Sunday, July 10, 2016

Upcoming Events


Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Upcoming Seminar in Moosehead Lake Region


My trips to Holbrook Island in Brooksville were met with great success. Both times we experienced excellent turnout. And even better, participants were each and every one very keen on learning more about the useful wild plants that grow all around us.

Park Supervisor Charles Cannon says that he might like for me to do another field trip in September. I'll keep readers posted as (and if) this unfolds. 

I do have several upcoming field trips, but these are for a private business. However, I just firmed up a two-day event in Greenville for Northern Resource Education Center. Friday, September 16th I’ll present a Digital presentation on edible wild plants and a short presentation on some common mushrooms.

Then on Saturday, September 17, I’ll lead the group on a field trip around the Greenville area. The exact details are still in the making, but interested persons may contact Mildred Kennedy-Stirling at mooseheadlake@me.com for more information.

So if you live in that region or simply would like to experience the Moosehead Region, here’s a chance to see it up-close and personal.

I’ve had loads of fun lately with people sending me plant photos so that I can identify the plant for them. This is kind of a botanical version of Click ‘N Clack’s “Stump the Chump.” Thus far, I’ve been successful. Most of that, however, stems from the excellent photographs people sent.

If you have a mystery plant to identify, feel free to send me a digital image. Remember, though, these images need to be crisp and clear, with good detail. It also helps to send several images shot at different angles.

So try your hand at “stump the plant chump” and I’ll do my best to ID the plant.

Until next time…

Tom



Monday, June 20, 2016

Field Trip to Holbrook Island Wildlife Sanctuary/State Park



Wild Plants And Wooly Bears


I’ll lead two wild plant walks at Holbrook Island Wildlife Sanctuary and State Park in Brooksville on Sunday, July 3. The first of two walks will begin at 1 p.m. and the second starts at 3 p.m.

Holbrook is a mostly undeveloped state park with inland sections, including a small mountain and a considerable amount of seashore. Hiking trails abound. Park roads, while unpaved, are immaculately maintained.

The walk will begin at the Backshore Trail trailhead on the sanctuary’s main road, Indian Bar Road. From there we walk down a gentle, wooded slope and end at an old hayfield. Then we’ll walk back to the trailhead and drive the short distance to the parking lot at park headquarters.

From there, we’ll walk a short path down to a secluded beach where we’ll find all sorts of seaside goodies. Most every one of my favorite seaside plants live here.

Folks who have never visited Holbrook will find it a relaxed, scenic spot, an undiscovered jewel of wild land on Maine’s rocky coast. Even the drive to Holbrook has its charms, the winding roads offering spectacular views of Penobscot Bay, its mountains and islands.


To see Holbrook Island Sanctuary on a map, look at Map 15, B-2 of the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.


I hope to see a few readers there. There is no fee for the plant walk and no sign-up list either. Just come, learn some new plants and enjoy this special piece of Maine

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring is Here



The calendar said it was spring back in late March. Than came April and with it, renewed cold. But still, lots of things in nature tell us that despite cold and even late snow, spring is here.

Turkey vultures soar overhead, peering down at the ground to try to sight a meal of some dead carcass. And shoots of daylilies grow a slight amount with each passing day. And crocus brighten our days as they unfold their blooms in the warm, April sun. But one special event must occur before I can feel easy about spring having arrived in earnest. And that event is the arrival of the local phoebe.

Phoebes love it around my place and I love having them. These little olive-drab birds are flycatchers and as such, have great success in picking flying insects from out of the air. And for every insect that a phoebe catches, that’s just one more insect that won’t bite or annoy me.

I keep a journal of nature events and one thing I always make note of is the day the phoebe arrives. Phoebes typically arrive at my place any time between April 10 and April 18. Never has one arrived earlier or later, which I find very interesting.

While for me, the phoebe is the true harbinger of spring, there are two more events that help to welcome spring. First, a mourning cloak butterfly skipped and fluttered over my dirt driveway a few days ago. These are one of the earliest butterflies to emerge in spring. The other early one is angel wing butterflies.

The second true sign of spring happened yesterday, April 9. Wood frogs are loudly calling from a wetland along my driveway. These are the earliest frogs to begin their courting rituals. Spring peepers, a better-known and more popular spring frog needs a bit warmer weather and at least here in Waldo, Maine, we probably won’t hear any peepers for another week or more.


But again, the phoebe has returned. Spring is here. Glory be!

Monday, March 21, 2016

St. Paddy's Day Trout


        The news came out the night before St. Patrick’s Day. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had opened the fishing season two weeks early because of an early ice-out, coupled with low-water conditions on streams and brooks.

I was at my publisher’s house in Topsham and would not be able to take advantage of this unexpected season opener until later the next day. And somehow I knew it wouldn’t be the same as what I had hoped for.

 April 1, the traditional opening of trout season, was always something of an unofficial holiday for me and so it was this year. I had made plans with fishing buddy Tony Wieman to spend the day fishing small brooks and streams around Waldo County.

This is something we both look forward to each year with great anticipation. We meet just after daybreak, fish our favorite and often most productive pool and then go out to Just Barb’s Restaurant in Stockton Springs. From there, fortified with heavy, greasy breakfast fare, we head out to any number of streams. By day’s end we are usually tuckered out from pushing through near-impenetrable stands of alders and climbing banks so steep and slippery that we have to grab roots and saplings to keep from slipping backwards. We usually have at least a few trout to show for out efforts, too.

But this year was different. Had we known of the early opening, we would have altered our plans. As it stood, I was free but Tony had to work. So after getting home on St. Pat’s Day, changing clothes and grabbing my gear, I headed out to the favorite opening day pool. But the road where I live is so bumpy with countless, cavernous potholes that as a practical matter, speeds cannot exceed 10 miles per hour. That cost me precious minutes and I arrived at the pool just in time to see someone else, rod in hand, walking down to the water.

It is rude to horn in on someone else’s fishing, so I was compelled to skip the preferred place and go on to the next stream. Some people don’t think anything of walking up to someone already fishing and then fishing right next to them. But that kind of boorish behavior is not in my repertoire.

Fishing was made difficult by all the bent-down alders, victims of a heavy, wet snowstorm back in November, 2014. Some pools were so cluttered with brush that they were impossible to fish. But here and there, an opening afforded me the opportunity to drop my hook in and hopefully, tempt a trout.

I caught many trout that day, most of them of a sub-legal size. But I managed to take four that were a bit above the minimum length limit. At day’s end, I was a bit tired, but pleased with my meager catch.

And it being St. Patrick’s Day, I got out my Uilleann (Irish) bagpipes and played some jigs and reels. It was then that I decided to capture the moment and arranged a photo, with the pipes spread out on the ground, with the trout next to them.

And as far as my opening-day trip with fishing buddy Tony, we have decided to go for it anyway, just as if the season hadn’t opened early. After all, it will still be April 1, trout season or not. Some things are too special, even carved-in-stone to mess with. And opening day of trout season is one of them.





Saturday, March 12, 2016

Wild Edible Plant Seminar at Eagle Hill Institute

Up until last year I had never heard of Eagle Hill Institute, this despite being familiar with much of the local area. This small, natural history school sits in an out-of-the-way location surrounded by a typical Downeast forest of fir and spruce, moss and lichen.

Then last spring I got an email from Eagle Hill asking if I would like to put on a wild plant weekend and being free from other obligations at the time, I agreed. It was a good decision. The institute has everything needed to put on classes and my digital presentations in the morning, followed by an afternoon field trip, worked out well.

Even better, the people who participated in the class were keen on learning and that is what every instructor hopes for. The class went well and I even managed to keep in touch with some of the participants well after the class was over.

Eagle Institute has a great chef, too, and suppers are a special event. Also, people who cannot eat certain foods or have any kind of food allergies, can arrange in advance to have their meals prepared according to what they can and cannot eat.


Anyway, I’m on Eagle Hill’s list of instructors again this year. My weekend class will run from June 10 through June 12. People interested in attending this year’s session can contact Eagle Hill Institute at Eagle Hill Institute, 59 Eagle Hill Road, P.O. Box 9, Stuben, ME 04680. The phone number is 207-546-2821. On the net, go to http://eaglehill.us or office@eaglehill,us. For more on class descriptions and author bios, visit http://eaglehill.us/seminars

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wildflowers in February a Sure Sign of Early Spring




Here it is only February and wildflowers are blooming. And yes, I’m talking about here in Maine, not some tropical paradise.

I’m always fascinated by any early-blooming or even early-showing plants. For instance, I revel in my chive bed, because this season’s chives are already trying to grow through snow and ice. Very soon, I’ll nibble on the first garden vegetable of the year, a single stalk of chive.

Daylilies, too, send up the tips of little green leaves. These are usually well up by mid-March and this year should see them coming around even earlier. By the way, these daylily leaf tips make a good green vegetable when boiled or steamed. They represent one of the first wild (or semi-wild) foods of the season.

But today I’m wound up about seeing flowers blooming on a stark, roadside bank. The flowers, I’m sure some of you have guessed, are Coltsfoot and they are the earliest wildflower to bloom, at least to my knowledge.

The roadside bank is so steep that grass can’t be planted there. But coltsfoot seeds, like dandelion seeds, get transported by a little, feathery “parachute.” And when these little parachutes land on anything, they stick to it. When the seeds become wet, they stick even harder and this allows them to germinate on a nearly vertical surface.

What’s more, the embankment is only feet away from the salt water, which means slightly warmer overall temperatures as opposed to inland conditions.

Finally, the bank is south-facing and even now, in February, the soil warms up nicely on a sunny, late-winter day.


So be of good cheer. Spring is surely coming and it looks like it is coming early. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spring


Was it my imagination or do the branches and twigs on the weeping willow along my driveway have a little more color? Sometimes in late winter trees give us low-key clues that spring is on the way. Maples show red at twig tips and willows, such as the one along my driveway, show a brighter shade of yellow.

Astronomical spring arrives on March 20. But as much as one month prior to that, nature shows us signs of the changing seasons.

For instances, those who spend time in the woods and those who feed wild songbirds, probably have noticed that along about now black-capped chickadees change their song. It becomes just a little more raspy.

And by looking closely at little pools of water formed by melting snow, we might notice a coating of some kind of dust on the water’s surface. More than likely it isn’t dust at all. Snow fleas, a.k.a. springtails, thousands of them, jump around on the snow around the base of trees. In fact, rivulets of snowmelt can channel umpteen snow fleas to a larger pool and likely millions of the tiny creatures can entirely cover the surface.

Then we have the less tangible signs of spring such as the way the earth smells where snow has melted and sunlight thaws the top layer. This is evident in towns, too. On a warm day in late winter, all the smells, scents and odors that were there last summer and fall are suddenly unlocked. Some of these scents are quite attractive and in our minds we can imagine that they are of distant flowers, or perhaps of someone baking bread.


In a little over one month we’ll have the real deal to embrace. But for now, these silent, often-unnoticed signs of spring are sufficient to buoy hope in winter-weary mortals.