The woods are coming alive in Maine’s north country. While leading a Maine Conservation Corps trail crew leader on a preview of trail work for an upcoming project in the Moosehead Lake Region, I heard a number of great bird songs as we looked at trail lines and work to be accomplished.
In the mixed hardwood-softwood forests west of Greenville, I heard hermit thrushes with their long introductory whistle, white-throated sparrows signing a song somewhat like, “Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody“, at least one black-throated blue warbler with his raspy “beer, beer, beeee”, and a winter wren with a typical rollicking and highly energetic song.
Of course, birds aren’t the only ambassadors of spring. Wildflowers, such as the painted trillium shown below are gracing the forests floors. Water is surging and the entire world seems at the height of its collective senses. So, now is a great time to head out and see what spring in the north country has to offer! P.S. bring a fishing a rod.
A small stream cascade – Big Moose TWP, Maine
Painted trillium – Big Moose TWP, Maine
Newly renovated, mt. bike-friendly boardwalk over a wet section of the South Loop Trail, Pineland Public Land
It’s taken a while and it’s been a long winter, but spring is finally back- notably in southern Maine. Songbirds are singing, peepers are peeping, and the needle-strewn earth smells warm and fresh. Southern Maine trails like those at the Pineland Public Lands are just starting to come around after winter and are now awaiting your footsteps.
Osprey watching at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park
Given that the bald eagle is our majestic national symbol, we can all be excused if it is the first raptor that comes to mind when we think about fish-hunting birds. Here in Maine, while bald eagles are thankfully somewhat common and are wonderful to admire, we shouldn’t forget about appreciating the ospreys that return to our salt and freshwater shores each spring.
Ospreys are highly skilled hunters who often outperform eagles. In fact, eagles frequently let the ospreys do the dirty work of catching fish and then harass the osprey mid-flight until it drops the fish – which the eagle then snatches.
There are numerous ways to learn more about ospreys in Maine. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a good raptor page that includes information on ospreys. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park has a resident pair of ospreys that can be observed seasonally and there are regularly scheduled program times when the public can view the birds with staff present to discuss the life history and ecology of these special creatures.
As rewarding as working on outdoor recreation projects and volunteering at Maine State Park events can be, sometimes it is really nice to just be a parent and take my kids to family friendly outings at our State Parks. “Feathers Over Freeport” was one such occasion and made for a very fun Sunday at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport.
The annual weekend event held at Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Parks was billed as “A birdwatching weekend for all ages!” and was co-sponsored in 2014 by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry; Freeport Wild Bird Supply; LL Bean; Leica Sport Optics; Birds & Beans; Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream; and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.
Kids-oriented bird walks, bird crafts such as building your own birdhouse and making peanut-butter cones dipped in bird seed, and a presentation by Wind Over Wings of live raptors made for a great family day in the woods…even if the weather was cool and a little damp. Families with an interest in birds or who simply like a good time in the outdoors should definitely look for this event each spring.
A few photos are shared below:
Heading down the Casco Bay Trail
A previously injured eastern screech owl now part of the Wind Over Wings program (click the image for more information on Maine owls).
Looking for the ospreys on Googins Island
Birdhouse building station – one of many hands-on activities
Moving to the next stop on the birding walk
In his poem, “Spring Pools,” the iconic New England poet Robert Frost eloquently describes how pools in hardwood forests reflect the spring sky until the very trees cradling these pools suck up the water to grow leaves that then shade the flowery forest floor. Frost, to me at least, is getting at the fleeting nature of moments. He concludes the poem by asking that the trees consider their impact on such a short-lived time of the year:
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
With busy schedules, it is easy to miss these natural moments as we chase the day to day requirements of modern life. There is so much at stake, though, if we lose our connection to the cycles of nature. Whether we hear a chorus of wood frogs in a vernal pool or pick fiddleheads along a stream bank, it’s clear that spring is full of ephemeral “mini-seasons.”
Posted in Art, Literature, & Photography, birding, camping, canoeing, Family-friendly Activities, Hiking, Paddling, Where to Go
Tagged Bradbury Mountain Stae Park, Families, Feathers over Freeport, Hiking, Kids, Kids Outside, Maine State Parks, Poetry and Nature, Robert Frost, Trails, Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park
There’s a short video on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s (NFCT) website that does a great job of depicting just some of the wonderful scenery and paddling awaiting on this 740-mile water trail from Old Forge, NY to Fort Kent, ME. It’s a motivating video, especially given that our northern forest waterbodies are beginning to lose their winter mantles of ice and snow.
It’s worthwhile to realize that nearly half of the trail is located in Maine. In total, 347 miles of the NFCT are here in Maine. Of those miles, many pass through Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands properties. Richardson Lake Public Lands, Rangeley Lake State Park, the Bigelow Preserve, Moosehead Lake Public Lands, the Penobscot River Corridor, and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway are the major Bureau properties along the trail.
Paddlers at the former Long Lake Dam site, Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
The NFCT partners with the Bureau to foster access and enjoyment of these traditional paddle routes stepped in beauty and history. These waters are right now melting away, eventually leaving a blue ribbon well-worth your paddle strokes.
For those who enjoy poetry, particularly Maine poetry that often relates at least indirectly to the natural world, there is a nice resource to explore. Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is an initiative between the Maine State Library, the State’s Poet Laureate (Wesley McNair), and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Each week, McNair adds and introduces a previously published poem by a Maine poet.
Snow on Tumbledown Mt. (Late May 2008)
Given the enjoyable but long winter we’re still not out of yet, I’m particularly drawn to several spring-focused poems on the site. If you’re tired of winter, these poems are like that first warm, bare-earth day when the soil emanates a deep, rich smell that almost screams rebirth.
It looks like the snow will be around a while this spring. A recent snowshoe foray up Mount Blue (Mount Blue State Park) showed that “calendar” spring and conditions on the ground can be very different things in Maine’s mountains.
View from Atop Mount Blue
A Scenic Vista Sign Shows Winter Is Not Letting Go Easily
Coming Down the Mount Blue Trail
Though it’s been a long winter, the maple sap should be flowing – at least on the days above freezing. Maine Maple Sunday is near (March 23rd), and Maine and its northern forest neighbors are collectively celebrating the culture and cuisine that is maple sugar season. And while there is actual sweetness in syrup on pancakes, syrup baked into whoopie pies, sugar-on-snow, and maple candy, the boiling down to an essential core is a tasty and seasonal apropos symbol this writer cannot pass up any easier than another maple whoopie pie.
The thing about syrup and sap is the ratio. Forty to one is often given as the ration of sap to syrup. You collect forty gallons of sap, you boil away thirty-nine gallons of water and are left with one gallon of sap. This ratio may hold true in life as well.
Author’s Note: this piece of writing originally published in 2009. As of 3/17/2014, we (most of Maine) are not quite to the patch snow phase.
One of the best indicators of the spring’s emergence is sap flowing in trees. While most people generally recognize sap flowing as a signal (or perhaps result) of spring, it is, upon closer inspection, a wonderful gauge of sunlight’s power. Literally tapping maple trees allows you to figuratively tap into an indirect measure of sunlight. On bright, warm, and still days following cold nights, the sap really surges through the trees. The experience of feeling the warm sunlight against a maple and then hearing the quick drip of sap droplets into metal buckets is incredibly rewarding after a long winter of landscapes frozen in ice. Even the placement of the sap holes can be a testament to the sun. There is some thought that south-facing holes will fare best in early sap season whereas holes in the north sides of trees may hold out better later into the season.
Sap isn’t the only way to experience the Sun’s influence in early spring. Walking or running through landscapes is like reading a story written by sunlight. Of late, I’ve been running along trails through forests and fields. It is a unique time to run, in that the great variation of snow cover makes a number of uses very difficult, but the running can be fun. Along most of the snowmobile trails in the capital area and south, snowless sections, including open fields, put the sledding season on its last legs. The same could be said for cross-country skiing. However, there are places within local forests where there is a good amount of snow. So, the hiking and running is a little complicated. Plus, warmth creates mud in bare areas, which isn’t too much fun to run through either.