Sleuthing in the littoral zone, the fight against invasive aquatic plants

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Roberta Hill, from the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, helped us sort and identify the aquatic plants we collected from Pemaquid Pond during our Invasive Plant Patrol workshop.

Back in 2009, a man named Dick Butterfield did what I did yesterday. He attended his first workshop with the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP), to start learning to identify dangerous invasive aquatic plants. His thirst for knowledge, combined with concise, effective training, soon saved one of our local lakes.

No doubt armed with his mini waterproof identification key to the 11 most-unwanted suspects, he ventured out on his very first patrol, on nearby Damariscotta Lake. And found hydrilla, which the Maine DEP calls “the most problematic invasive plant in North America.” The lake is huge, with 45 miles of shoreline, but volunteers and experts sprang into action to contain the hydrilla in the tiny cove where Dick had found it. Dick caught it early, which is critically important in the fight against invasives.

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Paired up with buddies, we went out into our assigned sectors to collect plant specimens in the littoral zone, the zone of richest diversity along the lake’s shoreline.

Our workshop was information-packed, but my message for you is simple. In Roberta’s words, “The work of citizen scientists [volunteers] on the the front line is the most important piece in this fight.” Training focuses on just those 11 likely culprits, which fall into three main structural categories. That means that some types of plants (like hairy, grass-like stuff) you see can just be ignored. To demonstrate how easy screening samples can be, VLMP recently set up a table at L.L. Bean and taught willing shoppers how to use the key. Their average time to key out a sample was just two minutes.

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The sorting pan for one of the three broad categories that the eleven-most-unwanted invasive plants fall into. Although we were just learning, and made some mistakes, visible in the photo are some innocuous native milfoils and bladderworts that we collected on our plant patrol.

I was invited to yesterday’s workshop by the Pemaquid Watershed Association, which I’ve belonged to for many years. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to become a more active PWA volunteer. I’ve been writing some press releases and plan to volunteer for plant patrols on McCurdy Pond, where I often keep my canoe. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program or take a peek at the Key to the Eleven Most Unwanted Invasive Aquatic Plants.

Spring morning, a poem

Spring morning

 If you would know the pond today, come early.

Hasten with deliberate slowness,

hurry, linger, before the now becomes the when.

Clouds shift, light evolves, each moment more, each moment less.

Faint and ancient epoch now is winter,

that held the world in its unyielding grasp.

Breathe and all is new, unfurled, colored, textured, gone.

Nature writes her poem anew each morning,

and erases it at night.

Canoe glides a path and with it pens a verse,

Plucking twang of bullfrog chords,

Grackle’s iridescence hidden in silhouette against the sky,

Old men turtles in a line plop away, and I must go.

Headed home, flowers dust the shore with white.

Each tiny cluster speaks the pace of spring.

Round pink buds of promise

turn to stars of white perfection,

then fade to fuzzy frazzle.

If you would know the pond tomorrow, come early.

 

Upwards: The life of an author 3 months out

Three months out from what, you ask? Actually, many of you are deliberately NOT going to ask, as you’ve heard about little else from me for many months!

Just in case, though – three months out from holding Upwards in my hands. That shiny new cover, those color photos, my words in print. Actually, the cover won’t be shiny. One decision firmly made is to have a “Matte/Satin” cover. And color photos? That’s my hope and dream, but I’m waiting anxiously for cost estimates for a center section of photos.

No matter how thrilled I am about publishing, the whirlwind of life goes on. The end of the school year is upon us, bringing field trips and frenzy. This week, we visited the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the park cares for and exhibits only animals that are unable to live in the wild.

The more natural habitat areas were fascinating, while I struggled to watch two black bears panhandling for treats beneath a machine being fed by an endless stream of quarters, the huge glass window above obscured by a wall of captivated children.

After taking the above photo, I decided that I would learn about the Canada lynx. (That’s Canada lynx, not Canadian lynx, just like the goose). The bobcat, also found in Maine, is a different critter. Similar in size and appearance, there are differences between the two species: Bobcat = shorter legs, smaller ear tufts, smaller paws, more likely to look spotted or striped and Lynx = the opposite. The tip of a lynx’s tail is solid black, the bobcat’s black on top and white below. Plus, in the deep snows of the north woods, a sighting will probably be a lynx, well-adapted for life there.

Somewhat of a picky eater, the lynx dines on snowshoe hares at least 75% of the time, eating 1 to 2 per day. Historically, lynx populations have cycled up and down in rhythm with hare populations. In Maine, however, both have been booming for years, as young spruce-fir forests grow back following devastating waves of spruce budworm mortality. The young-growth timber provides ideal cover for the lynx’s favored prey.

I can’t recall having seen a water snake in Maine, until my visit to the wildlife park. Research seems to indicate they live only in the southern half of the state, so my best chance will be during my excursions close to home.

Out on the pond this week, it was cool and my sightings were all avian. It’s too early in the season to take the leaves for granted and the maples were particularly striking. Vivid red clumps of maple keys jumped out among the shoreline greens and pinks, and I tried to draw in calm as I paddled and let go of some of the excitement that is keeping ME keyed up!

One afternoon, swallows had overtaken the water and swooped in acrobatic dance, surely happy to find many squadrons of mosquitoes on patrol. They can also drink mid-flight, quickly scooping up water from the surface. On shore, a solitary spotted sandpiper winged from stone to log ahead of me, the first time I’d observed this species on McCurdy Pond. Now, today, a quiet Saturday, I rose with the dawn again and hope to squeeze in another paddle among the expense-filing, permission-requesting, photo-choosing tasks of a busy soon-to-be-published author.

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Natural beauty along the NFCT…sharing some of my favorites

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First moose of the trip…we enjoyed each other while I ate my scrumptious no-bake cookie on Little Spencer Stream
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Canada lilies continue to glorify the river banks
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Fascinating fungus being devoured by a slug
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Flower of the day…quite small…found in wetter areas…Allegheny Monkey Flower, says Chris Gill, one that I know I never discovered before…thanks!
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Butterflies were in abundance during the Hardscrabble Road portage
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Laid back frog hanging out along the Moose River

May you find fireplace birds

Fireplace birds

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Dr. Suess

We christened them the “fireplace birds,” but of course they had another name.  In those shortening days toward the end of August 2009, the Allagash was a quiet place.  As Dad and I canoed from Umsaskis Bridge to Michaud Farm, the cool mornings and chilly swimming were more than compensated for by moose heavy with antlers and the beautiful solitude of the river. 

Our cheeky friends first visited us at Lock Dam.  Hopping contentedly among the ashes of the fire pit, focused on pecking who knows what, they were surprisingly tame. The colorful male and his drab partner were a species new to us.  Dad and I love our birds, especially new ones, and felt their presence yet another gift of the late summer wilderness.  Imagine our surprise, the next evening, when we discovered two more in the Outlet campsite on Round Pond.  

Dad and I will never forget those birds, or the midnight stampede of a moose through our campsite and down into the river with a mighty splash, or our first otter family in the Musquacook Deadwater.   A journey is so much more than the destination.  One of my hopes for this summer is to absorb the experience, treasure the moments.  And which parts will live on in my stories, in the memories of my heart?  I don’t know, of course.  But if you ask me why I will live on tuna and granola, portaging in the pouring rain and paddling into the wind, with sweat and bugs my closest friends, I go because of the fireplace birds, whatever they will be. 

Oh, that’s right, you would like to know what those birds were, right?  White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, a finch that feeds almost exclusively on spruce and tamarack seeds, eating up to 3,000 in a single day!

Wind and water

“Welcome home,” whispered the gentle waves
Spring still life

Well, I am debating whether I can manage without taking my iPad Mini this summer.  I already know I can’t live without my binoculars and GPS and SPOT and phone and probably my camera, at least for the latter part of the trip.  So here’s my first “phone-only” post!

We’ve been away for the first bit of April vacation, so yesterday morning was my first paddle on the open waters of the lake, totaling 6.6 miles.

Going out, I was headed into the wind, but got quite a push from the current on the usually placid river, about 1.5 mph.  On the way home, thank you wind!  Birds galore: swallows, flickers, buffleheads, an osprey, Canada geese, and a pair of very vocal loons. I thought I heard a kingfisher, but have yet to see one this year.  I may add a couple more photos from the camera after this experimental post works.  More soon on our explorations earlier this week…

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Pair of buffleheads on the sparkling lake
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“Are you looking at me?”

It doesn’t take much, a poem

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Friday evening – just before ice-out, the surface of the lake turns a uniform black color
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By Saturday morning, the ice was starting to disintegrate and today…none there!

Spring just makes me want to grab hold of life with both hands.  To sit in the sun and absorb the warmth with all my being and, yet, to say a lingering goodbye to the waves of icy air that are still flowing from the patches of ice marooned in the woods.  I am restless, not least of all because I am in the process of leaving my lay ministry job and embarking before long on my paddling trip.

Poetry is new for me, but today’s just seemed to write itself:

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It Doesn’t Take Much

It doesn’t take much, this time of year, to lift a tired heart.

Just a quiet hour to roam the woods, to wander with springtime dreams.

Rubber-clad feet sink deep in the mud, but at least it isn’t ice.

No slippery, sliding, breath-taking suspense to see if you’ll stay upright.

Just a cushion, a carpet of softest duff, welcoming, moist and brown.

It doesn’t take much this time of year, to feel the throb of life.

A barred owl calls in the height of day…”Who cooks for you?” he asks.

Then comes a sound to drown out them all, a chorus of horrid croaks.

“What species is this?” you want to know, so stealthily you sneak near.

Quietly perch near a murky black pool that gradually comes to life,

With tens or hundreds of busy gray frogs in a noisy springtime dance.

It doesn’t take much, this time of year, to find beauty at every turn.

No need for a violet, a lupine, or rose… a humble skunk cabbage will do.

Squat down to look closely as the new plant unfurls,

And you’ll be amazed what you’ll see.

Bright shiny purples and pale mottled greens have a beauty all their own.

No, it doesn’t take much this time of year, for hope to spring anew.

The world is alive with the sound of music

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Remnants of shrinking ice have a beauty all their own
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A painted turtle meanders slowly across the muddy river bottom, beside the wavering reflection of a birch

This brilliant Monday morning was yet another gem in a string of true spring days.  Lily (my black lab friend) literally bounced along on our early morning walk and I felt like bouncing too! Up she scrambled to the top of one of the few remaining snow mountains, then tore down to explore the mysterious muddy smells emerging from winter’s blanket.

The woodland symphony added some new members this morning.  Joining our old friends the chickadees and woodpeckers were the first thrushes trilling from both sides of the road, between the impossibly deep drumming of not one, but two, pileated woodpeckers.  The soft clucking of a distant turkey might have been lost, had we not stopped to enjoy the thrushes.

Yesterday on the river, the story was the same…life blossoming, spirits released from the rigid ice of winter. I am still paddling my kayak, with the new canoe scheduled to arrive early in May. I paddled the Pemaquid River from the visitor’s center to the bridge and back, about 4 miles.

Thought you would be interested in yesterday’s river wildlife list: wood duck, ruddy ducks, mallards, other yet-to-be-identified ducks, ospreys, great blue heron, swallows, and a painted turtle who was hanging out on the river bottom.  The ducks were again great in number, rising in flocks long before I approached, with sometimes a group of delicate, downy feathers floating to mark where they had been.

Late this afternoon, I paddled the river again, going as far as the lake, where I met an unrelenting barrier of ice, then back to pull the boat out (about 3 miles).  As my dog-sitting stay ends tomorrow, the kayak now waits at home for ice-out, when it will take up residence on a nearby lake.

The last hurrah

041115 sunrise I’ve been missing my blog in this busy week when life has taken over my life.  As I write this with a lovable black lab curled up by my feet, though, there are some good memories.  This sunrise over the frozen lake, spotting 2 turkeys and 5 deer in one morning, as well as the incredible display of stars that made the tree silhouettes sparkle with Christmas lights as we went for a late night walk. Last night we had 1 to 3 inches of snow predicted, which was at least 2 to 4 inches more than any of us were wishing for!

In the trip-preparation part of my life, I finished a rough draft of my entire NFCT itinerary over the weekend and did a bit of shopping at Walmart.  Also squeezed in an Easter paddle on the Pemaquid River, this time wearing my snow pants!  For dinner last night, I experimented with a new salmon recipe for the trail, with fairly good results. The highlight of the last few days, though, has been the multitude of friends from all aspects of my life (and from as far away as Honduras), who have sent me words of encouragement after checking out the blog. If you are one of them, thanks!

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The morning of April 9 and it’s still snowing lightly, with four or five inches on the ground. Tomorrow’s rain, though, will be followed by days and days of sun into the 50’s and 60’s…could this be the last hurrah?

A Good Friday

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Today the temperature reached 60 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.  After joyfully noting this miracle, I hurried home to walk the dog, then set off for the river, where I promptly came as close to being stuck as has ever happened with my RAV4. I guess you really can’t just drive ANYWHERE with aplomb. A bit of maneuvering and I was back on the gravel boat launch drive and unloading.  What a joy it was to slide my kayak into the water for the first time in 2015.

Remember those stories of the earliest wilderness explorers, who wrote of vast flocks of waterfowl, more than could be counted? That was the Pemaquid River today. I felt like an interloper, one who had arrived weeks before human presence was allowed.  On every side, ducks took flight and Canada geese honked belligerently from the water and on the ice.

My muscles know that I paddled today (and did my upper body workout with the weights).  There is that familiar little nagging stab in my back, about halfway down and more to the right than to the left. Today I logged the first 2 miles of what will be many hundreds for the year. It was a good Friday and also Good Friday, with worship at the Bremen Union Church after my paddling adventure.

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Liberated from its winter captivity in the barn, my paddle once again dipped and dripped in a comforting rhythm.