We didn’t know what to expect when we headed off on a trail today. Or even what to wear on our feet–besides winter boots that is. And so we donned snowshoes initially in hopes that should we locate a Tiger, we’d be able to move easily across the snow rather than posthole and get slowed down.
Ah, but there were things that did slow us down. If you are a long-time follower of wondermyway.com, then you know I can’t resist a Pileated Woodpecker tree . . . among other subjects that repeatedly slow me down. This one was fun because it was obvious that the bird stood on the snow to excavate at least the bottom hole. In my mind’s eye, I could see it using its tail feathers as the third leg in a tripod while its beak pounded away at the tree, excavating a hole. Did it find any food?
Indeed it did and several healthy looking cylindrical scats full of the indigestible parts of the Carpenter Ants it sought were waiting to be discovered like little piles of treasure.
Was the Tiger hiding among the wood chips? No, unfortunately not.
The next great sight was the cocoon of a Promethea silkworm moth. When the caterpillar or larval form of the moth was ready to pupate at the end of last summer, it strengthened the stem, or petiole, of a leaf with silk, and then attached the silk to a nearby branch as you can see, assuring that the leaf would remain attached to the tree rather than fall off. It then spun the cocoon inside the curled leaf.
This species overwinters as pupae in a state known as diapause. During pupation, the larval structure breaks down into a soupy form and then restructures so that by the end of the process (in late May/early June) adult structures, including wings appear before its time to emerge and fly.
Was the Tiger hiding behind the cocoon? No, unfortunately not.
And then there was the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar–climbing a tree to look for food on a winter day? Hardly. At a certain point in its growth, it lightly locked its legs into mat of silk it had produced on the branch. It then released enzymes that dissolved the inner layer of its cuticle, and a day or so later, much like a dragonfly or cicada emerging from exuviae, the caterpillar’s cuticle split above the thorax and the caterpillar literally crawled out of its skin. This is an old cuticle left behind.
Was the Tiger hiding amid the HTM’s cuticle? No, unfortunately not.
As we hiked along the snowshoe trail, we had to work our way around, over, and under downed trees, but this one encouraged me to pause for it’s one I don’t encounter on an everyday basis, much like its cousin with bristles on its leaf lobes. The cousin in Northern Red Oak, but the leaves we met today belonged to White Oaks. Oh, there were red oaks along the way, and I don’t mean to downplay them, but I’m forever in awe of the marcescent (leaves that wither but remain attached to the stem) of White Oaks. Those veins. That color. And the shape. Always curled in winter as if an open palm.
Was the Tiger masked by the downed tree? No, unfortunately not.
At an erratic the size of a small house, I had to take a closer look and convinced my guy to pause. He did and circled the boulder in search of the Tiger.
Did he find the critter? No, unfortunately not.
It was next to a Speckled Alder that our attention, well, my attention turned. What initially stopped me in my tracks was the woolliness of Woolly Alder Aphids. Those fuzzy aphids feed on the sap of the shrub and produce white wax, or “wool,” filaments from their abdominal glands.
They drink volumes of sap in order to get enough nitrogen, which they then exude as honeydew. In the summer, I find ants farming them to sip the honeydew.
But that’s not all that is interested in the sweet liquid. A Black Sooty Mold loves the honeydew as well.
The funny thing is that I was just discussing this yesterday with Land Steward Leah of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The Black Sooty Mold is actually a Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. The natural world is more otherworldly than one can even imagine.
The Sooty Mold’s name comes from the dark threadlike growth (mycelium) of the fungi resembling a layer of soot or rather, a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within my hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.
Was the Tiger hiding among the Sooty Mold? No, unfortunately not.
Eventually, we returned from whence we’d come because one of the snowshoe trails is an out-and-back, found a rock upon which to sit for lunch, and the same served as a storage hide-away for our snowshoes while we donned micro-spikes, for the rest of the journey would be along a snowmobile trail. The thing about snowmobile trails in our area–they were closed a few days ago, just at the start of Spring Vacation, oops I mean Winter Vaca, but such have been the temps of late and the trails are not safe–especially where they cross waterways or boggy areas.
That said, I stepped off the trail and located this tree–a wonder unto itself. For those who know the species, it’s a Hophornbeam gone astray. Typically, these trees of sorta shaggy, yet tight bark, if one can be such, grow straight and strong, but obviously there was an interruption in the growth of this tree, though eventually it found its way skyward as is its normal behavior.
Was a Tiger hiding among the trees? No, unfortunately not.
I discovered the disfigured Hophornbeam because I’d gone closer to the water to spy on a couple of Beaver lodges. And I’m happy to report that based on the mud and fresh branches, they appeared to be active.
Was there an active Tiger in the area as well? No, unfortunately not.
Shortly after reaching Snowmobile Trail ITS 89, we noted the double-wide stonewall, a hint of days gone by when the property was probably plowed for agricultural reasons. We also noted that it’s been a while since that practice occurred for so old did the Eastern White Pine that grew atop the wall appear.
Was it large enough to hide a Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
So the next spot brought a smile to my face, for often, when I’m leading a hike my mouth gets ahead of my brain and I know I mean birch when I say beech, or visa versa, but here they were representing as one in the same for over time they had rubbed against each other for so long that they rubbed together.
Here’s a new word for me: Inosculation–when the friction between two trees causes the outer bark of each to scrape off at the point of contact. The trees respond by producing callus tissue that grows outward, thereby increasing the pressure between the two. This pressure, along with the adhesive nature of sap or pitch that exudes from their wounds, reduces the amount of movement at the point of contact. But the question remains: Does the cambia layer from the two trees come in contact and the vascular tissues become connected, allowing for the exchange of nutrients and water? Maybe if they are trees of the same species, but these were two different species and I suspect they are actually false grafts, which means the two trees have not formed a union of conductive tissues. Going forward, when I say Birch and mean Beech, or Beech and mean Birch–I shall remember these trees.
As for the Tiger, did he know them as well? No, unfortunately not.
As the sun began to shine, we found ourselves pausing beside Cold Rain Pond, where Sheep Laurel showed off its plans for the future. I want winter to continue, and apparently it might, for such is the forecast for later in the week when temperatures are supposed to dip to more seasonal numbers and snow is in the forecast, but note those buds.
Did they obscure the Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
As we backtracked our journey and followed the snowmobile trail out several hours later, I found the evidence we sought. A footprint. Certainly that of a Tiger. A very big Tiger for our area.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to locate the Tiger. We knew it was there somewhere, but just like our Bobcats, it chose to remain elusive and hid among the shadows. Do you see it?
After all, we had traveled over 7 miles of Loon Echo Land Trust trails at their Tiger Hill Community Forest.
There must be Tigers in the midst, indeed. For why else would it be named such?
Disclaimer: the Tiger print is actually a bleached out Bobcat print–made larger as the temperatures rise.
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