that decorate a boulder, I spotted something else.

w-feathers 3

Feathers of varying sizes were scattered about.

w-mourning dove 1

A mourning dove had served as dinner. But for whom? No matter. Taking advantage,  snow fleas hunted for their own form of sustenance on the only part of the bird left behind.

w-stream 1

Before I climbed up to the road at the end of the trail, I had one more stream to cross–it’s usually a mere trickle, but not today.

w-tinderconks1

Rather than backtrack, I chose to walk the road–a much easier substrate. It was along there that I saw numerous tinderconks decorating one tree. Though they are also known as horse’s hoof, these reminded me more of elephant feet with big toes protruding at the base.

w-dragonfly spot

Back by my truck, I looked for the mourning cloak again–to no avail. Instead, my eyes were drawn to the reflection and memories of dragonfly hunting in this very spot last summer.

w-shimmering heat of the day

And when I looked back out on the pond, I could see the shimmering effect that occurs when the heat of the day meets the cold of the ice. The temperature reached into the 80˚s today. The meltdown has begun. It won’t be long now. From what I saw, spring truly is just around the bend.

Focusing Our Eyes at Wilson Wing

I almost canceled our Tuesday Tramp this morning. The weather seemed iffy and though that doesn’t often stop us, road conditions do. But Mary and I exchanged a few e-mails and decided that even though we were the only two available, we’d go for it.

w1--deer 1

As we made up our minds, I watched another who also experienced some indecision. Lately, eight deer have spent many moments in the field and our yard, nipping buds along the edge.

w2-deer 2

While the rest of its clan was further out, this one came over the stone wall.

w3a--deer 3a

For me, it was a matter of watching how its legs worked and where it placed its cloven toes.

w4-deer 5

About to visit some trees, it turned suddenly when it realized it was being stalked–not by me but rather a neighbor’s cat. Well, maybe I was as well, but I was indoors.

w6-deer 6

Gingerly, it moved in for a closer look.

w7-deer 7

Tail down, it seemed curious to make a new acquaintance. And the big, tough cat–it ran home.

w8--Sucker Brook 1

And so, I packed up and met Mary for our adventure at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s  Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell. We’d had a dusting of snow overnight and weren’t sure what to expect. Always expect the unexpected.

From the start, we found older coyote tracks that we decided to follow. Those led us to mink tracks that began near Sucker Brook. For a while, we followed both as they ran parallel, the mink tracks being much fresher. And then we stood in one spot and realized we were encircled by coyote, mink, red squirrel and short or long-tailed weasel tracks. We could have gone home then, but of course we didn’t.

w9-ice skirt

We decided to follow the brook for a while, hoping to see otter tracks and a slide. Instead, we were treated to aprons of ice surrounding boulders and tree roots.

w10-hoar ice

Some hoar frost at a hole made us wonder who might be within.

w11-mink tracks with tail drag

And our eyes again recognized that we were still on the trail of the coyote and mink. All along, we were curious to see the drag marks left behind by the mink’s tail. Unless it was carrying something–another option.

w12-Sucker Brook 2

As we stood and looked about, movement caught our eyes and we realized we were looking at the mink. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to capture it in a photograph, but it will remain forever in our mind’s eye. While I did exactly what I tell others not to do–tried to follow it for a couple of minutes–Mary stood and listened. A sound above make her crick her neck.

w13-black backed woodpecker

On a dead trunk, a woodpecker foraged among the bark scales. We watched it for a while, trying to note its features from below and we then moved on.

w14--hobblebush

My visits to Wilson Wing are never complete without a stop to worship the hobblebush. For those anticipating spring, it’s only a few weeks away. It won’t be long and these naked leaf and flower buds will unfurl and I’m sure I’ll share their blooming glory with you.

w15-Moose Pond Bog

Another stop that I can’t pass by is a climb up the stairs to the platform–the perfect viewing spot for the bog.

w16-car

Finally, we continued along the trail and I realized my focal points were redundant of all past visits, but it’s fun to view some of these in various seasons. For those who know, this is the old blue vehicle.

w17-lungwort

And right near it, my favorite of all foliose lichens–lungwort, indicative of unpolluted air. At Wilson Wing–indeed.

w18-hemlock catkins ;-)

We crossed the last little stream, found some deer tracks and a beaver chew, and then decided to follow the trail back rather than the road. One of our stops included admiring the hemlock catkins. (Smiley face)

w19-black backed 2

And then we returned to the woodpecker. By now he was our woodpecker, just as the mink that we saw and other critters we didn’t see were also “our mink” and “our coyote,” etc. It’s amazing how even when we don’t see the mammal, recognizing that it has passed through is enough to excite us. But this bird . . . oh my.

w20-black backed 3

We noted the orangey yellow crown as it cocked its head.

w26-black backed 8

Its face was black and white, including a black mustache and white eye line.

w22--black backed 5

We were surprised by its stocky build.

w24-black backed 6

And those black and white barred sides or flanks weren’t like the woodpeckers we normally see.

w25-black backed 7

It worked constantly, flaking the scales off the trunk as it searched for insect larvae.

w27-black backed 9

Cinnamon colored underbark revealed itself where the bird had recently excavated.

w28-black backed 10

As it contemplated its next move, it didn’t seem to mind our admiration.

w30-black backed 11

With its strong beak, it probed and probed.

w31-black backed 12

Then held its head back and . . .

w32-black backed 13

probed some more.

w33-black backed 14

First it cocked its head to the right.

w36-black backed 17

And then back to the left.

w38-blackbacked 18

Frequently, it paused for a brief break. Or perhaps it was dining and we didn’t know it.

w40-black backed 21

We were mesmerized.

w39-black backed 20

And delighted . . .  for we’d had the opportunity to focus our eyes on so many wonders, but especially the mink and this . . . a black-backed woodpecker. This was a rare opportunity for these birds seldom show themselves, especially this far south–all the more reason to be thankful that we decided to go for it and focus our eyes on the nature of Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve.