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.

Goodbye Autumn

On this last day of autumn 2016, nature put on a display worth donning extra layers for  along Sucker Brook at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve.

w-frozen-in-time

Morning light provided magical moments filled with otherworldly beauty.

w-ice-1

In response to constant movement and changing temperatures,

w-ice-sculpture

original beauty knew no end.

w-sucker-brook1

While brook smoke danced along sunbeams,

w-ice-crawling-up-tree

ice sculptures formed with the flow.

w-winter-flowers

Hoar frost brought diversity of visions . . .

w-fern-trees

in detailed formations and . . .

w-hobblebush-decorations

intricate presentations.

w-balsam-fir

Nothing was left untouched by the hand of the artist.

w-wilson-wing-moose-pond-bog

Before our eyes the seasons transitioned. Light. Shadows. Textures. Colors. Layers.

Goodbye autumn. Welcome winter.

The Wonders of Wilson Wing

A wander at Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve is the perfect way to celebrate the start of snow season. The 20.7 acres of land near Horseshoe Pond that was donated by the Wing family combined with the twelve acres surrounding Sucker Brook that The Nature Conservancy previously owned create the Preserve, which is a Greater Lovell Land Trust property.

snowshoes

My friend Jinny Mae and I donned our snowshoes and headed off on the trail, not sure what we might find. It was snowing lightly when we started, so we didn’t expect to see any mammal tracks.

mink trackard

Thus we were delighted with our finds–especially this one which was rather fresh. A look at the formation and we knew we had a member of the mustelid or weasel family. A few measurements of prints, straddle and stride–and we determined it was a mink.

mink 2 mink slide

In true mink fashion, it enjoyed a slide into the brook. We also saw mice, red squirrel, deer, bird  and domestic dog tracks–some were blurred by the snow, but the pattern and behavior helped us come to a conclusion. Well, the bird stumped us at first. It wasn’t clear at all. But then we saw juncos. And under the platform were clear prints beside some muted ones.

red squirrel midden

Though we neither saw nor heard any red squirrels, their presence was well pronounced. I was surprised to see a midden. All fall, I searched for caches. Usually cones are piled in various places, but this year I found only a few. Were they fooled by the warm weather?

ash cork

ash snow 2

I don’t know if it’s because it is winter and everything seems more pronounced or what, but the ash bark appeared chunkier and corkier than ever. Of course, the snowflakes added to the scene.

Sucker Brook

We were beside Sucker Brook, which flowed with winter magic.

ice 1 ice 2  ice 4 branch

And ice. Its many forms of presentation always fill me with awe and wonder.

ice 5, big foot

And whimsy. Check out these gigantic feet and

ice 3 hem

the hemline of this snowy skirt.

hobb 2 hobb 3a

Another favorite (oops, I forgot, everything is my favorite, but these really do stop me in my tracks–or snowshoes) is hobblebush. In any season this shrub provides an incredible display, but its the winter buds that are especially astounding. (OK, wait until it blossoms and I’ll be saying the same thing.) While most buds have waxy scales that protect the leaves, hobblebush is naked. The same is true for witch hazel buds. What you see in these photos, is miniature leaves clasping each other. And embraced within, the flower bud. Here’s hoping the snow provides warmth until spring.

polypody 1

Another “favorite” display adorned a rock hidden beneath the snow.

poly 3Common polypody ferns seemed to hold the snow tight between their curled blades. That made us pause and wonder once more.

poly 2

And because we did so, we realized that clusters of sporangia were ready to catapult their spores into the world.

poly 4

poly 6

poly 5

They look like miniature clusters of balloons waiting to broadcast the arrival of a new year. But, why were the pinnae curled inward? It’s certainly not a stance that would protect the spores–those are to be spewed outward in order to further the population. We know that the blades curl up if conditions are dry, but it’s hardly been dry the past few weeks–lots of rain and now snow. My research turned up little, but I wonder if it’s a protective measure similar to the rhododendrons in our front yard. As nature’s thermometers, they let us know what the temperature is based on the behavior of their leaves–about 40˚ they extend outward, about 32˚ they droop and in the low 20˚s the rhodies’ leaves curl. I’m always sure they will die and drop off, but that’s not the case. Could it be the same for the polypody? Do their dense covering of scales located on the underside prevent the loss of moisture? Now I need to keep track of the temperature and see if it follows the same pattern.

Worth a wonder. Worth a thanks to the Wing family (and especially Dr. Wilson M. and June Wing) for helping to make the Preserve a place for all of us to wander.

A Perfect Beech Day

Eighty-some odd degrees, plenty of sunshine and a welcome breeze greeted a couple of friends and me as we explored the Sucker Brook Outlet Reserve on Farrington Pond Road in Lovell–certainly a beach day.

Beech cigar

Though we often refer to them as being shaped like a cigar, on this summer-like spring day, that description hardly seems apropos.

beech old and new

A few of last year’s leaves still cling tentatively to beech branches,

Beech 1

but on others the buds unfurl

Beech Leaves unfurl

with grace,

beech 2

displaying pleated leaves covered with long silky hair.

trail

There’s so much to see along the trail, so I hope you’ll continue to wander with me.

Hobblebush

 Hobblebush,

anemone

Wood Anemone

sessile-leaved bellwort or wild oats

and Sessile-leaved Bellwort or Wild Oats.

Leatherleaf

Leatherleaf

Leatherleaf 2

from a different point of view.

beaked hazelnut

Beaked Hazelnut displaying leaves.

Alternate-leaved Dogwood

Alternate-leaved Dogwood

al dog 2

preparing to flower.

Squawroot resembles pinecone

Squawroot, that reminded us of . . .

pine cone:squaw root

pine cones.

pitcher plant 1

Pitcher Plants, carnivores in the plant world,

pp3

with their pitcher-shaped leaves,

pp2

covered in trigger hairs–waiting to trap insects.

hemlock polypore, Ganoderma tsugae

We saw hemlock polypores,

bn 3

and old bird nests.

And then there was the other animal sign.

 a s deer

Deer scrapes on Striped Maple bark.

as mouse

And the work of mice below the snow pack.

beaver works

There is beaver work everywhere

bw 5

and numerous lodges in the brook.

vp

A rut in the trail

wood frog eggs

was put to good use–wood frog eggs and emerging tadpoles.

a s yellow feathers, Northern Flicker

Something made a meal of this Northern Flicker.

porc 1

Our best finds were actual wildlife. This guy thought that if he hid his head, we wouldn’t see him.

porc 3

But we did.

wood frog

A wood frog, also trying to hide, well, sorta.

ribbon snake

And a ribbon snake that quickly slithered into a hole and out of sight–the most successful hider of all.

Sucker brook

Lest I forget, we were beside Sucker Brook,

SB 3

where we paused frequently.

mnt view 2

An osprey flew overhead, but I wasn’t quick enough to take a picture.

It was a perfect beech day. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy it with me.

And Happy Birthday to my sister, who has loved the beach since day one.