Along the Natchez Trace

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Itch, Itch, Scratch, Scratch....

(Today's photos don't have a thing to do with the word content...  it just didn't feel like a blog without pictures)

I bet some of you think I'm a little grey-haired old lady who never says a bad word.  But then, some of you have known me for many years and know that's just not so.  (just what part of that isn't so I'll leave to you)   My Dad had an amazing repertoire of swear words and being the lover of words...  any words...  that I was, even at an early age, I learned to string together a whole bunch of colorful words.  (There's more to this story, but that can wait until later).....

Anyway, the point is....  this week I've revived much of that dormant vocabulary (Bill might contest this "dormant" statement) and I've been swearing profusely at the smallest critters.

Bill...  heading to the gravel pit with the excavator.

But, darn it (see, I CAN clean it up), those little blood suckers are driving me nuts.  In 1996 I had a health problem which prohibited me from donating blood again.  Really upset me (another nice word for what I usually say), as I was 1 donation away from 8 gallons.  But I sure wouldn't want anyone to get some tainted blood.  Well....  until now.  If any of these black flies and mosquitoes kick off because they ingested my blood...  Yahoo!  I can only hope.

Darned Groundhog!  I think it travels through the culvert to scrounge around underneath the nearby bird feeders.

I don't know why these guys are bothering (nice word) me so much this year.  I have welts all over my head...  I don't even bother to wear my hearing aids...  who wants to hear that buzzz buzzz buzzz anyway?  Honest... I wear lots of clothes.  Jeans, wool socks that I knit myself, so I know they are nearly knee socks...  I wear long sleeve shirts....  usually wear a hat...  sometimes a veil.  BUT...  I have itchy bites all around my head, my neck, my collar bone...  some on my back...  on my ankles, and even have one on my butt...  which I swear, hasn't been exposed to the weather. 

Ruby-throated hummingbird...  perched on the windshield wiper of the rig...  waiting for someone to stop at HIS feeder so he can attack.

Bill and I were sitting here today in our rig for lunch...  I'll bet between the two of use we smacked dead over 2 dozen mosquitoes.  How the heck did they get in here?  I did have on a black long sleeve T-shirt...  did they all hide out on it and come in the rig with me?  (I've heard that they are attracted to black)  Heck, I don't know...  Later, Bill went back to work and I spent an hour or so here...  must have killed a couple other dozen.  Don't know how many I tried to get but missed.

And just now, at 7:45 pm....  I'm still smacking at those dog-gone (another nice word) insects.

WhoooHoooo!  Our first tomato!
It may be about the size of a pea now, but I already have visions of juicy, red tomatoes right from the vine!

Hey, it just now started raining...  maybe those dreaded little flying demons will drown....

I wish!

That's All for Today!

P.S.  I love you Daddy....  even though you'd be 117 years old now, your influence lives on.

P.P.S.  I love you Aroostook NWR...  even though you harbor some nasty critters, you're worth every bite, sting or itch I receive while here.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Morning...

 Thought I'd start today's blog with a picture of the new Gator....
Yep!  That's me in the driver's seat.
I didn't like using it at first...  the doors were still on it and the noise inside the "cab" really bothered me.  Bill took the doors off and now the sound isn't nearly as bad.  Also, it makes getting in and out much easier having those doors removed.
This Gator was bought mainly because during the winter months the trails are used for cross-country skiing.  Those trails need groomed and the apparatus that makes the trails smooth is dragged behind the Gator.  The old Gator is open...  no windshield, no heater.... pretty bare-basic.  (It's a real work-horse and is still in use).  This new vehicle is pretty snazzy!  I'm starting to like it, but probably won't be using it much.  Often volunteers get the old, kinda worn-out vehicles, but the guy who does most of the trail maintenance has been doing it since there were trails here in the 1990's.  He's about 80 years old now and still gets out there and takes care of the trails.  Not only that, but I saw him last weekend at the visitor center...  he told me he had just got his potato crop planted for this season.  He sure deserves some comfort out there on those trails when it's zero degrees and deep snow!

Not exactly a Gator...
That's Bill taking the Skid-steerer back to the garage.  He'd been digging holes (you can see the auger in front) to set the new informational kiosks in.  He and Kirk got all 5 of them set yesterday.  Notice that Bill has a net over his head.  The black flies and mosquitoes have been really bad lately.

We got some new signs recently...
The old one had been here forever...  really faded and peeling.  It looked pretty shabby.  This new one sure spruces up the entrance.  This coming weekend in the Northern Maine Birding Festival so we'll be doing a lot of "sprucing up" this week.

I finally got my game cameras set out yesterday afternoon.  There are 4 in various places on the refuge.  I've done this for several years now, so while I do trade them around some, I have these four placed in what is usually high traffic areas...
By "high traffic" I mean lots of wildlife.
This moose wandered across the cameras view this morning around a quarter to 4:00.  I'm going to have to check the time as it sure looks dark in this photo.  

This is a collage of cropped pictures from the same camera...
This black bear was captured on the camera around 6:00 last evening.  He's not a real big bear...  maybe a year or two old.  I say "he", but maybe a female.....  don't know.

Joanne asked how I tell the critters apart.  Well, that young bull moose I've been seeing has a place on his left hip that the hair sticks out ...  looks like it could be because of a cyst or abcess or something.  Last year a bear had the hair missing from much of its backside.  Sometimes I'll notice a scar or a different color pattern.  I know where the bear with 3 cubs hangs out...  and where the bear with 2 cubs is likely to be.  When the bulls have those big racks, sometimes there will be a crooked tine on the antlers.  Guess none of these is hard and fast, and truth is...  sometimes it's just a guess.

This morning I saw a cow in the Nine Thousand area...  there's a good chance it's the same one I saw yesterday...  often a critter will stay in the same area for a couple of days before moving on.

I'll see if she's still around tomorrow.

That's All For Today!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Moose... again....

I was asked how often I see bull moose....

Well, that's not an easy question to answer.  It depends...  

Right now the male moose are just starting to grow their antlers.  They shed those massive antlers every year and grow new ones starting in the spring.  Mature moose will grow much bigger and sturdier antlers than young guys.  

I took this photo here at the refuge a few years ago...  on August 29th.
This big guy has a pretty nice set of antlers...  and the "velvet" has mostly been scraped off.

So, if I'm seeing a moose in the distance, sometimes in early summer I don't really see the antlers unless I'm using binoculars.  And if I can't see antlers, I sure can't see anything else to indicate if it's male or female :-)

I keep records of what I see and when I see it while here.  The big things, like moose, deer, bear, and the things I don't see as often like porcupine, otters and the like.  Last year I saw more cows (female moose) than bulls.  One factor that might contribute is that Maine has a hunting season and moose are prime targets....  especially those with a nice big rack.  Also, last year the ticks caused a high mortality rate in the moose population (both sexes).  

Definitely not scientific, but I'm thinking most of the cows have calves this time of year and they'll hang around an area for a longer period of time before moving on.  The bulls aren't looking out for anyone else and disappear into the woods pretty fast when they feel threatened.  

I took this photo around 5:00 this morning...
I didn't see any calves with this female...  she just stood and stared at me as I watched her.

When bears come out of their den after a winter hibernation, their fur coats are glossy, shiny and look beautiful.  The poor moose spend the winter wearing their thick fur coats, and come spring, as they start to shed, they look mangy, moth-eaten and not very pretty.  Add to that, the males are starting to sprout their antlers.  Sometimes they just don't look like the magnificent creatures that they really are.

My records indicate that I'll see more moose (of both sexes) in June.  July, wildlife sightings of all kinds will drop off.  Probably the combination of the heat and the bugs (flies are a real pest to moose) make them head for cooler areas deep in the woods.  By August the antlers will be nearly full-grown.  The calves will be tall and gangly....  their reddish-brown coats will be darker and more like an adults.

So... the answer to the question...  right now I am seeing the same young bull moose everyday.  I don't know how many different cows I see, but usually spot one at least once during each day.  The big, more mature bull I've seen only twice.  We've been here one week and the weather has been all over the board...  rain, snow, sunny, cloudy, windy...  you name it.  The bug population already requires us to wear nets and other means of protection.  All factors in how much wildlife I see.

Well, another factor in my wildlife count is how much time I'm outside and where I'm at.  

I do know one thing...  I try to snap pictures of everything I see out there...  so no matter if it's male, female, moose or bear, it's likely to turn up in one of my blogs later.

That's All For Today!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Vernal Pools and Trail Maintenance

Well, I must not be using whatever program it is that isn't working because this page came right up.  So guess I'll just post a few photos of yesterday.

I spent most of the day mowing.  I use a John Deere zero turn riding mower...  the same one I've used since our first year here.  Kirk had told me that they'd be getting a new one, but we all know how the gov't agencies work...  it either hasn't been ordered yet or is on back order.  Doesn't make any difference to me...  at least I won't be getting scratches and scrapes on a brand-new piece of equipment.

As I was heading up the Loring Trail I saw something way ahead of me.  I'd seen a man walking along the road and at first thought he'd cut across the connector trail and was on the path.  Then I realized that whatever I was seeing was way too big to be a person.  I don't carry my "big" camera on the mower...  just a little pocket Canon.  This is the best shot I could get of the moose I was seeing.  She walked along the trail a few hundred feet then headed back into the woods.  This trail is the old railroad bed...  it still has rocks and gravel left over from those days, but is level, and now is quite grassy.  There are a couple of trails that connect to this one and I got them all mowed and they look to be in good condition.

The most used trail is the Don Lima Trail that is an easy 1.2 mile loop around the visitor center.  There are 5 interpretational kiosks along the way, describing the various types of habitats.
We sure don't have any Tidal Pools up here (they do have them down at Moosehorn NWR, where our headquarters are, about 200 miles south)...  but we do have Vernal Pools.  These are wet areas that are vital to some kinds of critters...  like salamanders or newts.

There are quite a few here in the refuge.  So many that a student at University of Maine at Presque Isle is completing her Master's degree doing a study of the pools.  This is one of the ones she uses in her study.

And another one....
This is her second year to work on this project.  I don't know what all data she collects or what comparisons she makes.  I do know that Vernal Pools dry up as the summer goes on.

I got done mowing around 3:30 yesterday...  that gave me plenty of time to wash the mower and clean it up.  I still have Chapman Pond area to mow...  maybe today.

That's All For Today!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Yesterday's Views....

I'm at work...  obviously not working...  but I brought the mower up from the old shop at 5:30 this morning and we don't "officially" start work until 6 am, so I'll take a break and write a quick post.
We didn't have electricity yesterday until sometime around 2pm...   not a real big deal, but opening garage doors manually.. ones that usually open electrically...  can be a chore.  It rained off and on...  not really rain, more of a heavy mist, but it still got things wet.

The elderberries are in bloom....
These will be the red variety...  don't know if anyone uses them except the birds.

Saw a Yellow Warbler flitting around in the brush...
He has red streaks on his breast, but they don't show up well here.

This Eastern Kingbird was hanging out near the lake.
Maybe he'll eat some of the black flies that were so annoying.

I watched this Osprey swoop down over the water, then land on one of the snags to munch down on his catch.  

 And the most exciting thing...  I was mowing up near the Guard Shack and caught movement out of the corner of my eye...  turned around and there was a baby moose walking around in the field.  I moved out of the way, but watched to see if I could see Mama Moose.  Nope..  no Mama.  Baby ran around the back of the guard shack.  I left the area (I'll mow it later...  baby moose sure didn't need any more stress).
I drove back up in the car later...  Baby moose had bedded down at the edge of the building.  By 7:30 Mama hadn't returned for him....  
I drove back up there at 5:00 this morning...  baby moose is gone.  Hopefully Mama returned and found him.

I was asked how Mainers grow tomatoes.  I don't know about anyone else, but here's what we do... 
I bought 3 tomato plants when we were in Ohio...  A Roma, a cherry tomato, and a "eating" tomato.  The Romas are to make pico de gallo, the cherry tomatoes should be the first to get ripe, and the everyday eating tomato is the kind you just pick off the vine and eat.  
They are each in their own 5 gallon bucket.  The long, flat bin is where I planted cilantro, spinach and basil seeds.  It's so nice to have fresh greens...  just wish they were already grown.
And the red petunias are extras.  I bought too many to put in my hanging planter.  I always have to have red petunias to attract the hummingbirds.  So...  don't know what anyone else does, but this is our garden this summer.

That's All For Today!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Some of this... A little of that....

As usual we hit the ground running again this year.  We arrived Thursday afternoon and it didn't take long to get back into our routine.  This is our 8th summer to volunteer here at Aroostook NWR...  not consecutively, but off and on over the years.  When we started out volunteering we planned to go to a place only once.  There are just so many places to see and one never knows how long they will be able to travel.  I read somewhere that some people only go to a place once so that others have the opportunity to volunteer there.  Well, this place is fairly remote, and until just last year most of the needs have been demolishing old buildings and doing clean-up work.   Not many folks even inquired about volunteering here.

Young moose in the marsh....

There are a couple of local volunteers who keep the visitor center open 3 days a week and the Friends Group members work most of the events.  When I say "most"...  there are military reunions during the summer, and in the past, a fishing derby for kids in June.  Last year the Northern Maine Birding group had their annual festival here which brought a few hundred folks to the refuge.  That festival is being held here again this year on June 6.

Pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at feeder

Twice there have been other volunteers living here besides us.  There are 2 RV sites right next to the shop, one is home to a refuge owned camper where bio-techs or other personnel stay during their work here.  The other is available for volunteers with their own housing.

Spectrum of colors...  Goldfinch and Purple Finch at feeder....

There are a lot of things for a volunteer to consider when choosing to come here.  There aren't any poisonous snakes, but there are bugs....  mosquitoes, black flies, no see'ums, moose flies and the list goes on.  It seems that there's always at least one variety of insect that dominates the air every day.  They sting, bite and some even draw blood.  
It's 10 miles to the grocery store and even the USA Today isn't delivered until the next day.  The main industry is potato farming.  There are a couple of festivals during the summer and there will be a Fourth of July Parade in town.  It's a quiet life.

Tree Swallow....

They like the bar that holds the feeders to use as a roosting spot.
Bill put up 2 nesting boxes on the old maintenance shop (where we're parked) and both boxes have a lot of activity.

Another shot of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)

Whether working as a couple or being solo, each person is asked to work 32 hours a week.  Since the refuge is understaffed (a real understatement as there is only one employee), duties can vary.  My main jobs here are trail maintenance, mowing, and working the Visitor Center at least one day a week.  But working with invasive species, painting, and giving tours are a few of the "other duties as needed" things I do.  

Although I didn't get a view of his backside, there are lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting around in the trees.

Bill is certified to operate all the different kinds of equipment that they have here.  He's at home on a backhoe or excavator or loading and driving a huge dump truck.  He's equally at home using a shovel or rake....  or even a push broom to sweep out the shop.
We have never felt like we are keeping someone else from volunteering here.  Believe me, if you're willing to work, there is work to be done.  Some of the work is kind of tedious...  like pulling knapweed, an invasive species.  But there is plenty of time to pursue one's own interests.  

I finally saw some Red-breasted merganzers!

My own interests are birding, wildlife and photography.  What better opportunity would I have?  I keep a camera and my binoculars with me all the time - at the end of the summer, when it's time for us to head south, I leave a CD with my photos with the refuge manager for their use.

Momma Bear and her Twin Cubs....

It's raining this morning...  and the electricity went off around 4:30 am, (our WiFi and my laptop are on battery right now)....  It's cold and dreary, but you can believe I'll find something useful to do as soon as I post this.

That's All For Today!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Okay....  I know today is Memorial Day, but this is what we woke up to Saturday morning....

Yeah...  those are snow flakes....  lots of them....

That's looking up at the top of a bunker...
We've never been here when it's snowed so it was kind of exciting to see.  There was no accumulation, and it melted off almost as soon as it hit the ground, but it was actually quite beautiful.  
The snow didn't bother this young bull moose.  It's hard to see how big he is, and he isn't any where near as big as he will eventually grow, but still, he's much taller than my height of 5'4".

More snowflakes....   
This is good birding area...  I've seen some warblers, heard the "witchedy-witchedy" of the Yellowthroat, and the "Sweet Canada" of the sparrow.  I'll spend a fair amount of time here... right outside of one of the photo blinds.

Do you remember me taking a photo of the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak when we were still in Ohio.  Well, here's the male.  Isn't he gorgeous?

Here's the bird that this refuge is all about..
The Upland Sandpiper
All refuges have a focus...  an endangered species...  animal, plant, fish... whatever...  that needs some help in order to survive.  The Upland Sandpiper nests here and already they are back for the summer looking for nesting areas.  They build their nest on the ground, so the fields are off limits to all traffic, walking or vehicular, until late summer.

I've seen lots of bears and moose so far... 
Bears have bad eyesight but very good hearing.  This guy heard me driving down the road and stood up to see what he heard.  He hurried off into the woods as soon as he saw my car.

The snow was kind of a freak occurrence....  guess it even made the National news.  But it's gone now and yesterday we even had sunshine.

Maybe that sun will melt away the huge snow bank created by the snow plow this past winter...
Last summer it was finally gone on June 5.  We'll see how long it takes it all to melt this year.

That's All For Today!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mainly Maine....

It will take me a few days to catch up.  We left Ohio last Sunday morning...  almost exactly 1 week ago to this hour.  We stopped in New York to visit our daughter.  She knew we were coming but didn't know we'd have our son, her brother, with us.  He had plans to visit his friend in Portland, Maine, then fly back to Ohio.  Of course we had a great time playing with our great-granddaughter in NY...  a quick visit but a good one.  From there we headed on to Maine, dropped Danny off and then took a side trip back to New Hampshire where we visited a high school classmate of mine.  John is working at a private campground this summer.  And from there...  on to Maine...
Yep!  We're in Maine!
Actually, we spent the night at the Walmart in Mexico.  Mexico, Maine, that is.  Located on Rt 2, we drive it after leaving NH, as we head over to Bangor.

Mt Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine...  
It's in Baxter State Park, and when driving north on I 95, there are a couple of pull-offs where, on a good day, you have a great view.  We've driven this route many times and this is the clearest view we've ever had.

I 95 ends at Houlton, Maine, and then you have a choice of either Rt 1, or Rt 1A to drive north.  Yes, this is the same Rt 1 that ends in the Florida Keys.
This time we chose to take Rt 1, which goes through Presque Isle.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle has a great display of our solar system...  
The sun is located in the science building on campus in PI, and in the proper sequence...  with size and distance in the right ratio, you can see the planets displayed along the 40 miles until Houlton, where Pluto is located in the Visitor Center there.  
Above are a few of the planets...  we've stopped at every one of them in the past, but this trip we were anxious to get to our destination.

I love this store in Presque Isle...
Look...  it sells yarn, wine and books!
What more could a girl ask for?

We made it to Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge around 1:30 on Thursday.  We knew the long weekend was coming up and wanted to catch up with Kirk before he left that day.
We spent about an hour talking (it's always good to see good friends again), and headed the 2 miles down the road to our RV site.

Each year we come here I keep a record of what animals we see...  and how soon after our arrival we spot our first critter.  I didn't think I'd ever break last year's record...  we got parked at 2:18 pm, I hopped in the car and drove down to the marsh...  spotted a moose at 2:21 pm.  
Well, this year as  I was coming around the bend, heading to the RV site, I saw a bear along the road...
Not only Mama Bear, but there were 3 cubs running across the road to catch up with her. 
I didn't get any photos worth keeping....  but hope to as the summer goes on.
Guess last year's record has been broken...  and don't think we can ever do any better than this year!

Lots of Blue-winged teal...  some Ring-neck ducks, a few Gadwalls...  some Canada Geese.
I haven't seen any merganzers yet...  nor any loons.

Already the battle between Bill and Bucky Beaver has started....
These two beavers were patrolling the pond across from our rig.  Their lodge is huge and right beside the road.  It doesn't cause any problems....  it's the dam along the main road that causes problems.  Bill has already taken the backhoe and knocked off a bit from the top of that dam to keep the road from flooding.

All the photos above were taken on Thursday.  Friday we finished getting set up.  All my bird feeders are up and being used.  I was still unloading the car when a hummingbird buzzed right past my head.  I had bird seed that comes in a bright orange bag.  Guess the hummer thought he'd found a huge red flower or feeder.

Unfortunately the internet doesn't work at all where our RV is parked.  Bill found that with our MiFi plugged in up at the maintenance shop, we can get internet there.  While that will limit how often we use our laptops, with some planning ahead, I should be able to check e-mail and keep my blog up to date in a timely manner.

Already I have lots to write about....  moose, bears, fox, deer....  lots of birds....  and the lovely weather.  Okay, so we woke up to snow yesterday morning....   More of all that later....

That's All For Today!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Still in Ohio....

We've been in Ohio 3 weeks...  or has it been longer?  I've loved this opportunity to watch spring arrive in all it's glory.  We've mowed the grass a couple of times...  had enough rain to make it really grow.  The bluebird box on the barn is occupied...  maybe even babies by now.  

I have 2 seed feeders out as well as 3 hummingbird feeders.  While I haven't gotten anything unusual, I enjoy what happens along...

 This Pine Siskin hung out for a while...

We get 4 different woodpeckers...  the Hairy, the Downy, the Pileated and the Red-bellied....
This male Red-bellied stops by several times a day.  The pileated spent some time right behind our rig.  We could see him but I couldn't get a good photo.  The Hairy and Downy sometimes come to the feeder but are more likely to be checking for grubs or larvae in old wood.
(flickers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers are also around - more birds in the woodpecker family)

The Eastern Towhee doesn't perch on the feeders...
They prefer to scratch around on the ground....  and scratch around they do!  Kicking up leaves and debris in search of food.  When I began birding this bird was called the "Rufus Sided Towhee", but somewhere along the line the Spotted and Eastern Towhee have been given separate status.

The song birds aren't the only ones we see...  yesterday as we were just arriving home, what should be walking out of our driveway?
These two turkeys are in the road, just a few feet past the turn into our lane.
The male on the right had a really long "beard"....  must have been 4" in length!

There's always something going on up here on the Ridge....  Of course Bill is always working on the rentals or doing some landscaping.  We have great renters in the old farm house...  a young couple who are expecting their first baby any day now.  They put in extensive gardens both for their own use and to sell produce to a local restaurant.  Their latest project is to grow hops...
They hired a Bobcat (with the operator) to put in 20' poles to make a "hop arbor".  Making beer is a big thing these days and I think they have plans to sell the hops to a local micro-brewery.  With plans like that, it appears that they plan to be our renters for a while longer.

Gasoline has gone up in price since we've been here...  I think it was $2.49 a gallon a month ago...  then went up to $2.59...  and this past weekend went up to $2.69....
I took this photo at the local Kroger store yesterday.
When was the last time you saw diesel fuel cheaper than gasoline?
(Okay, "cheaper" may not be the appropriate term, but you know what I mean).

I walked on the rails to trails bike path yesterday.  There are pools of water in the areas between the walking trail and the railroad tracks that still exist.
I never did get a good shot of all the baby ducks...  only one of this goose.
But I must have seen 2 dozen ducklings...  all following the same mom.  There were several families of ducks...  I love coming across those unexpected scenes.

Oh...  remember that Rossi Pasta I bought in Marietta last week?  Well, Kroger had fresh shrimp in their seafood case...  and along with some calamari, this is last night's dinner....
My version of Shrimp Scampi...
I seldom use "real" butter...  but this calls for butter, white wine, fresh parsley and of course the seafood and pasta.  It was delicious!

One last photo...
That's my sister and brother in front, and my son and me standing behind them.
We had breakfast the other morning at the restaurant where my son cooks.  I asked him if he made our omelets...  he told me that that depended on whether we liked them or not.

We have only a couple more days here...  Sunday morning we start our drive to Maine.  We have some stops along the way, so it will take us a while.

I've really enjoyed our time up here on the Ridge...  it's been special.  We plan to stop back in the fall on our way west again....  but there's the whole summer ahead of us.

That's All For Today!