Tanglewood 2018

Our mid-May Wednesday hike was one of those days when the thermometer indicated a warmer temperature than what we perceived. With a cool breeze blowing, we spent quite a bit of time deciding whether we needed jackets. We had agreed to explore one of the preserves closer to home and realizing that our walk through Tanglewood would be shaded, we opted to bring the jackets. Little did we know that those coverings would be a life-saver.

As I have mentioned before, Tanglewood is one of those places that is wet even during the dry season, so we did anticipate that we would need to work around some rather large puddles. To our advantage, the last few weeks had been rather dry but we still needed to walk around some mucky areas. What we had not taken into account was that this was the middle of May, the first week after Mother’s Day, and the black flies were out with a vengeance. I had never seen it so bad. When my friend stopped to hunt for frog and salamander eggs in one of the off-trail ponds, I soon grew tired of waving the bugs away and donned a bug net. If it wasn’t for the nets (and the jackets) we would have been forced to give up our ramble and head back towards the safety of our car.

Once we were appropriately attired, we were able to continue our exploration of the area. Except for the swarm of flies, this was the best time of year for observing the growth of the spring season. A few days before I had noticed the leaves of various wildflowers but no other color than the green foliage could be found. Now, we found new flowers springing up on a daily basis and I happily pointed out different wildflowers for my friend. As we walked along the Forest Trail, I pointed out sessile-leaved bellwort and painted trillium.

Our goal was to take the Forest Trail to the campground and then circle back on the River Trail. It took us some time to reach the camp since there were so many interesting things to study. In addition to the wildflowers, we also had to stop and take pictures of the Wood Frog that we had startled as we disturbed its hiding place in the leaf litter. We eventually reached the campground and had to stop to admire the suspension bridge that crossed the river at that point. The last time I saw this bridge was during  winter a few years ago. Now I noticed a sign with the word “Pitcher Pond” that pointed to a trail on the other side of the river. I wondered if that would be an excursion for another day.

From the camp, we followed the river back towards the entrance. Along the way, there were additional flowers to admire. I was not sure about some of them but I later identified one as a wood anemone. When we reached a grove of rather tall plants with ribbed leaves growing up from the center of the leaves beneath, I recognized this from my months’ long attempt at trying to identifying it when I spotted it in Central New York. I was happy to be able to name it as a false hellebore. (The plant is toxic to both animals and humans if ingested).

As we made our way back to the car, we noticed that the swarm of black flies had dissipated a bit. Perhaps they let-up during the afternoon hours. Even though we felt rather warm at this point, we were not inclined to remove either the jackets or the nets for fear that the bugs would smell fresh food and return. After we were safely in the car, we removed our protective layers and headed for home.



Morse Mountain

Recently my mid-week hiking buddy sent me a to-do hiking list for our summer to fall hikes. She started the list with 3 hikes but left space for another 7 suggestions. I felt some trepidation about 2 of the items on her list, for the Jack Williams Trail and the Ridge Trail in the Camden Hills seemed a bit ambitious after a sedentary winter. I added one ambitious hike of my own (Hogback Mountain) and filled in the rest with some easier walks. During the second week of May we decided to cross off one of those journeys and made our way to the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation area.

I researched the area before-hand and discovered that our exploration would be a 2 mile walk through salt marsh and woods before ending at Sewall Beach. As we drove down to Phippsburg, my friend commented that there was a fog bank offshore so I knew that we would be in for some overcast conditions once we reached the beach. Since it was approaching 11:30 by the time we reached the parking area, we decided to eat our lunch first before setting off on the trail.

The first part of the trail went through the salt marsh before leading us into the woods. Already, we had to stop and study the natural world around us (this is why I like hiking with this friend since she is like minded and doesn’t mind stopping for pictures and observations). On one side of the road a light mist rising above the channel, on the other, an egret landed in the grass, and before us was an interesting pine covered rock formation.

After we had our fill of these wonders, we entered the woods and began an uphill climb along a semi-graveled dirt road. Although the incline was slight we still ended up huffing and puffing along the way. It was a great time to point out the ubiquitous blanket of Canada Mayflowers, unfurling ferns, Trout Lilies and Wild Sarsaparilla.

It may have been at the half point towards the beach, when my friend took us on a detour to show off her favorite tree. It was a ghostly thing, with dead branches stretching up towards the sky but we could see some evidence that there was still some life left in this quiet giant. From where we stood, we looked out on the marshes once more and watched as a rather large black bird landed in the marshy grass. Even though my pictures were blurry due to the distance, when I consulted my resident wildlife expert later, she thought it might have been a glossy ibis.

The rest of the walk to the shore was pretty uneventful but once we were on the beach the fog rolled in. I was amazed at how quickly things disappeared. At some point while nearby islands faded from view, I could barely make out the waves nearby. Even my friend vanished as she walked towards the water.

As the fog lifted a bit, we walked along the shore stopping to study items of interest. Near a roped off section for nesting plovers, we found a piece of driftwood shaped like a horse. Not far from the nesting area, the beach curved along the channel and we studied the intricate patterns in the mud.

Here we followed footsteps of those who had wandered this section before us. Again we stopped to study the rocks along this section of the cove. As I examined this stone, I briefly wished that I knew more about geology for I could see a variety of rocks crushed into this one boulder; mica, quartz and other unknown rough white chips.

While we were still investigating this end of the beach, we hear an unfamiliar noise not far from where we stood. It took us some time to make out the plover running back and forth from the fenced nesting area since he blended it so well with the sand. Avoiding the panicked bird, we turned to retrace our way back to the trail that would lead us to the end of the journey. We had crossed off the first item on our hiking list.

Mystery Trail

During my travels over the past few years, I have frequently passed a pullout along the road, with a waterfall that rushes in the spring and trail nearby. Out of curiosity, from time to time I would research this area, trying to find some information about this trail. Although I could locate the two named trails on either side of this little road, I could not find this hidden path on any trail map of the area. Still, that had not stopped me from vowing to explore this area some day. Recently, one of our neighbors had informed us that the trail eventually intersects with one of the official trails in the area and that was enough for us to explore this path on the first nice weekend in May.

We parked at the pullout near the waterfall and headed into the opening of the woods. Once we were a little ways from the road, it was obvious that this was a well-used trail. At this point it was wide enough to have been a road at some point in time.

Further along, we had to decide whether to continue straight or branch off in either direction. We had been told that the left would lead to a sheer rock face so we explored the right passage only to discover that it dead ended at a meadow like ledge. We returned to the fork and continued on the straight path until we reached a boulder pile in front of us. Once again the trail branched off in either direction, so while my husband made his way up the rocks to explore, I headed to the right to see where the road would lead. Again I reached a dead-end, so I retraced my steps and followed the lane in the opposite direction. Not far along, I saw that the route seemed to head down into a bowl shaped landscape. I did not feel the need to take the steep descent and climb so I returned to the rocks.

I climbed up the rock field to join my husband on a ledge with wonderful views of the lake below and the mountains beyond that. We walked across the ledge and soon discovered that the trail continued. Along the way, we passed evidence that someone had camped up here at some point in time. The direction we needed to take was still pretty obvious but shortly after this point we realized that someone had tied ribbons around the trees to mark this unofficial road. We followed these ribbons for about an hour before my husband announced that we had reached the intersection with the named trail.

We decided to continue on the blue blazed trail to the left, knowing that it would lead to some wonderful views of the lake. Along the way we stopped to admire the wildflowers that were just beginning to bloom. I spotted Wild Sarsaparillas, Yellow Violets, Bellwort and white Hepaticas. None of these flowers were interspersed with each other. Instead they each seemed to dominate and blanket different regions of our walk.

I found a few areas that seemed a little difficult to hike and it wasn’t long before I realized I was done. Unfortunately, we had already been hiking about 2 hours. To turn around meant hiking another 2 hours back to the car, so we continued on not knowing how long before we reached the intersection to the trail we had walked many times before. After a while we reached the trail marker indicating our scenic spot was another three tenths of a mile on or we could head down to the parking area which was another 6 tenths of a mile. At this point, we decided not to head to the high point of the trail and add a ½ mile to our trip so we turned towards the parking lot. Once in the parking area, I rested on a flat concrete block while my husband walked the short distance up the road to get the car. After 3.5 hours we were ready for lunch.


Lobster Cove Meadow

By May 2nd, the temperatures had risen to the mid-seventies. Although I am not overly fond of hot weather, the sun was shining and nature was calling, so I arranged to meet my friend in Rockland on my way down to Boothbay Harbor in order to explore one of the preserves down that peninsula. We had several places in mind and eventually zeroed in on exploring Lobster Cove Meadow.

It did take us a few tries to locate this preserve. When we found ourselves in downtown Boothbay Harbor, we realized that we had missed the turn-off for Route 96 and needed to turn around. On the return side, we did see a sign for the turn-off but my friend swore there was no such sign on our way down. The next missed turn was when we passed Eastern Avenue, another unmarked street. (These are the reasons why directions include distances to the next turn-off; too many streets are not marked!). I also missed the preserve due to the small road jutting off to our left. If I had looked down that short street I would have seen the kiosk. Finally after our third turn-around, we reached our destination.

Now that we were where we wanted to be, we walked the short easement trail into the woods. Our first stop was to greet the Nuthatch who had worked his way down the nearby tree to study us. He certainly was not intimidated by us, staying long enough for us to get a good look. Eventually, he flew off and we resumed our journey.

The warm weather had certainly encouraged the vegetation to grow. Just a few days before, there was no sign of the wildflowers that appear this time of year but now I noticed that the forest floor was covered with a blanket of the distinctive single leaf of the Canada Mayflower. The flowers would come later but for now I was glad to see this familiar carpet all around us.

Soon the trail headed downhill. As we made our descent, I noticed a different ground cover. The leaf was familiar but I could just not place it, other than knowing it was some kind of lily. As we reached level ground once more, we found a few yellow flowers of this lily had bloomed. The first wildflower in bloom! Hurray! I later identified it as a Trout Lily and had the “but of course” moment.

We continued to the end of the preserve where we paused to take in the wonderful views of Meadow Cove Creek before moving on. Our intent was to proceed along the historic Indian trail that connected the Lobster Meadow Cove Preserve to the one mile loop of Appalachee Preserve but it was hot and we were running out of steam. After a short stop on the Indian Trail where we had a great view of a beaver dam across the water, we turned back towards Lobster Meadow Cove.

We still stopped a few times to study various things. My friend is more observant than I and, noticing movement in the water she paused to watch the small fish swimming about. While observing this activity, she found a salamander blending in with the dirt and decaying leaves below the water’s surface. Further on she discovered a tree that had been carved into a unique artistic form before being rejected by the local beavers.

We finished our walk by taking a short loop through a meadow and along the water, before heading uphill towards the car. After such a great nature walk, we rewarded ourselves with a slice of pie at Moody’s on the way home.

Sagamore Farm Trees and Vernal Ponds

The first nature walk of 2018 sponsored by the Coastal Mountain Land Trust was held on the last weekend of April, and this year they were kicking off the season with a focus on tree identification and vernal ponds. Perfect! Given my tree identification skills this was a must attend event for us, so despite the misty weather we headed towards Sagamore Farm with the hopes of actually learning something new.

Since we had already explored Sagamore Farm in the fall, we knew that it was located behind one of the inns known as The Lodge, so once we located parking on the inn property we joined our fellow explorers at the small but already full parking lot near the front of The Lodge. From there, the group walked towards the back of the property to enter the preserve. We noticed the gloomy weather had kept our numbers down, but to me, that was a good thing, for that meant we would actually be able to hear our leader. We have already attended these events with well over 50 people, all trying to hear the topic expert while walking along a single file trail.

The first tree we studied was a red oak.  I learned that the red oak actually has red markings between the deep grooves of the bark. Although it is the most common oak tree in Maine, I was soon able to tell the difference between a white and red oak by the shape of the leaf (the red oak had more pointed leaves than the white). Most of you probably already knew this, but hey, this was all new to me!

From there, the coordinator of this adventure led us to a vernal pond. He had examined the pond the day before and that morning, discovering that the rain the night before had created ideal conditions for the “Big Night”, the night when the salamanders head down to the pond to lay their eggs. After explaining the importance of vernal ponds to the eco-system, he took us closer to the pond to point out the egg masses that had been laid the night before. I must confess that while we were listening to these interesting facts about vernal ponds my attention kept focusing on the perfect reflection of trees in the water.

Not far from the water, our next stop was a grove of white birch trees, looking rather ghost like in the mist. Here we learned that the grey birch is not as brilliant white as the paper (or white) birch and often has dark triangle shaped markings. We also spotted a yellow birch which, in addition to the yellow bark, is shaggier that the other birches.

We continued on our walk, with our guide pointing out the striped maples that were budding, and the mountain ash lined with sapsucker holes. At another stop I found a perfect yet delicate spider web; a lovely work of art on this overcast outing. All too soon our lesson was over and our allotted time was up. I did learn to identify a few trees but I had also found that nature can offer up some pretty impressive artwork even on foggy days.