animal tracking


Beth and I spent the holiday weekend on a backpacking trip along a small portion of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. The original plan was for us to leave the house Friday morning and start the hike. Then turn around early Saturday afternoon and head back, arriving back where we started on Sunday. Unfortunately, Hurricane Arthur had some input on that plan (it poured all day Friday), so we shortened the hike and left on Saturday morning instead.

This was a trail Beth chose, as she hiked it last fall during Outdoor School. Only then, it poured the whole time. Her teacher said it was the worst he had ever seen it during a backpacking trip, and he has many, many of those under his belt. She was miserable during that entire trip, and wanted to give it another shot during better weather.

Well, the weather was better, and according to Beth, the trail was in much better condition. But it was, I think, the muddiest trail I have ever hiked on.

The trail was a tad damp.

The trail was a tad damp.


When Beth did this last fall, very little of the trail was above water, which was mostly “six inches deep” (according to her). Maybe it was!

Parts of the trail were pretty steep:

And steep in places

And steep in places

This was about the only place there was a “view” (though all of the trail was beautiful). It never came above the treeline.

It never emerged from the treeline

It never emerged from the treeline

There was a huge colony of some kind of liverwort growing on this pine tree.

Liverwort!

Liverwort!


Nice!

At one point, she thought she recognized the Little Swift River Pond campground, and we diverged from the trail. Only it was not the Little Swift. It was South Pond. Beth remembered these boats:

At South Pond

At South Pond


Only it wasn’t “these” boats, it was some other boats. Then, since we had unknowingly taken a side trail, we had difficulty finding the trail again. Beth consulted the map (as did I), until we concluded that we were at South Pond, not at Little Swift. We backtracked until we found blaze markings again, and continued on. This shows the importance of not pressing on when you’ve lost the trail. It’s better to go back until you find the markings!

I just have to show more photos of muddy trail. An awful lot of the trail looked like this.

The mud was deep

The mud was deep

And a lot of the parts that didn’t, looked more like this:

And so was the water

And so was the water

In spite of the slogging, there were rewards. I saw some “Common” wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), which is not nearly as common as “regular” wood sorrel (O. stricta).

Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)

Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)


I think the only time I ever see this purple-veined sorrel is on backpacking trips! I suppose the “montana” part of its binomial name suggests a reason.

It was pretty common to see moose scat on the trail in the places that were not too muddy (or under water), so we were hoping to see a moose or two. This bog was an excellent place to find one, but we didn’t.

A nice bog

A nice bog


They probably saw us though.

Here’s one that grows on my property, but which rarely blooms there:

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)


You can Kalmia angustifolia, just don’t call me late for dinner!

This one was perhaps the highlight of the trip for me:

A white "pink" lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba)

A white “pink” lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba)


This is a pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba), even though it’s white. I had never seen one. There are white lady’s slippers that are pretty rare, and belonging to a different species, and I have never seen any of those either. But this one can be identified as a member of the “pink” species, because it has a slit running down the front of the flower. The other species in the genus have little round openings at the top of the flower – more like a slipper vs a shoe without its laces.

Here’s a shot of the pair where I tried to get the entire plant(s) in the shot:

The whole plant

The whole plant


Nice!

We stopped for “lunch” around 3:00pm, or maybe later. It was chilly outside, and once we quit moving, Beth was getting chilly. I had my sleeping bag stuffed (very snugly) into my backpack, making it nearly impossible to get anything else out of it without removing the bag. So I tossed it to her while I prepared some pasta.

It was chilly!

It was chilly!

Neither one of us remembered to bring a spoon or a fork, which made eating the pasta something of a challenge. Not as hard as eating the soup would be later that evening! So as the sun was setting, I started carving a make-shift spoon out of a small sapling someone had cut (and conveniently for me, left 12″ or so sticking up out of the ground). It soon grew too dark for knife work though, so I laid it aside until morning. But once the sun came up, I made quick work of it, and we were able to eat our oatmeal with relative ease.

Beth models my hand-carved spoon

Beth models my hand-carved spoon

I think the most abundant plant along the trail was bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). When we started the hike I noticed that most of them had already dropped their sepals (which most people understandably mistake for petals). I suggested to Beth that if we had been there two weeks earlier, we would have been treated to a carpet of bunchberry blooms. But later in the hike, we transitioned into an area where they still held onto their sepals:

Lots of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Lots of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

We stopped at “the view” again on the way back and rested up a bit. There was only a little more than a mile to go by then. I was admiring the mud stains on my pant legs:

Mud-stained pant legs & boots!

Mud-stained pant legs & boots!


Luckily, those pant legs zip off, so I was sure to do that before going into the tent.

One plant I was looking for was the Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispudula), which belongs to the often-featured-on-this-blog, Wintergreen (G. procumbens).

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)


I first saw this on a backpacking trip a couple of years ago, but didn’t know what it was then (I identified it from the photos I took when I got back). So this was the first time I was able to look at it and know what I was seeing.

As we descended the trail towards the car for that last mile, I decided to try my hand at dead reckoning. I would look ahead for a land mark, estimate the distance to it, and add that to the distance covered already as we approached it. Then find the next landmark and do the same. Eventually, I switched to estimating where the next 100-feet would be, because I was pretty tired, and that made the arithmetic easier. I was pleased that by the time I figured we had another 500 feet, we could hear the stream near the parking lot, and we could also hear the occasional car. I stopped dead reckoning at T-minus 200 feet, and we were pretty close to 200 feet from the parking lot then. This was my first attempt at that, and I rather liked the results!

We got to the car around 1:00pm and drove south to Dixfield. We stopped at a diner and had lunch, and then drove home (about three more hours).

I have to say I’m pretty sore now, but I think I’ll know a lot more about that tomorrow!

Advertisements

I thought I’d write a little bit about the best and worst aspects of spring in New Hampshire. I’ll start with the worst.

You! Shall not! Pass!

A sign of Mud Season


A synonym for spring here is “mud season.” This is really only a problem on unpaved roads, but since I live on one of those, it’s a reality I have to deal with if I want to go anywhere. Some places are worse than others, so during mud season, I do alter my normal route to maximize the pavement. Even if it minimizes the scenery.

The other unpleasant aspect of spring is this:

This is why NH and ME are not overrun with people like MA.

Black Fly, defender of the North Woods


They are not swarming yet, but I saw several dozen of these nasty boogers in my woods today. Pretty soon several dozen will become millions. Between the black flies and the mud, I’d just as soon that winter give spring a miss and go straight to summer.

But as I said, it’s not all bad. I went for a couple of short hikes today. On the way home from dropping Beth off at school, I stopped at the Quentin Forest. I saw several of these aerial roots suspended in midair.

Aerial roots?

Aerial roots?


I’ve never seen these before. I’m not 100% positive, but I think these are highbush blueberry. My first thought was that it was hobblebush, since that plant has the habit of growing new roots on branch tips (like this), lower the new roots to the ground, and then they take hold. This creates branches that are rooted at both ends forming a loop. Horse would sometimes trip on these, from whence the “hobblebush” name comes.

But hobblebush belongs to the viburnums, and viburnums have opposite branches. These were all alternate. Everything else about the plant said highbush blueberry. I really ought to look it up to see if they do this.

Update! This is apparently a manifestation of Witches’ broom (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum), a fungus that does indeed infect blueberries. The cure is to remove all the fir trees within 500 feet and kill the blueberries with an herbicide. Infected plants will not produce fruit, so I suppose that might be warranted in a cultivated blueberry patch.

On the way out of the forest, I spotted a pile:

Moose scat

Moose scat


My best guess is that this was left by a moose. It’s the right size and shape, and it was near a boggy area. Perfect moose habitat.

When I got home I took a lap around my own woods. The trailing arbutus is working on its flowers, but they’re not ready for delivery just yet.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Then I decided to take Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I haven’t been there for a couple of weeks, and as soon as I spoke the word “Sandogardy” Penny’s ears perked up and she was doing her little “Take me! Take me!” dance.

They were grading our road. The mud will be tolerable. Right in front of the dump truck, I found a small stand of coltsfoot.

Cure (cough) for a cough (cough)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

When I got to the pond, I found that the patch of garlic mustard I “wiped out” last month came back.

Enjoy the halitosis!

Garlic Mustard


I was not surprised. I picked a bunch and ate one leaf. I left the ones I harvested on the ground. A little garlic mustard goes a long way.

I wandered along the creek looking for wet-loving plants. I knew that false hellebore and jack-in-the-pulpit grows here, but I was hoping to find some skunk cabbage. I didn’t find any skunk cabbage, and I didn’t find any jack-in-the-pulpit, but I did find some false hellebore coming in:

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)

False Hellebore (Veratrum viride)


This stuff looks so luscious. Every time I see it, I just want to pop huge swaths of it into my mouth. But that would be a huge mistake. This stuff is incredibly poisonous. Luckily, the problem would pretty much take care of itself, as the result of eating it is an uncontrollable urge to purge. Success in controlling this urge will result in death. Native Americans would sometimes use this knowledge in selecting a new chief. Everyone who wanted the position would be required to eat some. Last one to barf is the new chief. Unless he died before assuming the new role. And some people think the Electoral College is a bad method of leader selection.

On the way back to the house I saw a patch of partridge berry (Mitchella repens). This one had an odd berry:

An odd partridge berry

An odd partridge berry

Partridge berries produce two flowers which are joined at the base. The two flowers form a single berry, and a normal one has two “eyes” on it which are remnants of the dual-flower:

"Normal" partridge berry

“Normal” partridge berry


I’ve never seen one that didn’t quite fuse properly. These berries were on the vine all through the winter. Wintergreen is another plant that will hold its fruit beneath the snow all winter and still be palatable in the spring. I did eat a few partridge berries. I really like them as the have a subtle flavor. I think I could eat a quart of them.

So as you can see, the good really does overpower the bad in a New Hampshire Spring. I should really not complain.

But sometimes complaining is fun.

This morning after I dropped Beth off at school I went home by a circuitous route through the back roads of Canterbury. I had solved a geocache puzzle some time ago (maybe a year ago) and decided it was high time I picked it up.

Before I got there, a white tailed deer sprung out from the woods and crossed the road in front of me. Since this was a country road with no traffic whatsoever, I stopped and looked at the deer for a minute. She had another deer with her, and I expect it was last year’s fawn. They were too far off in the woods to even think about photography, so I left my camera in the bag.

Then I went off to collect the geocache. It was in a guardrail next to this pretty little stream.

A stream in Canterbury, NH

A stream in Canterbury, NH


Having found the cache, I got back in the car and looked for a place to turn around. Not finding one, the road took me to a farm (Hackleboro Apple Orchard), so I turned around there. I don’t like turning around where a road ends basically in someone’s driveway, but sometimes, that’s what happens.

As I made my way back through Canterbury, I saw a very large cat bound across the road in front of me. It was a bobcat! I had never seen one in the wild before, so this was a first for me. It stopped about 100 yards into the forest, turned around and looked back at me. I didn’t have a clear view, so I back up ten or twelve feet, thinking I might be able to go for a photo. But the bobcat thought otherwise. As soon as I began backing up, it took off running again and was gone in less than two seconds. Sigh.

I drove slowly trying to remember exactly where it crossed the road so I could look at its tracks, but I didn’t find them. Instead, I saw a pair of farm dogs galloping down the fence row on the side of the road from whence the bobcat had come. Maybe that’s what it was running from.

I am almost ready for warmer weather now, not because I don’t like winter (I do very much), but because I need some temperatures more conducive to canoe repair. I can’t use epoxy until the temp is at least 60, and 70 would be much, much better. I thought I might be able to heat the garage up some with a space heater if it was 40 outside, so I brought one home from church and plugged it in. It only raised the temperature to about 50 in the garage – not nearly warm enough. So I returned the space heater on Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, while I was at church, one of the kids in my Sabbath School class noticed a bird outside our classroom window and wanted to know what it was. I took a quick glance and erroneously pronounced it a mourning dove. Upon further inspection, I knew that it was most certainly not a mourning dove. I had no idea what it was. We observed the bird through the window for about five minutes from less than 10 feet away. It had a very long bill and would use it to probe holes in the ground, presumably for snacks of the invertebrate variety. It would bob up and down rather comically. What a day for me to have decided to leave the camera at home! I always take my camera to church with me, but when I saw it that morning, I inexplicably decided… nah. :-/

When I left the room it was still out there. I sought out one of our church members who is a wildlife biologist. He has done some birding, but even though that was not his expertise, he came down straight away. He thought it might be an American Woodcock, but wasn’t sure. When I got home I looked that up, and I have to say, he nailed it.

So three rare (for me) wildlife sightings in as many days, and exactly zero photos of them. Still, just seeing them was a treat for me, and perhaps not being able to take pictures made me observe them more carefully in person.

I took Penny snowshoeing on Sandogardy Pond today. It’s about the only thing I can do with her that wears her out more than it wears me out. This is something she needs, as she doesn’t get nearly as much exercise as a typical border collie needs.

While we were out I captured three different gaits she left in the snow.

In the deep snow she would “weasel jump”:

Weasel jumping

Weasel jumping


Weasel jumping is what tires her out so much. Each leap and she would find herself buried chest-deep in the snow only to launch herself forward again. It made me tired just watching her. She can still outrun me in deep snow though. Weasel jumping might take it out of her, but it’s quite a bit faster than snowshoeing. Even if I had been running in the snowshoes, I don’t think I could overtake her.

We finally made it to a place where the snow mobiles had gone before us and broke the trail. She could gallop like normal through that:

Gallop

Gallop

But she would only do that when I threw a stick. All that weasel jumping convinced her that walking was a better option.

Walking

Walking

When we got to the pond we walked all the way across it (well… within 50 feet of all the way across). Someone else had been out there with snowshoes too, but I think it was before Monday’s additional two inches of snow we got. They crossed it from west to east to west. Penny and I crossed it from south to north to south.

Then we went home.

It quit snowing sometime last night. We didn’t get as much snow as forecast, but we got enough to make me happy. After a bit of breakfast I cleared the driveway, and then I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. It has been a while since I’ve been there. There wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes, so I just wore my hiking boots. They did just fine.

Here are some of the photos I took.

Trail to Northfield's sand pit

Trail to Northfield’s sand pit

Penny found a stick and wanted me to throw it. I obliged.
IMG_9155_1

It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the trail goes downhill to Little Cohas Creek (as I call it – Cross Mill Creek as per official nomenclature).
IMG_9157_1

Follow it all the way to the creek and you come to this bridge.
IMG_9158_1

Go to the center of the bridge and face north, and we can see the creek as it empties Sandogardy Pond. I liked this shot.
IMG_9160_1

I followed the trail along the western bank of Little Cohas Creek and came to the beach. The pond was apparently frozen solid enough for an ice house and a half dozen people. I didn’t venture out onto the ice though.
IMG_9162_1

I saw a lot of deer tracks on this hike, and trailed them for a little ways. I never saw any deer, but I did see where one had shoved its muzzle into the snow to uncover some grass. I didn’t think to take a picture though.

We’re expecting another 2-4 inches of snow tomorrow starting around 10:00am. I’ll go out again if I can manage it. Penny will come along too in case there are any sticks that need to be fetched.

Yesterday after I dropped Beth off at school, I stopped at the Mary and Quentin Hutchins Forest in Canterbury, NH. It’s not far from my house. My reason for stopping was to collect some geocaches (which I found).

It is a managed forest, and has a “Tree Farm” sign at the trailhead. Indeed, one of the trails is called “Tree Farm Loop.” I happened to have my backpack in the trunk of my car, so I went ahead and hoisted it onto my shoulders and strapped in. There wasn’t much in it, other than the things that “live” there all the time: a water bottle (with only a little water in it), a water filter, a first aid kit, some rope, my mess kit, fire starting materials, a flashlight or two, and some duct tape. Maybe a few other things. I figured these would be prudent things to carry since I was alone.

It was a lovely trail.

Tree Farm Loop Trail

Tree Farm Loop Trail


Before I started, I ran some software I had loaded onto my GPS – an NMEA logger. Basically, it logs the coordinates on a regular basis. I had noticed that the trails had not been entered into the OpenStreetMaps.org project, and I wanted to change that.

I hiked around the Tree Farm Loop, as that’s where both geocaches were located (there was another at the trailhead that I had found the previous week, so this was a return trip). About the time I found the second cache, the battery in the GPS died. It should not have, as it’s been mounted in my car plugged in to a power source for over a week. I guess the batteries are getting too old to take a full charge.

At the intersection of the Tree Farm and Burnham Brook Loops

At the intersection of the Tree Farm and Burnham Brook Loops


It did manage to log most of the trail I hiked, but there was also the Burnham Brook Trail there that I also wanted to log. But without an operable GPS, I decided to quit early and go home.

I came back today with the GPS as fully charged as I could get it. I figured that if I hiked the Burnham Brook Trail quickly, I could get it logged before the battery drained down. So that’s what I did. I could not resist stopping for several photos, but they were all hurried shots.

There was lots of club moss. Allen Norcross (New Hampshire Gardener) clued me in that not all the club mosses in these parts are the same species. I think this is Shiny clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum).

Club Moss

Club Moss(Lycopodium lucidulum)

Here is Burnham Brook, the trail’s eponymn.

Burnham Brook

Burnham Brook


I couldn’t tell from looking at the satellite photos which way it flowed, as I would lose its track on both directions. It wasn’t hard to tell once I got there (it flows from left to right, i.e., west to east).

And here is what I think is some coyote scat. It’s chock-full-o-hair.

Coyote scat

Coyote scat


Other possiblities include a bobcat (though it looked too large for that) or a fishercat (but again, too large), or a domestic dog (except it’s made primarily of hair, which you don’t get much of in kibble). So I’m sticking with coyote.

Not that you wanted to see that.

The Town of Northfield’s highway department has been busy on my road this week. They’ve been cleaning out the ditches, and that was sorely needed. They also remodelled their catchment pond on my property (they have a right-of-way). Last time they did that they made a huge mess, but this time, they did good.

Catchment Pond

Catchment Pond


The water flows into the pond on the left side. When it gets full enough it will drain out the right side. The purpose of this pond is to catch the rain water and slow it down so it doesn’t pick up an enormous amount of erosive force. I think it will do nicely.

The chipmunks must like it too:

Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) tracks

Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) tracks

I have not been posting very much as of late as I have been pretty busy. I do have a few shots from days past that I will share. This one is from yesterday.

My wood lot trail

My wood lot trail


You can’t really tell from the photo, but it was pouring rain when I took this shot. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, which is why the catchment pond is full already.

Today when I got home and after I had supper I took Penny out to the yard again. I poked around my woods looking for ferns. Yes – I have started my fern garden. Or more likely, I have committed three fern plants to a slow and certain death. My fern garden is located along the eastern edge of the front yard, right at the edge of the woods. The first specimen was already there – a bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)


This is the most common fern on my property, and it grows almost everywhere you look – including in the yard and in the driveway. It is ubiquitous. Pretty much no matter where I planted my fern garden, one (or more) of these would already be there.

The second specimen is the sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis).

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

The third is one I have yet to identify, but I don’t anticipate that it will be too difficult.

Unidentified fern

Unidentified fern

The fourth (and so far, the last) fern in my fern garden might be a lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). But I reserve the right to be wrong!

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)


We have a clump of these that came up in Va’s phlox in the front of the house, and some more growing through the steps on our deck. And there is another clump (from whence these came) growing next to the central air conditioning unit.

I also found some interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) and some cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), but it’s on my neighbor’s property. I would have knocked on his door and asked him if I could dig some up (they’re in a swampy, unmown part of his yard along the roadside), but a) I had Penny with me, and b) I don’t think he was home. I may do that this weekend though. That will bring my garden up to six species. My goal is 15, because that’s how many species of fern one needs to identify in order to earn the Pathfinder Ferns honor. I plan to teach the honor to the club by bringing them over and having them id the ferns. Then we’ll go into the woods and look for some more.

While I was looking for ferns, I ran across a wild rose of some sort. This is growing behind my blackberry patch.

Wild rose

Wild rose


I didn’t know I had any roses here. I hope it establishes itself. All I know is that if I try to help it along, I greatly increase it’s chance of not making it!

Next Page »