Thursday, October 28, 2010

Schoodic Mountain

On nearly the final day of our vacation we set off through the Maine woods to climb Schoodic Mountain, which rises on the mainland with a commanding view past Mount Desert Island and beyond to the open ocean. Looking north, one sees unbroken forest canopy and in the far distance Mount Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Large boulders, decaying logs and colorful leaves made this a wonderful hike.

Here a piece of bark from the White Birch tree rests among the leaf litter on the forest floor.

Beech trees were turning a golden yellow.

Amazingly, even this fungi was a bright yellow.

This log had many shelf fungi displaying concentric lines of brown and white.

There were even some of the "classic" variety of toadstool, with stem and cap.

We saw lichens, liverworts, and mosses galore. This image shows browning leaves among the Reindeer Moss (Cladonia rangiferina). It is actually a lichen, not a moss. And, yes, Reindeer do eat them (though there are not Reindeer in Maine).

These colorful fungi were peeking through the leaf litter as well. It was as if even the fungi wanted to get in on the colorful autumn celebration.

Overhead, a Hairy Woodpecker was hard at work on a decaying tree. I was initially disappointed when it took flight, but then became elated as it landed on a closer trunk with this gorgeous background of golden foliage framing it.

These Puffballs are inhabiting a rotting Birch trunk.

Cyndi often lagged behind, as I hurried toward the summit. I'd look back to see her prone on the ground, taking another photo of some unusual fungi. I'm not showing you all the different types I photographed ... and Cyndi found and documented even more than I did! The trail itself was gorgeous, and wild, and would serve well as an example of how to manage a wilderness resource. The trail was easy enough to follow, but largely untrammeled, with an outstanding opportunity for a primitive, unconfined type of recreation. I want to thank the State of Maine for preserving this area in such a pristine condition.

As a youth, I attended a meeting in which citizens had come together to try to formulate a plan to preserve this unique and beautiful area. Though we were warned of the dangers that it could be "loved to death" if its beauty was too well advertised, I'm pleased that it did not become a woodlot or gravel pit.

The natural inhabitants of the area thank you all for your support, and for keeping the wheels of progress off their backs.

And from the summit of Schoodic Mountain, here's a view over the lakes and forests of inland Maine. Looks rather flat, doesn't it, compared to the Northern Rockies? The ponderous glaciers of the last ice age rested heavily on this land, and ground inexorably south as far as what is now Manhattan Island in New York. That slow grinding polished some of the rock like mirrors, and sheared off most anything that stuck up toward the sky. This region of Maine rests on a solid batholith of pink and gray granite.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park was the first National Park to be designated east of the Mississippi River, and is now the third-most-visited park in the system. It is within easy reach of large population centers on the east coast, but draws people from around the world. They come for the gulls, but stay for the scenery and a taste of fresh lobster.

Here's a Herring Gull on a rock, one of many quintessential Maine scenes.

These are Greater Black-backed Gulls. No dump gulls, these. They prefer the ocean to a landfill, and are larger than the Herring Gulls that make up much of the gull population. Here they're drinking fresh water at the edge of the ocean, where a small stream trickles into the sea.

The relentless wave action breaks apart the granite on Schoodic Peninsula and polishes it into cobblestones, making a wonderful wind-chime noise as the smooth rocks roll in heavy surf and clank and bonk against one another.

The Black Guillemot has changed into winter plumage, and its natty tuxedo is mottled like the snow and spume which are soon to arrive as winter blows onshore.

This is a view of Frenchman Bay, looking out at islands and a lighthouse.

Near the park headquarters, a stand of birches with peeling bark create a shady grove.

Sand Beach is one of the few places in that part of Maine where sand is to be found. Here it draws sunbathers in the summer, and even in October a few fearless youngsters were swimming in the ocean ... well, at least jumping in and running out. That's about the extent of "swimming" to be had in the cold Labrador Current and local rip tides.

At low tide the black and olive rock weed lies draped over the rocks, and above them white barnacles coat the granite. The barnacles remain tightly closed until the return of the ocean waters with the incoming tide.

Offshore, Common Eider paddle just beyond the crashing surf.

Cyndi and I stopped for mid afternoon tea and scones at Jordan Pond House, and enjoyed the view of the Bubbles in autumn with many other vacationers (or "leaf peepers" as we all are collectively known in the fall).

Throughout Acadia National Park (formerly the Rockefeller estate, before it was donated), carriage paths wind near the most scenic spots and many hand-crafted stone bridges can be viewed. Each is unique.

This small stream had collected some of the most vibrant leaves. The smell of years of moist, decomposing forest duff mixes with the clean, salty ocean air. Footsteps are muffled by moss and soft earth. It really is a magical place.

The American Black Duck often interbreeds with Mallards, but this one does look to me to be the American Black Duck because of the olive colored bill.

Both sunset and sunrise from Cadillac Mountain are always crowd-pleasers, and even on a cold, windy, rainy evening many people had made the trek to the summit to watch the last rays of day fade from view. The body of water seen here is Frenchman Bay, looking toward my parents' home in West Sullivan across the bay on the mainland.

West Sullivan, Maine

Growing up in Maine, I wasn't a birder. I was aware of birds, and enjoyed seeing them, and even recall having some pointed out to me along with their names or habits. But I never appreciated just how birdy my yard was. Fortunately, it still is birdy. Within sight of a tidal estuary, mud flats, deep salt water, a swamp, open fields, a hardwood forest, and evergreen trees ... its an ecotone for sure.

Whenever I visit my parents I can't look out the window without seeing some interesting bird. Here a just a few seen in the yard.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle race).

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

White-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, and in a classic pose ... they work their way down a tree with their head down. Most birds prefer to have their head up, but these little ones have plenty of grip in their feet and go down the tree head-first.

I mentioned the estuary across the street. Here it is at high tide, and sunset. It's called the Taunton River, but is really salt water as evidenced by the lobster buoys dotting its surface. It empties and refills through a narrow "reversing falls". The action of the tides cause whitewater rapids to form as the estuary cycles. It flows into Frenchman Bay, which in turn opens upon the cold, nutrient-rich Gulf of Maine ... after that it's open ocean and the vast Atlantic.

Up at the head of the estuary I photographed it in different light the next morning, at low tide. Two clam diggers work the mud flats of Hog Bay beneath the changing autumn light.

The land overlooking this estuary contains some very productive Blueberry fields, and in autumn they light up like an impressionist painting. I'm told that each blueberry plant spreads by roots, so is a single clone covering an area ... and each clone turns different autumn colors according to its own internal clock, leading to this magnificent celebration of red, yellow and orange.

An extended family of Eastern Bluebirds was working in the fields, gathering some last-minute protein to fortify themselves for the impending migration southward before winter's chill arrived.

The trees were returning their nutrients to their roots for the winter, draining all green from the leaves, revealing the true colors hidden beneath.

While driving to visit friends, and running late, we saw this beautiful pond. I advised Cyndi we had time to take three photos each, but only three. This was my first exposure. I think it was the best of my three. Often first impressions are the ones to go with.

This harbor is Sorrento, and lies off a small peninsula near my parents' home.

Common Loons in winter plumage were frequenting the harbor.

Another Red-breasted Nuthatch posed against the golden autumn hues.

Blue Jays have been a bit of a nemesis for me to photograph, and on my last day there, on one last walk through the neighborhood just before driving to the airport, this one flew down close to where I stood ... perhaps to wish me a safe journey and tempt me to return soon to listen to their raucous calls and enjoy their noisy, colorful antics.

Orono Bog

I recently took a vacation in Maine, in the autumn, with Cyndi ... and went to see my parents, the fall color, the ocean, and all the things I love. We arrived late at night, and spent the night at a motel in Bangor. The next morning my parents came to pick us up, and by my request, we headed right for the Orono Bog. This natural area has an interpretive boardwalk. And, good thing too, because a bog is an area formerly open water, now slowly filling in with decomposing moss and water-loving vegetation. Sometimes the mat of moss actually hides a pocket of open water, and one can punch through the surface to the mucky water below. The boardwalk bobs up and down as one walks on it, like a dock floating on water.

This is a unique vegetation community, and the boardwalk goes from hardwood forest to coniferous forest to bog. The photo above is the bog. The trees may look small, but they're stunted by the harsh, wet conditions and can be as old as the tall mature forest in the distance.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk flew overhead. Often raptors and accipiters course over the open area, seeking prey.

The tiny tree is called by many common names: hackamatack, tamarack, larch. Whatever you call it, it is a tree with needles that sheds the needles in autumn. Next to it are some tiny Black Spruce trees, the classic bog-dweller.

This Golden-crowned Kinglet was in the larger forest, along with nuthatches and chickadees.

A Hermit Thrush or two was seen.

And, my favorite, the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. It has downward pointing hairs on the leaves, which are fused together to form a structure that fills with water which the plant supplements with digestive enzymes. Insects fall into the water, can't escape, and are digested to feed the plant. Cool, huh?

My next blog posts, and there will be three, will show the area around the Taunton River estuary where my parents live, then Acadia National Park (one of America's most-visited), and finally the Maine woods. Stay tuned ...