Mushroom Walk

Just after the middle of September it seemed like someone decided to flip the switch on the weather, and in a matter of 24 hours the 80 to 90 degree summer was over and a 50 to 60 degree autumn had begun. It was the perfect time for me and my husband  to join a guided mushroom walk at Erickson Fields in Rockport.

As we gathered with about 4 dozen other nature enthusiasts, our guide gave an overview of the mushroom family and described how to take spore prints. He began the process of a spore print that we could view on our return, but alas when the trip was over the wind had blown the experiment off its perch. When Kirk talked about field guides, he mentioned that his favorite guide was the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms since it showed different stages of the mushroom across its lifespan. This was important since a mushroom changes so much over just a few days that it looks very different in a very short amount of time. And then we were off towards the fields and woods.

As we walked, he talked about Amanitas, Boletes and Russulas and how they formed a symbiotic relationship with the forest. In this relationship a fungus in the ground gives a tree phosphorus, nitrogen and other essential micro-nutrients while the tree gives the fungus sugars they create during photosynthesis. We found several varieties of each along our journey, including the most famous and highly poisonous Amanita, the Destroying Angel.

Kirk was a highly enthusiastic and humorous instructor. But as usual when I am faced with scientific talks that include 40 to 50 of my closest naturalist friends, my mind began to wander. So, while he was waxing poetic about the Turkey Tail fungus I was studying the creative efforts that a previous wanderer had left on a nearby stone.  Aside from my own personal limitations, everyone in the group was caught up in our leader’s enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before people were standing by a personal discovery, waiting for our teacher to identify their find.

Making our way through the preserve we discovered Coral Fungus, Birch Polypore, Black Trumpets and various forms of Shelf Fungus. Along the way, our guide would become ecstatic with some unique find or would keep our interest with his humor. For example, when we came across a wonderful find of Birch Polypore on the remains of a Birch tree he would say, “I’m a professional naturalist and in my professional opinion these trees are dead!”

At times, things would get a bit overwhelming for me and I would pause and look deeper into the woods and take in the hint of autumn that was just beginning to color the foliage. After the allotted two hours for this walk our guide kept on going with no signs of turning around. My husband and I decided that our brains were full and made our way back towards the parking area. Along the way we stopped to get a better look at the first item Kirk had pointed out, a cluster of Inky Cap mushrooms. Nearby was a beautiful array of the deepest purple New England Asters that I had ever seen. It had been a great morning of learning new things and immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature.



Goose River Peace Corps Preserve

Several days after hiking Dodge Point, I decided to drag my husband down to Waldoboro to explore both the Goose River Peace Corps and the Mill Pond preserves. I had delayed too long in investigating these sanctuaries and hoped it wasn’t too late in the season to study the vegetation. It was coming up on the second weekend in June so perhaps there would still be some early wildflowers in bloom.

As we entered the Goose River preserve I noticed that, as in Dodge Point, the flowers were gone from the Eastern Star Flower, and the Canada Mayflower looked a bit shabby. The Wild Sarsaparilla had completely gone to seed as well. But what really surprised me were some of the late bloomers that were so short lived.

For weeks I had been confusing the Lady Slipper with another plant bearing a similar leaf. Each time I pointed out the “Lady Slipper” to my husband, he kept reminding me that a true Lady Slipper had 2 leaves while this one had 4. Hmm. What could it be? After consulting my resources and examining similar plants, I suspected that it might be a Clintonia, also known as a Yellow Blue-bead Lily but I would have to wait for it to bloom. Here it was, one to two weeks after I had seen the leaves, I discovered that many of these blossoms had already gone to seed, but I did find one that confirmed my suspicions; it was a Yellow Blue-bead Lily. Further on in our adventures, I also discovered that the Indian Cucumber Root had also lost its flowers.

I was a little disappointed that many of the spring plants were past their season, but there was still some very interesting things to study during our visit to these two lovely preserves. The forest itself was absolutely lovely, inviting one to just pause and absorb the beauty of nature. Well, pausing long enough to feed the mosquitoes. When my husband had enough of me stopping to admire the views or trying to get the perfect picture, he donned a head net to ward off the swarm.

Soon enough, the path meandered next to the Goose River. The scenery was absolutely stunning and this time we really did have to stop and soak in the beauty of it all. Our travels along the river continued until we reached a little spillway where I stopped to practice some photography techniques on capturing running water. I think they came out well.

Eventually the trail merged with a snowmobile road which looped back towards the entrance of the preserve. Once there we crossed the road to explore the Mills Pond preserve. The path here was a bit narrower than the one we had just left, with the ground vegetation creeping towards the trail. There was plenty of Bracken Fern here, as well as the occasional Lady Slipper. I noticed that the Bunchberry was in full bloom.

It wasn’t long before we reached Mill Pond, where we paused briefly to study the yellow Waterlilies. The trail formed a small loop at this end of the preserve, so our return trip continued along the marshy end of the pond. Very quickly, we reached the road once more, walking the short distance to the car. Our walk had taken less than an hour, covering both preserves, but there had been plenty of opportunities to immerse ourselves in the gifts that nature had to offer.


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.

Fernald’s Neck 2018

By April, winter was still holding on. Daytime temperatures lingered in the 30s and we were still experiencing mixed precipitation when the middle of the month arrived. And yet, there were signs that spring was beginning to push the previous season out of the way; ice-out had been called April 12th, I spotted the small yellow flower known as Coltsfoot the next day, the loons were calling by the 17th and the Peepers sang loud and clear by the 20th. At last spring had arrived and we were all itching to get outside. I called my hiking buddy and we headed over to Fernald’s Neck for some explorations.

As we walked towards the Orange trail we noticed that the several nor’easters we endured throughout March had not been kind to our nature preserves. Many trees had snapped or been uprooted by the relentless winds. Clean-up crews had come through to clear the trails and there were fresh cut logs lining the sides of the path we were on. I don’t know if this was a boon for the wildlife but I did notice that someone had used a fresh stump to enjoy their dinner. The remains of this meal left me wondering how much energy is actually in those tiny pine cone seeds.

There were no wildflowers visible yet, so we spent some time trying to find the bird singing nearby. Bird identification, either by sight or sound, is not one of my talents, although I do wish I was better at it. The first problem was to determine where the sound was coming from. Once we had the direction we scanned the trees high and low before my friend located our feathered friend. We did get to watch it for some time but the best either one of us could do was to call it a sparrow of some kind. (I identify trees the same way; oak, maple or coniferous tree of some kind).

The trail followed the lake for a short time and we had some great views of the Camden Hills. I even spotted the cross on top of Maiden’s Cliff! From there, the Orange loop took us away from the water and began to gently head uphill. We passed a boggy area where we paused to listen to the frogs hidden in the vegetation.

In this section of the preserve, the melting snow formed streams not far from the trail. The sound of running water was very soothing to the winter weary soul so we just had to stop to listen and to watch the tiny waterfalls. We left the preserve feeling sure that spring had finally arrived.


Plaisted Preserve

After finishing our hike around the Ash Point Preserve in Owls Head, we headed towards North Shore Road hoping to explore another  preserve I had read about in a recent blog posting. According to that post, the Plaisted Preserve, not far from the Owls Head Lighthouse, consisted of a short trail that would lead one towards Broad Cove. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the preserve, which surprisingly had a plowed parking area, there was a sign informing us that the trail was still under construction. What to do?

We stood at the kiosk and contemplated our next move. After I peered into the snowy terrain and discovered that some of the trees were bearing either orange or blue markers, or tied with blue ribbons, my adventurous spirit pushed into the woods. I figured if we just followed the ribbons we would be able to reach the cove. Since no one had walked through the preserve before us, I figured that even without trail markers, we would not have to worry about finding our way back. We just needed to follow our tracks through the snow back towards the parking field.

Without a clearly defined trail, it was a little difficult moving forward. We followed the blue ribbons through and around a variety of obstacles along the way. Being the first ones through the preserve after the recent snowfall, we found ourselves in a beautiful winter wonderland and stopped to admire the scenery.  At one point, we heard the tell-tale sound of ice cracking underneath us, but that did not stop us. We continued on until we stood facing a wall of tightly packed trees and brush. There was no way we were going to be able to bushwhack through that to reach the coast. Our exploration of the Plaisted Preserve would have to wait for another day.