Mountains to Marsh Trail — Spring
Welcome to the Mountains to Marsh trail. This trail takes you from upland areas of the Penquis Virtual Nature Center to the lowlands. Just follow along and carry out any instructions you may get. Try to decide what you are hearing, smelling, touching, or feeling before going on to get the answer. If you want to test yourself, or play a game with yourself or someone else, keep track of your right answers. Ready to start? Remember, files marked long can take a half minute or so to download.
It is a cool day in the overlap (that only sometimes occurs) between mud season and leaf-out. Cool is a relative term. Two months ago this would have been a heat wave. A month from now it would be considered downright chilly.
It is rare you can be alone these days. There was a time when that was a great joy to you, experiencing solitude in the outdoors, but now it is difficult to find a time and a place to do so. Today you have talked your ride into letting you do the trail by yourself to savor that experience. You give your radio a little pat. It is security without encumbrance. Your cane picks out the guide rope along the trail, you grab the rope, and you are off.
Remains of last years leaves rustle under your feet. Your feet also catch some sort of small object in the trail.
You pick it up and find that it is a branch of some sort. It has short, firm, thin leaves as long as the last joint of your first finger growing from the sides of the twig. So it must be either a hemlock or a fir. Oh, yes. Aren’t hemlock needles softer and a bit shorter than this?
It must be a balsam fir, the only fir in our region. If you could find the tree, you know you’d feel resin pockets in the bark, another characterist of this species.
You walk on. Here is a familiar call. Click to take a good listen
Now that is an easy one, Maine’s state bird, the black capped chicakdee. The dee-dee-dee call that gives him his name is an alarm call. It is roughtly equivalent to asking you just what you think you are doing invading his territory.
Another noise stops you. Back in the direction of the nature center you hear a familiar sound. Today is your day for easy calls on the birds. This one everyone knows. You listen for a moment.
The crow is one of the most familiar of birds. You might expect to hear an equally familiar relative of the crow today, too. And no sooner said than here it is.
The bluejay’s call is interpreted variously as ‘thief, thief, thief’ or ‘jay, jay, jay’. Of course the jay’s calls are as varied as the interpretations. The birds often imitate red shouldered hawks to drive other birds away from feeders. The bell sound this one was giving is actually sort of musical. Well, sort of.
Overhead, you hear one of the truly evocative sounds of nature. (DVG) Migrating Canada geese, heading home to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Some races of Canada goose don’t migrate. But those overhead are doing so.
Off in the distance comes a rapid series of notes. Listen. It must be a flicker. These are the only woodpecker that often feeds on the ground, eating ants. So is it really an ant-pecker? You puff a bit over the a rise and hear a relative of the flicker. (long)(DVG) Must be a hairy woodpecker.
The trail begins to descend. Finally. You must be heading down to the low-lying areas. Another bird (DVG) sings. Sounds like he is sort of running out of breath by the end of the song. A yellow-rumped warbler. Didn’t they used to call them myrtle warblers?
You sweep your cane back and forth overhead and beside the trail and encounter branches. Squarish needles growing out singly from the branch, about as long as the last joint on a person’s finger. You crush one, but get no smell. A red spruce. And onward.
Now you find the bugs. How exciting! And you find something that eats them. (long)(MIST) ‘Thanks, phoebe,’ you call. The pheobe just says, ‘phoe-bee, phoe-blee’.
The trail levels out. You must be down. Your cane encounters branches and you feel along one. Ah-ha! Here are some tiny cones on a leafless shrub. Must be an alder. You’re definately in the marsh area now. And, yes, a bird of marshy shrubs tunes up. A yellow warbler. A little early, but not too much so. Overhead another bug-eater makes its welcome presence known. Tree swallow.
This is the end of the short loop. Wait! What is that?(long) (WK) Wood frogs! You don’t hear them as much during the day as at night, but here they are.
Well. You can head on back to the lobby where it is warm and you can brag a bit, or you can go back to the trail heads. Or you can continue on with this trail. What do you wish to do?
- Continue with the rest of the trail or you can
- Pointer: Return to the trailhead, or you can head back to
- Pointer: the lobby
You’ve decided to continue with the Mountains to Marsh Trail. You know you are near the beaver pond. Spring activity should have started up. Was that the splash of a beaver tail on water, warning, perhaps, of your presence?
A bird. A very expected one. This little character is establishing a territory in the marsh vegetation. Have a listen. Yup, a song sparrow.
You walk on past the area. A tree arrests your cane and your attention. It is obviously an evergreen. It has short, rounded needles growing singly along the branch. A spruce. And this is a wet area. Which makes the tree a black spruce.
It is up the hill a ways beyond you, but here comes a friendly sound. A red-breasted nuthatch. Conifers there, though you believe there are mainly hardwoods around you, lowland hardwoods. And you’re right. That song will be heard only from deciduous forests. It is a red-eyed vireo. And from a slightly drier region in the undergrowth, a loud tea-cher with the accent on the second syllable announces the ovenbird. They are called that because their nest resembles an ancient clay oven. Someobdy else has returned to the area. A scarlet tanager.
Just as you make the turn to head across the bench and back to the center, you hear behind you another sound of spring (long)(WK). The spring peeper.
The trail is rising again. Was it really a good idea to carry on when the last part will be uphill? Oh, well, you’re almost back to the trail head. Not much bird activity right now, it seems. Another bird. This is one you wish you could see. The northern cardinal male is a beautiful red color with a crest and a black mask. But the song is wonderful, too.
Well, it has been fun, but you are back at the trail head. You find the various pointers and check them for directions. It has definately been fun.