Monday, July 20, 2009

Howling With The Wolves

We were hunting for wolves and found moose.

Rick and I saw an article in the local newspaper one moring about the Wolf Inquiry Project. They were looking for volunteers to go out into the woods and howl and record any responses you might get. They are trying to determine if there are wolves in Maine. Apparently they are well established to our west and north in Canada but no concrete evidence of their existence in Maine.
We thought it sounded interesting so we went to the Audobon building up in Holden one Saturday in June to learn more about wolves and learn how to use the high tech recording equipment, and signed up to go out for a couple of days which we did earlier this week.
We decided to go to western Maine, up around Stratton and Eustis. We have some familiarity with that region and the WIP folks wanted it surveyed, so it seemed like a good choice. We arrived in Carrabassett Valley Monday around noon, dropped the truck camper off at my friend Cindy's office on the Sugarloaf Access Road, and took the Honda Element and headed up the Caribou Pond Road. This was probably the roughest road we were on during our whole survey. The idea was to scout the roads, and then go back during the night sometime between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. After traversing some really rough pot holes and some pretty decrepit bridges, we were unsure whether we wanted to wander that route at night. We returned and picked up the truck and headed out to the Bigelow Preserve to set up camp before tackling our next scouting route.
Things had changed slightly at the Bigelow campsites since I was there last summer on a solo trip. One branch of the road into the campsites had been closed off and loggers were using it as a logging site within feet of the other arm of the access road. There were a group of campers in the big campsite and what appeared to be a fairly permanent tent (all tarped over and tucked in tight) at the smaller site right next to the water and 3 or 4 young men hanging out down at the third shorefront campsite. No one ever came to the tented/tarped site but we couldn't very well pull up and park the truck in their space even if they weren't there. Though there's a 14 day limit on camping at these sites and a policy of not allowing people to leave their tents up unless they're using them, it's tough to enforce so we set up in a little spot in the woods where we couldn't see the water and wondered whether our neighbors, with flames painted on their cars, were going to be tenable.
We left the camper, not set up, and headed out to scout the Old Dead River Road within the Bigelow Preserve It has a few hiking trails but no houses or tent sites. We drove out about 4 miles and found no major obstacles. The road was rough but felt like a highway compared to the Caribou Pond Road. At the end was a gate that prevented us from going further, but there was plenty of room to turn around. On our way back we saw our first moose of the trip. She was trotting down the road when we came upon her but by the time I got my camera out, she had headed off the road and completely disappeared into the camouflage of the woods.
We decided that the Dead River Road was a definite to survey later and headed out to find the King and Bartlett Road, which according to the Maine Atlas (every true Mainer's Bible), veered off from the Flagstaff Road just a couple hundred feet in. We found the Flagstaff Road easily and though it didn't really follow the route indicated on the Atlas, we continued down it, going through some good size puddles and pot holes till just before it dead ended at Flagstaff Lake. There we came across a puddle too deep to cross. The road had only gone about a mile or two before dead ending so we went back to the beginning and tried a branch off to another road we'd seen. Our Garmen called it by names different than the Atlas (Scott Road/Grand View Road/ and eventually there were signs indicating Trails End Pub was up ahead) and we continued on, going over some of the roughest terrain we'd seen yet. A couple of times I egged Rick on to go through puddles or over pot holes that were pretty sketchy, but when we came upon a puddle that was a good 20 feet across he went out in his waterproof sandals and walked into the puddle to see how deep it was. It came up almost to his knees, which wasn't too bad, but then discovered that just beneath the surface was a boulder sitting in the middle of the puddle that was also almost up to his knees. There was not enough room to go to either side of it, and it'd definitely take out the undercarriage of the Element, so we decided we'd better try to turn around – not an easy feat on a path that was only slightly wider than the width of the Element. However, an 8 point turn later,and we were back on the path headed out.
We decided to stop by Cindy's house in Stratton to try and get the scoop of why the Flagstaff Road was so different than indicated on the Atlas. After some discussion, we realized there's more than one Flagstaff Road in Eustis and we weren't on the one shown on the Atlas. In fact, the “road” we were on (indicated by a single dotted line on the Atlas) was really just a snowmobile trail. Cindy was quite surprised to learn we'd gotten as far as we had on it. But by this time it was almost dark so our scouting had to end and we were left with just the Old Dead River Road and maybe the Caribou Pond Road to survey that night.
We went back and set up the camper, had some dinner and a beer, and killed some time till it was late enough to start the survey. At 9:30 we got out the recording equipment, a Fostex digital recorder and a Sennheiser boom mic with a windscreen cover and headed out for our first stop. I'm.sure we looked quite the sight, standing out there in the drizzling rain in the middle of nowhere at 12 o'clock at night, the heavy shoulder bag filled with the recorder, headlamps strapped to our foreheads, big headphones, and the mike, howling like fools. It's definitely something you want to do far enough out where no one is likely to come across you.
Unfortunately, after two hours of howling and waiting for responses, we'd heard nothing but some bullfrogs. And the weather was too sketchy to try some of the other more remote sites we'd scouted earlier, so we called it a night.
We awoke at 4:00 the next morning to loggers working right next to our campsite. Chainsaws, trucks, and a log loader and it was still dark, and still drizzling.
We made coffee from coffee bags, had some Kashi and decided we'd check out Cathedral Pines campground on our way to our next scouting trip. It is a beautifully well maintained campground right in Eustis, with clean bathrooms, showers, quiet, spacious sites with electricity and water. Definitely not for those who prefer a more rustic setting but the cathedral pines are truly magnificent and reminded me how much I'd like to see a similar stand of redwoods when we're in CA next week.

Unfortunately there were no sites open on the water but I think we'll go back up in September with some of the band members and try to get a waterfront site. We told the lady we'd be back later to bring the camper in and set up.
We headed north on Route 27 again and drove past the real King and Bartlett Road and stopped down beyond Serampus Falls at a short pull off looking up toward Sisk Mountain. It's a beautiful location in a big dale with great views of both Sisk and part of Kibby I think. We couldn't see any construction on the side of the mountain we were viewing so if it's Kibby then they must be putting the windmills in on the other side. We certainly saw a lot of evidence of construction on the Gold Brook Road which we decided to pass by, though it had been our initial destination in this area before we realized it was the site of the huge windmill project up here.
The area looked like it would be rife with coyote, if not wolves so we put it at the top of our list for later that evening and then drove back to King and Bartlett Road. The weather was becoming a bit less drizzly and we'd stopped at Serampus Falls on our way north. We also made a stop at the DOT maintenance building where we watched and photographed our second moose of the trip, having spotted him in the bog on our way by.
Moosie #2 - didn't like his picture taken much and wandered slowly off into the woods. But notice the beginner antlers and the beard.
King and Bartlett Road is a nice wide, well maintained dirt road that went on for just over 4 miles before dead ending at a gate and station near Jim Pond. With very sparse traffic, and no houses, it seemed like a good place to survey. We took a side trip down a road labeled as Farm Hill Road. About a mile in there was an older but good sized camper trailer, and about a half mile beyond that the road started getting too sketchy so we turned around. We figured we'd wait till later to decide whether we wanted to make the trek down this road late at night.

Photo: looking down Farm Hill Road.

On our way out, we passed a big four wheel drive truck with a couple guys in it headed down the road. I wonder if they got further than we did or if they turned around also.
Our next destination was a dirt road off Route 16, headed to Rangely. On our way there we pulled into the sandpit where moose are often seen and sure enough we got to watch and photograph our third moose of the trip.

Moosie #3 - He's definitely a happy moose. He also has the furry little beginner antlers and what I think they call a beard hanging down from his neck. Not sure what that's all about.

We drove down the dirt road (I can't remember the name of it now) for several miles but never were more than a minute or two between houses or camps. It seemed too populated with humans to be a likely location for wolves so we crossed it off our list and headed back to the camper to spend some time at our nicely groomed campsite. We started to eat at the picnic table but it was drizzling and occasionally raining again so we ate a sandwich and had a beer and took naps to refresh ourselves for later. Rick had told the woman at the office when we checked in that we'd be leaving for a few hours and coming in very late so she was sure to give us passes to the gate that locked at 11 pm. We headed over to the Stratton Plaza for dinner at about 6:30 and had fun playing the Megatouch games while waiting for our pizza. Cindy stopped by and Mary was working at The Plaza so we had a chance for a short visit before heading back out.
We started out at the valley looking at Sisk Mountain, to no avail. We then drove to King and Bartlett Road and followed the same routine as the night before: drive a mile in; stop and take latitude, longitude, and temperature readings, howl quietly for nearby canids, listen for two minutes, howl louder, listen for two minutes, howl loudly again, and listen for two more minutes. The recorder always has a ten second loop going so if we heard anything, we could hit the record button and we'd be able to capture everything we'd heard ten seconds prior to hitting the button. Unfortunately, we had no opportunity to hit the record button. There were sounds of gurgling brooks one wouldn't have heard without the boom mic and though it had cleared and we could see the stars, we could also hear the sound of the rain drops falling off all the leaves in the woods as a gentle wind blew. At times the wind would gust a bit and the rain drops would fall suddenly, and a twig might break, but through the boom mic it would sound more like some creature thundering through the woods. Spooky cool.
So we returned to the camper later that night (sighting moose #4 on the way home) with some data of where canids were NOT found on a certain night, but with no recordings of howls to be analyzed at the university (Tufts I think it is) who's working with the WIP folks on the project. Just because we didn't find wolves there on that particular night doesn't mean they're not around that area. Perhaps we, or another volunteer, will survey that area again later this summer and maybe at that time we'll find different results.
Here's two more of my favorite photos of moosie #3.

Popham Beach Vacation - Post 2 - July 11th

The week at Popham was the best weather we've had all summer, with only two days of rain out of seven. We spent time at the beach playing Bocce (Rick and I are the official champions having beat the Bernier boys and even skunked them one game), swimming, frisbee, playing with Babbs and Shay Shay, and a little kayaking. My sea kayak is not really a surf kayak. Rick and I watched someone in a great surf kayak later in the week that looked like a blast for use along the shore. But I paddled out to one of the islands and Richard gave it a try later, flipping it as he was getting in but climbing right back in and paddling out a few hundred feet and back. It was pretty rough seas for one's first time in a kayak.
The NitPickers played every night but one, with various campers stopping by to listen for a while and we'd head to bed fairly early and rise fairly early each morning. Friday night the band was asked to go up on the deck and play to the whole campground.
The two days it rained were spent reading some good books within view of the ocean and listening to the sound of the waves as well as a trip into Brunswick to do a little shopping and dinner at an Irish Pub in downtown Bath.
Overall it was a lovely week with mostly great weather and we went ahead and reserved the cottage for the same week next year.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Popham Beach Cottage vacation

We arrived Saturday afternoon to a blue sky, beautiful sunshine and Annie's margaritas. We quickly brought our things into the cottage and headed out to enjoy the beautiful day. We were able to grab a few rays of sun before the first rainstorm hit. A heavy downpour for about a half hour – just long enough to put our cottage in order – and then back out to more sunshine.

Here's a pic of the cottage. We were located just off the dunes, well within sight and earshot of the surf.

Enjoying my margarita.

It had been so long since we'd seen clear skies I had no idea we were in for a full moon till it rose in all its glory Saturday night, shimmering over the breaking waves.

Sunday morning I rose shortly after the sun and took a solo walk on the deserted beach.

I love walking along and being the first footprints of the day

It was still chilly - maybe around 55 degrees - so I dressed warm. By the time I arrived back at the cottage around eight, it had warmed up considerably and we were ready for shorts.

I love all the interesting markings and shapes you find on the beach early in the morning.

Whatever event of nature that created this marking seemed to be questioning . . . or is it asking, lend me your ear?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Morning at Camp

I wake to the sound of the loons calling from somewhere out in the fog drenched stream, the chatter of the red squirrels, the call of the crows, and the whistle of an osprey soaring overhead. I feel the tight muscles in my lower back grouching for lack of movement and delight in the feel of the soft sheets against my skin. I'm guessing it's about 5:00 and when I turn to glance at the clock, see I'm “dead on balls accurate.” Though I had been feeling a little lonely and out of sorts last night, not being able to get into Deb's “best book she's ever read” and feeling too uninspired to drum or write or even listen to music, I'm now once again reveling in the freedom allowed by solitude and complete lack of a schedule, to get up or not, depending solely on my own desires. No worry about the deafening sound of the coffee grinder, but to my own ears, or that my puttering about at this early hour will disturb my partner's sleep. No questions of “whatchya writing” as I tap away on my keyboard, or “whatchya doin” as I'm sitting there doing absolutely nothing but being present with the emerging morning. I can blather away about nothing (as evidenced here) with no expectation of some great revelation to be enjoyed later by a reader who is not the writer. Or sit and watch the various shades of white turn gradually into rippling water and summer trees. There's no newspaper delivery out here so no news to be consumed, no puzzles to puzzle over, no tv blaring stock prices or predictions. Knowing that all of those things that I've come to love are just a 45 minute drive away allows me to luxuriate in their absence. If I didn't have a sweet man at home, would I feel as peaceful in my solitude? If I didn't have my connection to the world through newspapers and tv available to me at any time, would I feel so content in my ignorance of local and world events? If I didn't have my seven room house on the lake with all the accoutrements of modern day living, would I so readily celebrate the simplicity of my one room camp on the marsh? I think not.