Along the Natchez Trace

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All In A Day's Work...

It's kind of quiet here today.  Kirk is on leave for a couple of days and Steve is down at Moosehorn NWR...  

So it's just me and Bill holding down the place...

The Northern Maine County Fair starts today in Presque Isle and Bill loaded up a refuge truck with the Friend's display...  informational board and handouts...  to set up at a booth at the fair. Another couple will be manning that booth each evening, but we'll go back Thursday evening to take the display down and return it to the refuge.

Richard, who is the usual Tuesday volunteer here at the visitor center had another commitment, so I'm manning the VC today.  I've had a few visitors already.

Richard and Christina, the Tuesday and Wednesday volunteers, are here through RSVP...  Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.  That program is out of Caribou (it's a national program but that's the local office) and just recently got a new director.  The woman who places people brought her over today to visit us and see where some of her volunteers spend their time.

So it's been kind of a varied day...  We've had some time between these things to get some odd jobs done.  

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  has a weather station located here on the refuge...
The data collected here is transmitted electronically to the national facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Occasionally they need something fixed on the equipment located here...  Last week they e-mailed these diagrams...

Those little white boxes on these 2 sheets explain what needs done to which wires...

I can only say that I'm very glad that I wasn't the one who was elected for this job.

Bill had everything fixed about 5 minutes after we went through the gate.  I'd probably still be standing there looking at that panel of "doo-dads" and "watchmacallits" and saying a prayer that I didn't either electrocute myself or wipe out all the data on the eastern seaboard!

After that was done, we decided to put up a game camera on the new trail...
Can you see it?
It's about waist high up on that center tree....

We know that critters are already using this trail...  
It might be intended as a "human" walking trail, but even the critters like a nice, cleared, even trail through the woods to get where they're going.

A few nights ago we heard some very different sounds.  Took us a while to figure out that we were hearing owls...
In fact, there were 2 roosted on the roof of the building we're parked along side of.

They came 2 different nights, and though they haven't come back, we know that they are Short-eared Owls.

This morning, when I was out for my morning drive, I came across them sitting on top of an old guard shack building.

They flew away and I wasn't able to get a good shot..

They both flew into a spruce just up the road...
Again, not a very good shot, but, along with the distinctive call, I feel we've made the right ID.

I'll keep the VC open until 4pm...  When Bill gets back from Presque Isle I think he's going to move a culvert from the old trailhead to the new place.

As I wrote...
It's all in a day's work...

That's All For Today!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

I had another post started....  yesterday....  

The internet service at our rig is sporadic at best
Since the blog I started requires a mind not frustrated with interrupted service, I'll work on that another day.  

Today I'll take you on a walk through the woods...

I keep talking about public interest and public use...  (which, in part, what the post I started yesterday is about).

There are well over 10 miles of trails at this refuge.  The majority of the trails is at the Chapman parcel, which is a couple of miles from the visitor center/headquarters office.  There is a kiosk at the trailhead which holds maps, brochures and other informational material.  We try to track just how many people actually use those trails...
Trail Counter
No, Bill doesn't sit behind a tree and count the people as they walk by...  The photo on the right shows the trail counter and Bill is taking a reading of the numbers and resetting it to start over again at zero.
It is battery operated...  motion sensitive.  The photo on the left is of the reflector.  It is located on one side of the trail...  the counter is mounted directly across the path on the other side.  When an object (person or fairly large animal) passes between the reflector and the counter, it trips the signal - changing the total number.

There are trail counters located at the two major trailheads...  one over at the Chapman parcel and the other at the 1.2 mile trail that loops around the visitor center.  

The total isn't exact...  we have no idea if folks walk the loop or return the way they came.  Folks walking side by side would only count as one.  Also, a bear or moose could trip the counter as well.  But it gives us an idea how much the trails are being used.

It's just another way to gather information about refuge usage.

Look Down....
There is just so much to see if we just take the time to look.  Starting at the upper left corner are some ripe raspberries.  I'm surprised the bear haven't found them!  Next to that is a pile of bird feathers...  I don't know what kind of bird... thought at first it might be a kind of woodpecker... black and white spots on some feathers....  Wish I knew.  The upper right picture is of British Soldiers.  I love coming across this lichen....  they are just about the size shown, so you have to watch for them.  Lower right is sphagnum moss...  there are a lot of wetlands here... vernal pools, etc.  ....  it's like walking on a very deep carpet when you cross over one of these areas.  Bottom middle are plants in the dogwood family...  with a big pile of moose poop among them.  And the lower left...  Indian Pipe... a saprophytic plant that has no chlorophyll.   

The new trail now skirts a wetlands area.  There are plans to expand this trail already....  and maybe build a board-walk like structure so that folks can see what's in the wetlands without disturbing anything.

I'm not the only one who enjoys a walk in the woods...
  This young black bear was ambling down the road in front of me the other day.  It ran off into the woods when it realized I was around.

Mama Doe and her Twin Fawns
I didn't have my 300mm lens with me....  but there's no doubt that these deer saw me.  That's a wood duck nesting box that's in the left foreground.  The metal "funnel-like" thing just below the box is a predator guard...  keeps critters from climbing up the post and having eggs (or young'uns) for dinner.

So, if you're going for a walk in the woods, look around.... down low, up high.... 
Great Blue Heron

You just don't know what you might see.

That's All For Today!

See where we are.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Refuge Tours etc.

The thunderstorm of Sunday was nice while it lasted.  Monday it rained in the morning, but had cleared up by afternoon.  It brought in some cooler weather...  in fact, our furnace came on last night.  I'm still in jeans, sweat shirts and wool socks - at least in the early mornings.  The past couple of afternoons tee-shirts are okay.

One of the things that both Bill & I do while here at Aroostook NWR is give tours of the Refuge.

The Refuge doesn't charge an entry fee nor does it charge to give a tour.  Sometimes we get group tours; sometimes we just have a couple of people who have stopped by to see what's here and end up going on a tour.  Some tours are scheduled but many are not.

Since so much of the refuge isn't open to the public we try to give as many tours as we can...  this is one of the smaller refuges in the whole system so we need all the public support we can get.

David King, the fellow facing the group, was stationed here at the base in the late 1970's and early 80's.

He met his wife, who was also stationed here, and they stayed on in the area after they were discharged from the service.

David is active in the Loring Military Heritage Center and often gives tours at that (now defunct) facility.  That was the Loring Air Force Base.  

This past week, the Limestone School of Mathematics and Science had a week-long workshop for teachers.  I think most of the teachers are from Maine, but we did meet one from Connecticut.

While there are seminars and other things going on during the day, the school provided some evening excursions so the participants could see some of the area.

Tuesday evening, After David took a group through the old Loring AFB, they came over to this facility and went on a tour here.

Apparently some of the folks didn't make it to that tour, so there will be a repeat tour this evening at 5pm.

Bill & I go along on these tours...  partly because we're sort of summer "caretakers" (have keys to the Visitor Center, restrooms etc), and partly to provide information regarding the refuge.

David has extensive knowledge of the place when it was an Air Force Base during his stay here, but we're able to add information of what all's happened since 1998, when it became a refuge.

The changes, the focus now, the on-going demolition and reconstruction...  and a bit about the future plans....  these are what it's all about now.

When Bill & I give our tours, we incorporate the past history as well as the present ...  and hopes for the future.

Unfortunately, we usually don't see any moose or bear when we're giving a tour... especially when the tour consists of a caravan of 6 or so vehicles.  Most tours are during the early afternoon hours...  not the best wildlife viewing time.  I think eventually, as more of the refuge becomes ready for the public, there might be late evening or early morning tours...  birding tours...  whatever.  But that will take more volunteers than are now available.

I'd love to have this bull moose show himself to a group, but I took this photo around 5:30 am yesterday morning.

This doe was about 100' from the moose...  just wading around in the marsh.

Here's Mom and her calf again...  I saw them 3 mornings in a row in the same place...  at 5:45am.
This morning I didn't see them at all.  

David and his tour group will arrive around 5pm this evening.  The tour will probably last an hour as I believe the school serves dinner around 6pm.  

One hour is really not long enough to see everything here.  But it is enough to spark one's interest....  that maybe some of the folks will return to this area with their families to take a closer look at what this area has to offer.

Sometimes these "off the beaten path" places are the best ones to explore...  there's often a lot more around than one would think...

That's All For Today!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just Another Day at the Refuge...

It's kind of the same old thing here...  more trail work, but today they got to the end with the bulldozer.  They (Kirk and Bill) have the skid-steerer (is that right?....  it's a chunky looking piece of equipment that can bully its way right through the woods... doesn't care what's in front of it), the bulldozer and the chain saw.  Also the Yamaha mule (I think it's really named something else...  and I don't mean Francis) and the Gator to haul out logs and debris.

The trail really is going to be nice....  for now it's a trail that you have to return on the same route, but I think eventually it will be developed into a loop.  

Speaking of loops...
This is a photo of my Garmin GPS I have in my car....
Hey...  you can even see where I stopped to take the picture!

But this is the route I drive nearly every day.  I tried to put in some arrows to show where I have my game cameras located, but couldn't figure out how to do that.  No big deal... I move the cameras around a lot anyway.  Notice that there aren't any roads on this map...  Well, I didn't say I always drive on a road....  you'd be surprised where that little Scion can go!  Actually, I do drive on a road, just that these aren't public roads any more.

A few weeks ago I added a photo to my blog of a moose...  well, the moose was checking out my game camera and the picture was of his HUGE nose.  The Good Luck Ducks commented...  said something about a Snout Shot.   I think I may be just a teensy dyslexic...  I read it as a "Snot Shot".  Got to thinking about it and decided that maybe even that was appropriate...  so....

Here's another SNOT SHOT...

This bear was checking out one of my cameras....
Not to worry...  I have the cameras in a metal shroud...  locked onto the tree with a steel cable.  

I haven't been getting many game camera photos lately...  but have seen some wildlife...
Saw Mama Moose and her calf yesterday morning - they were on the other side of the pond and my camera wanted to focus on the weeds...

And this morning I saw them again...
This one is better uncropped...
It shows the beautiful Maine spruces...  
The density of the woods.
Can't you almost smell the aroma?

Just a few hundred feet from the moose I saw this..
We've been seeing this bald eagle nearly every day.
His favorite perch is in the top of this tree, but he took off when I stopped to watch him.

We're hoping he/she will build a nest somewhere close by.  Kirk has  erected two nesting stands close to the water, but so far, neither have any takers.

This looks like a "Judy" shot to me...
Y'all probably know where the term "high tail" (as in... he'll high-tail it out of here) comes from...  but just in case you don't, if this deer were nervous about me being about, she'd raise that tail high and all you'd see is her white flag on her rump as she's running away.

We really don't work all the time...
Friday we took a couple of hours and drove over to Gaugon's (pronounced "gones") farm and market.

They have flavors of ice cream you've never heard of.

I don't know how many dips this cone can hold, but you better believe that Bill gets the maximum.
I can't remember what flavor he got...
maybe Coffee Oreo?

Anyway, if you're ever up this way, it's well worth the visit.

As I've been writing this the sky has gotten blacker and blacker.  I hear the thunder rolling ......  but don't think the rain has started yet.  I hope Bill had the opportunity to shut the ceiling vents in our motorhome....  looks like we'll soon get a downpour.

That's All For Today!

Friday, July 20, 2012

I'm a Loser....

Nah, I'm not a loser in "that" sense...

In fact, I have a wonderful life.  I have a great husband, a terrific family, good friends...  I'm fortunate in that we all have good health and good lives.  

But...  I'm a loser...

I lose things...

Yesterday, when I lost my binoculars while out in the boonies I got to thinking about how often I lose stuff.  

And even more... I got to thinking about the stuff that I manage to lose.
A few weeks ago I lost an egg...

Often we each have a hard boiled egg with our lunch.  I had peeled 2 eggs and placed them on the counter.  Or at least I thought I had.  Granted, we don't have a very large kitchen counter, but it is okay.  I proceeded to fix lunch, and put it on the table.  
One egg was missing.
I looked in the sink
I looked on the table
I looked on the floor
I even looked in the fridge and counted the eggs I had left.

I thought Bill was playing a joke on me and had taken one of the eggs.  He swore he hadn't.

I was mystified!

After lunch I was cleaning up and headed outside for something.
Lo and Behold!
The egg had rolled off the counter,
down into the stairwell 
and clear up against the riser
So I couldn't see it unless I went outside and headed back in.
Boy!  Was I ever glad that mystery was solved!

Then there was the missing socks...
Not once, but twice I lost these socks.
They are purple striped - the only ones I have like that, so when I wanted to wear them and couldn't find them, I tried to think of where they could be.

Sometimes socks get stuck to other clothes in the dryer, so I started shaking jeans, shirts etc.

No Socks...

It was a couple days later that it hit me..
  Of Course!
I had worn them to bed because my feet were cold...  kicked them off during the night...
Hadn't changed the sheets yet that week...
The socks were keeping snuggly warm at the bottom of the bed. 

(We sleep in the bed over the cab of the rig and I just flip one side over the other to "make" the bed each morning...  none of this smoothing sheets and putting on a spread)...

Then I lost the socks again!
This time we were in Costa Rica and I was using that funky washing machine.  
I couldn't find my favorite purple socks.
Tried to remember if I really had brought them on this trip.
Yes... I'm sure I had...
Where were they?

Finally I took apart that spinner-like thing that sort of centrifuges water out of the clothes before you hang them to dry.
There they were!  I had neglected to put the lid on that spinner and the little rascals both got flung out and then down under that contraption.

That's where the holes came from in one of the socks.

I lose keys...
Not key rings..
Nope, I lose keys off the key ring. 
After the last episode of losing the keys to the refuge cameras, I finally tied a pink ribbon on that set of keys so if they fell off I could at least find them in the weeds.

I lost my camera once.
(Only once?  Bill can probably remember other times)
But this time we were in a very remote place up on a mesa at a refuge.  Bill was driving the truck.  Whoever rides shotgun gets the "honors" of opening and closing gates.

We had gone to a site 8 miles away through various gates...  through high desert and into the mountainous area.

We were back to gate one and I wanted to take a picture of something.
No Camera...

I had placed it on my lap and when I got out at one of the gates, it had apparently fallen out unnoticed.

Eight miles is a Loooooong way to travel..... especially since we still had all those gates to open and close as we looked for the camera.

Found it!
At the very farthest gate.
Now it has a red lanyard on it... and the lanyard hangs around my neck...  and the camera can fit in my shirt pocket.

It's kind of funny in a way....
I mean, HOW can you lose something in a 26.5' motorhome?
I really make an effort to put everything back in its place...
Today I couldn't find the battery charger for the camera.  I have a big bag that holds ALL my camera gear.
I found the charger just inches from my right shoulder...  on the back of the bench seat where I use the computer.
Oh yeah...  it was supposed to be in the bag.

I'm lucky though...
I almost always find what I'm looking for..
I even found my binoculars...  they had bounced off the seat of the Gator and had landed in a bunch of tall weeds. 

So far, as far as I know, I haven't lost my mind, my nerve or my love of life.......
That HAS to count for something!

All that aside, I want to say that today is a VERY SPECIAL day!

My son is 50 years old today!
He was such a beautiful baby!

And now he's a beautiful person who I'm proud of and so glad he's my son.

Happy Birthday, Danny!
Love Ya, Mom

That's All For Today!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy Trails To You....

Nope, we're not hitting the trail yet....  or at least, not the open road trails.

Aroostook NWR, which was established in 1998, has been in "demolition" mode for the past 14 years.  Converting an old Air Force Base that housed nuclear bombs in concrete bunkers into a wildlife refuge has not been an easy job.  Especially since it's located in a fairly remote part of the USA, and also because there has been only one full-time Federal employee here since day one.

But it looks like the tide has turned.  Yes, there is still some demolition work to be done, and there's still a lot of clean-up work, but the majority of that is completed.

As with most Federal agencies, Fish & Wildlife Refuges, under the Dept of Interior, are working on a shoe-string budget.  For example, with only one full-time employee here, the visitor center is open only when there are volunteers available to man it.

But to have public support, the public must have the opportunity to use at least a part of the refuge.

Yesterday I posted photos of the new photo blind.  What an opportunity for great photo that will be!

Hiking trails are another way for people to enjoy the great outdoors.  There are at least 10 miles of trails already in existence here...  maintained year round...  for hiking or cross country skiing.

A new trail is being built this summer.  No mileage has been established yet because it's still being developed.

We're going to make this...
That pink flagging shows where the trail will go through.

Look Like This....
Only, better!  This is still in the construction stage...  it will be level when completed.

Here's Bill...  
Putting on his bug shirt for a day in the woods.

At first it was hoped that this trail could be constructed without using heavy equipment or power tools.  But it didn't take long to realize that this was not a realistic plan.  Dense undergrowth....  trees way too close together to even get a path through....  fallen trees from previous times...  just all manner of problems to work around.

So...  on to Plan B 
Try to construct a trail being as minimally invasive as possible.
Still, this requires some of the big stuff...
The trail will be this wide....  
This dozer can cut a swath through the woods - taking out only the vegetation in its path.

But it has limits...  so...
A lot of chain-saw work is required - the dozer has its limitations as to what all it can do safely.

Kirk, the chainsaw operator above, cuts the trees into manageable size.  

These logs can't just be left alongside the trail...  it would take too long for them to decompose. 
We don't want this trail to look like a tornado blew through and left all the debris laying in its path...

Here's what it looks like after the tree is down...

And next...
Uh huh....  this is a job I can do.  (Mostly, but I have my limitations, too)...  load up the pieces and haul them off to an area away from the trail.  

This project is not going to be completed overnight...  even with the heavy equipment, it will take a lot of manpower...  a lot of hours....  and quite frankly, a lot of hard labor for this trail to be usable.  
But... it will be completed in a few weeks...  and by next year the scars from the equipment will have healed.

It's called the "Beaver Dam Trail" and will wind around this body of water...
See the dam in the center of the picture?
The trail is on the left side of the pond...  winds around about a half mile into the woods...
And ends up...
Now, you're looking at the dam from the other side....

It will be a nice hike...
If I could, I'd send along the smell of the spruce trees..
The song of the Wood Thrush
I'd make sure you saw all the different things you can observe along the way...
Like Paper Birch peeling off trees...
 Or the bunchberries when they're in bloom
 A kitchen midden of a red squirrel (maybe we'll get lucky and see the squirrel as well)
 Maybe some fungus...  or some beautifully color mushrooms...
 Or some moss or lichen hanging from the branches of a tree...  or some lovely ferns...
Surely we'll see some moose poop!
That's my boot...  just to show you that big critters leave a big pile of poop.

Yes, it will be a wonderful trail.

Maybe next time we volunteer here it will be another of my favorite spots!

That's All For Today!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My New Favorite Spot

When we're in an area and have been there long enough to find our way around, I often come across something that just hits my eye...  a place that I find exceptionally pleasing and I find myself going back there during our stay and going back there in my mind after we leave.

I could tell you about my favorite places at Sevilleta NWR in NM...  or that really special place in Buenos Aires NWR in AZ...  Sometimes it's a special memory...  like the 10 day tour of all the AZ refuges that Bill & I were part of during the 2003 Centennial Year.  In our nearly 12 years on the road I've added a lot of special places and people to my good memory bank.

I guess it's obvious that Aroostook NWR, way up here in Maine, is one of those places.  This is our 6th summer to volunteer here and it's a LONG way to drive unless it's a place you really want to be.

There have been 3 places here that I am drawn back to many times during each summer we're here.  I've taken numerous photos at all 3 places and have seen some great sightings of wildlife.  In fact, I was fortunate enough to be at one of the places on a misty morning and and two moose were down in the marsh...  Canada geese flying overhead...  the light was just right for a great photo shot.  The refuge liked the photo so much that they use it on their brochure.

Well, I still love my 3 special spots..  but I have a new spot that might just take first place.

Remember a few weeks ago when I was painting that Photo Blind?  Well, I did get that done, but no decision had been made as where to place it.  There was one spot along one of the roads overlooking the E. Loring Lake that I kept saying needed a "window" through the trees to view the lake.

Bill did even better....  he saw a spot fairly close...  up on a rise ...  that would be perfect for the blind.

Yesterday, he and Kirk moved the blind out of the maintenance shop to it's new home.

That's just a log they used to lever it into place that's leaned against the side of the building.  But you can see a tiny bit of the lake at the lower right corner.

And here's a view from across the lake.
Looking at the blind in its new place....  it's just a short walk from the road, but still far enough back that you'd never disturb anything below.

Of course I had to take my binoculars and camera out there to christen the place...
Saw this pair of loons flying in for a landing.
Not the best picture, but still, it's the first shot I've ever gotten of loons in flight.

This female Belted Kingfisher was sitting on a snag right below the blind.  

She took off ....  probably going to dive for some dinner.

And again...  this time you're looking at her belly...  with the wings down on either side...  head under her left wing.

I can see where I'll be spending a lot of time in this place. 
Is it any wonder that it's my new favorite spot?

A couple other photos...
This photo just doesn't do it justice!  This flower head was covered with dew...  and the sun was shining on and through the water and it looked just like diamonds...  or maybe even ice.
I wish I knew how to capture a subject the way I see it!

And one final picture..
The Game Camera caught Mama moose and her calf strolling through this old section of the refuge.

I love it when I see what goes on when I'm not around.

I took an hour or so break while writing this...  I gave a tour to a woman from Illinois whose late husband was stationed here in the 1970's.  They had intended to take this vacation together, but he passed away last December.

It's always interesting to hear the stories that the visitors have to tell.  I just hope I can give them a tour that will mean something to them.  

That's All For Today!