Stop, Look, and Listen

I’m a wanderer both on and off trail, and sometimes the path has been macadamized. Such was my following this morning as I paused on the way home from running an errand in North Conway, New Hampshire.

I’d stuck to the backroads on my way out of state to avoid road construction on Route 302, but knew that upon my return I wanted to stretch my legs along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg.

The delightful four-mile rail trail, so named for the railroad line it parallels, intended for walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc., extends from the Maine Visitors Center on Route 302 to the Eastern Slope Airport on Route 5 and can be accessed from either end or several points between.

The wind was blowing and the bug count low, so though it wasn’t a warm, sunny spring day, it was a purely enjoyable one. And the cheery cherry flowers enhanced the feeling.

All along the way, it seemed, the Red Maples had not only leafed out, but yesterday’s flowers had magically transformed into today’s samaras that dripped below like chandeliers.

Lovely tunes and chips were also part of the landscape and I have no idea if I’ve identified this species correctly, but I’m stepping out on a branch and calling it an Alder Flycatcher. I’m sure those who know better will correct me. The naming isn’t always necessary, however. Sometimes, it’s more important to appreciate the sighting, the coloration, and the sound. For this bird, it was the dull olive green on its back that caught my attention.

And then up above on the other side of the track, it was the “Cheery, Cheery, Cheerio” song that helped me locate the American Robin in another maple raining with seeds.

Maples weren’t the only trees showing off their flowers, and those on the Northern Red Oaks reminded me of grass hula skirts below Hawaiian-themed shirts.

Even the ordinary seemed extraordinary like the Dandelion. Each ray of sunshine was notched with five “teeth” representing a petal that formed a single floret. Fully open, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets.

Nearby, its cousin, the early blooming Coltsfoot, already had the future on its mind and little bits of fluff blew in the breeze.

Eventually, I reached Ward’s Pond and after scanning the water found a Painted Turtle seeking warmth. The day was overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the strong breeze. Being down below the trail, at least the turtle was out of the wind and I had to assume that the temperature was a bit higher than where I stood.

This is a trail that may look monotonous, but with every step there’s something different to see like a Pitch Pine showing off three generations of prickly cones. What was, is, and shall be all at the tip of the branch.

It seemed like every time I looked to the left, such as at the pine, a sound on the other side of the trail caught my attention. And so it was that I realized a White-tailed Deer was feeding on grasses behind a fence by a now-defunct factory (so defunct that the roof had collapsed under the weight of snow). Notice her ears.

And now look at her again. A deer’s ears are like radar and she can hone in on a sound by turning them.

I don’t know if she was listening to me or to the Eastern Towhee telling us to drink our tea.

After 2.5 miles, I decided to save the rest for another day and follow the path back. Though loop trips are fun, following the same path back brings new sights to mind, like the Interrupted Fern I’d walk past only a few minutes before. Notice its clump formation known in the fern world as vase-like.

And the butterfly wings of its interrupting leaflets covered with sporangia. My wonder came with the realization that within the interruption not all of the pinnules or subleaflets were covered with the bead-like shapes of fertility. Spores stored within essentially perform the same function as a seed: reproduce and perpetuate the species. So–is part of the pinnule fertile while the rest remains sterile? Do I need to check back? Oh drats, another trip to make along the Mountain Division Trail. Any excuse to revisit it works for me, though one hardly needs an excuse.

Further along I looked to the other side of the tracks for I’d spotted bird movement. Behind it was the reason–my White-tailed Deer friend. I have a feeling people feed it for it seemed not at all disturbed by my presence, unlike the ones in our yard and the field beyond that hear my every move within the house even in the middle of winter and are easily spooked.

The deer, however, wasn’t the only wildlife on or near the trail. Suddenly, a Red Fox appeared and we each considered the other. He blinked first during our stare down and trotted away.

Passing by Ward’s Pond once again, I stopped to check on the turtle. It was still in the same spot I’d seen it probably a half hour before.

Not far from the visitors center, a Big-Toothed Aspens chose to be examined for the soft downy feel as well as color of its leaves. The various hues of color in leaves during spring is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As the temperature rises and light intensity increases, red pigment forms and acts as a sunscreen to protect the young leaves from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

Because I was standing still and admiring the leaves, I heard another bird song and eventually focused in on the creator.

And so I have the Big-Toothed Aspen to thank for showing me the Indigo Bunting. My first ever. (Happy Birthday Becky Thompson.)

A turtle. A deer. A fox. A towhee. A bunting. All of that was only a smattering of wonder found along the Mountain Division Trail. If you go, make sure you recall the old railroad signs: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Boundless Monday

It was 8˚ this morning as I headed out the back door with micro-spikes attached to my hiking boots, sure that I’d stay atop the ice-crusted snow. Not to be. Immediately, I began to sink and realized snowshoes would serve me better.

And so a few minutes later I reemerged, ready for a walk, albeit loud since with each step I took the sound of crunchy snow echoed in the crisp air.

o-powerline

But being a bright cold morning, the view to Mount Washington was equally enhanced.

o-bulrush-seeds

I quickly moved from our property into the woodland owned by others and started down a trail I’d forged many years ago. Along the way, I was warmed by the sight of the downy seeds of bulrushes swaying in a gentle breeze.

o-red-maple-bud

Because of recent logging activity, Red Maple saplings stood out in the landscape, their buds embraced by waxy and hairy scales that provided sure protection from winter moments.

o-royal-fern

Where only a few days ago, this trail had been a wee bit difficult as I dodged sure wet spots, today all was frozen. Despite the snow and rain of recent days, Royal Ferns shone with their bronze winter display.

o-witch-hazel

The left behind flower bracts of witch hazel reminded me of their two-fold job, from flower base to next year’s seed pod–and a third job for today when they provided a hint of golden yellow to the landscape.

o-spider-funnel

In several trees, I discovered old funnel spider webs and trusted that the creators were enjoying a dormant season of their own somewhere below my feet.

o-white-lettuce-or-white-rattlesnake-root

After reaching an intersection in paths, I struck out to create a trail not yet carved. It was here that the White Lettuce or White Rattlesnake-root grew most abundantly, its seeds reminiscent of bird feathers.

o-white-lettuce-jelly-fish

Likewise, some bracts had already cast all offspring to the wind and all that remained were small jelly-fish statues.

o-paper-birch

After doubling back, I passed by my first path and then rather than follow a common route home, decided a bushwhack was more to my pleasing. It wasn’t always an easy trudge and I had to use the sun to help me figure out my direction, but offered its own points of wonder, including the pink and orangey inner bark of paper birch displaying matching lenticels (the little lines that are tree pores for gas exchange).

o-balsam-fir-cone-scale-and-attached-seed

Spruce cone scales, this one with a seed still attached, decorated the snow-covered forest floor.

o-ice-on-hemlock

And ice on hemlocks mirrored reflective moments.

o-stopped-in-my-tracks

As often happens, I got caught in movement, nothing that couldn’t be fixed by quickly stepping out of the snowshoe.

o-barbed-wire

In the midst of my journey, I discovered boundaries in places where I didn’t recall encountering them before. But they’ve been there–for a longtime. Fortunately for me and those who follow in my footsteps, we’re allowed to cross those boundaries at will. If you do follow, however, you may want to forge some of your own pathways. At times, mine required acrobatic movements that weren’t always fluid.

You may have noticed that my guy and I haven’t had a Mondate in about a month. We trust we will again soon, but we’ve had a lot of stuff to do around the old homestead. To that end, we’re both looking forward to future Mondates that know no bounds. Where will 2017 take us?

 

Perley Pond Preserve Presents

I love to learn and today’s presence offered such as I explored Loon Echo Land Trust’s Perley Pond/Northwest River Preserve in Sebago. I’ll be leading a hike there this Saturday, so if you are so inclined, I hope you’ll come along. But if you can’t, then please read on. (Note: Jon Evans, Stewardship Manager for LELT will be with me on Saturday, and he’ll have so much more to offer about the lay of the land, which was acquired by the trust in 2014. Today marked my first visit to this property.)

p-land-trust-sign-1

There are three entry points along Folly Road and I began my reconnaissance mission at the first, where I didn’t get far due to a stream not quite frozen, but still found plenty to examine.

p-evening-primrose

Evening Primrose stood at alert in the field just off the road. Tall in stature, its distinctive seed pods peeled back in four parts and small seeds looked like fresh ground pepper on the snow.

p-black-eyed-susan

Black-eyed Susans also decorated this space, some leaning over to share their offerings. The hairy bracts and gumdrop shape made these easy to spot.

p-beaked-hazelnut-1

One of my favorite finds in the first section of the property–the hairy twig, catkin, leaf and bud of a Beaked Hazelnut. Just last week I saw the same, well, minus the catkins, in Lovell. And knowing that certain leaves are marcescent, e.g. remain attached to the stem throughout some or most of the winter like oak, witch hazel and especially beech, I was thrown off by this other type. It had me thinking birch and well it should have because Beaked Hazelnut is a member of the birch family. But #1, though a hairy twig like Yellow and Paper Birch, the leaf base wasn’t right for either, and #2, I didn’t recall ever seeing these leaves still dangling in later fall/early winter. The trees taught me a lesson today–the most perfect of gifts–a few Beaked Hazelnut leaves continued to dangle, though most were turning quite dark in hue and I suspected will fall soon, and, I found Gray Birch leaves also clinging. Just when I thought I knew everything, nature proved there’s more to learn. So the gift was a reminder to pay more attention.

p-log-landing

I left that section and walked down the road to a spot where a chain prevents vehicles from entering the old log landing. It certainly didn’t stop the deer who had danced in the night.

p-sweet-fern

As I moved through the landing, I paused to admire another dancer as witnessed in the fluid movement of Sweet-fern.

p-sweet-fern-catkins-2

Like the Beaked Hazelnut, its catkins were wrapped gifts that spoke to the future.

p-willow-gall

Also in this space, a few willows with their own little packages.

p-willow-gall-1

The willow pine cone gall was created in the summer by a gall gnat midge. The larva stage secreted a substance on the stem that caused the willow to go into overdrive–resulting in a multi-layered chamber composed of hardened material that would have been leaves, but alas, the stem growth was arrested. Inside that hairy structure resides the wintering larva, nice and snug for the winter. It will metamorphose into a gnat when warm weather arrives.

p-fir-christmas-tree

As I walked along I noticed Christmas tree patterns among the firs.

p-fir Christmas Tree1.jpg

It was a simple case of an upside-down look. Once flipped, in my brain anyway, the seasonal symbol was obvious.

p-ornaments-big-tooth-on-fir

And the ornaments dangled–in the form of Big-toothed Aspen leaves and White Pine needles,

p-ornament-lichen1

Northern Camouflage Lichen,

p-ornament-pileated

and shredded bark created by . . .

p-ornament-pileated-works

a Pileated Woodpecker in search of food.

p-ruffed-grouse

I felt my good fortune to find a spot where a ruffed grouse had tunneled.

p-big-tooth-burl

And then I was stopped by a burl. Like a gall, this was created by insects.

p-big-tooth-bark-1

The tree of choice featured lower gnarly bark that resembled a Northern Red Oak.

p-big-tooth1

But a peek toward its crown revealed a birch–the two-fer one gift: Big-toothed Aspen.

p-big-tooth-leaves

Its leaves, oh my, another  temporarily “marcescent” variety–showing off the big teeth for which it received its common name.

p-white-oak-leaves

Speaking of leaves, there were numerous renditions of White Oak–another dancer that seemed to freeze in motion.

p-red-pine-heart

Here and there among the offerings, Red Pine. This particular one showed my love for it where a branch had broken off. Do you see the wee heart?

p-red-pine-geometry

While mature Red Pines feature bark that reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle, I found some younger trees, their structure speaking to geometry.

p-piscataqua-sign

Continuing on along the logging road, I wondered if perhaps I’d gone astray. Suddenly, I found myself in Piscataqua County–miles and miles from home. I knew I was in unknown territory, but was I really that far from home? More than my usual fake lost?  Or someone’s sense of humor?

p-owl-1

Maybe so. Certainly I was in the land of owl feet.

p-coyote

And a tuckered coyote?

p-bushwhack

It was at this point that I headed off trail, made easy by underbrush.

p-deer-tracks

Deer tracks led me to another wonder-filled gift.

p-northwest-1

The wetland and Northwest River, one of the namesakes for this place.

p-pitch-pine-bark1

It was here that another lesson presented itself–the layered bark made me realize I was viewing Pitch Pine growing beside the bog. My understanding was that these grew on ledges or rocky outcrops. But here was one with wet feet. And so I later consulted Bogs and Fens by Ronald B. Davis (I highly encourage you to add this title to your Christmas wish list) and discovered that not only does it grow in dry woodlands, but also “in swamps and at the edges of fens and bogs.” (Additional note: Pitch Pine Bogs are listed as S2:  “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline”; thus another reason to give thanks to LELT for preserving this place)

p-pitch-pine-1

p-pitch-pine-needles

Pitch Pine needles present themselves in bundles of three–perfect for this time of year–ahhhh, the Trinity.

p-rhodora-1

Rhodora

p-leatherleaf-1

and Leatherleaf added to the winter ornamentation.

p-ice-break-through

In my attempts for “the perfect photo,” I broke through the ice several times. I’d been post-holing through about seven or eight inches of snow all afternoon sans snowshoes because it was quite easy to move about in the fluffy stuff, but when I reached the edge of the water, the snow had insulated the thin ice cover and . . .  crash, crackle, crunch, I sunk in to the top of my Boggs and even a wee bit over.

p-trail-back

On my way back down the logging road, I realized how my own tracks were much more varied than that of the deer who’d passed before me.

p-land-trust-boundary

And then I came to a boundary sign. Opps. Guess I went beyond the land trust’s property, though thankfully no signs deterred me from trespassing.

p-perley-pond-1

And a wee bit further down Folly Road, I stopped at Perley Pond, part of the namesake for this property–and part of the reason for my presence for the presents presented.

Wondering Among Giants

Robinson Woods

It’s not every day that I get to wander and wonder among 300-year-old giants, but such was the case today. A friend and I met at Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth. It was a reconnaissance mission for me as I’ll be leading a senior college class there next month. And for both of us, it was a delightful way to spend three hours snowshoeing on and off the trail, with frequent pauses to look, listen, touch, smell and learn.

Because the land was not suitable for farming (terrain rocky and uneven), it was left unchanged for all these years. Actually, we met the executive director of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust along the way, and he told us that the Robinson family was a paper company family, but they left this piece untouched. Thanks go to them. And to the land trust for preserving the land so that it will remain in its natural state.

feeding cone

We could hear the birds sing and call as we moved along. Someone apparently wanted to make sure they have enough to eat as we found a couple of these “bird-seed” pine cones dangling from trees. (Separate note: back at home, for the second day in a row, I’ve had chickadees landing on my mitten to eat crushed peanuts–well, they don’t actually eat them on my hand, they just grab and fly to a nearby branch, where they use their feet to hold the nut or seed and then peck away at it.)

porcy trail

We followed this porcupine trail for a bit. As we backtracked our way toward the people trail, something caught our attention:

bear claws

Yes, even in Cape Elizabeth, and only steps from the ocean, you can find bear claw sign on beech trees.

bear claws2

We showed these photos to the executive director of CELT–he had no idea they were there. I’ll be curious to see if he adds black bears to the list of mammals that frequent the property. I did see that they have pine martens on the list–that surprises me.

gnarly tree

I know I’ve spent a lot of time writing about beech trees, but this one looks like a totem pole of gnarly faces. Think gargoyles. Was the beech scale disease initially responsible for this? I wonder.

gnarly face

more gnarliness

Very gnarly indeed. In the center, you can see where a branch broke off.

burls on a maple

This Red Maple had some serious burls. Perhaps they were caused by stress or injury, though researchers don’t know for sure why they occur. Despite the bumpy, warty growths, the tree appears to be healthy. You can see that there is new growth–young red branches sprouting from the burls. Removing a burl causes a large wound that could eventually harm the tree, so they’re best left alone–though I know woodworkers covet them.

walnut?

We were almost back to our trucks when we came across this tree. It’s a young tree and we tried to key it out. We’re pretty sure it’s Shagbark Hickory, but if you know otherwise, please enlighten me.

Thanks for wondering along with me on today’s wander through the woods.