Granite Hills Trail -- Spring

Granite Hills Trail -- Spring

Welcome to the Granite Hills trail. This trail takes you through upland areas of the Penquis Virtual Nature Center. 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 labled long can take several seconds to perhaps a minute to download.

You have come on an early warm day just after mud season and before leaf-out has really gotten started. It’s pleasant to feel the mild air and to be outdoors without so many layers of clothes you can hardly move. After months of feeling like a mummy, you can feel like a human again.

You are enjoying walking alone. It comes so seldom to you 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. 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.

The grass feels dry under your feet. Hasn’t really started growing much yet, though you are sure there are some fresh patches. Just wait for a rain and a few more warm days. Oh! There’s someone who isn’t waiting (long)(WK). An American toad. Pretty musical for a creature seldom associated with beauty.

A few steps farther on, your foot kicks a branch lying on the trail. You pick it up. It is obviously an evergreen, because there are long, feathery needles on it. The needles grow in groups, or bundles. That should probably tell you what it is right there, but you stroke them for a minute trying to remember what to do to be sure. Oh, yes. You isolate a bundle — didn’t you read that the botanical name was ‘fascicle’? And so what? There are several needles, four, no five. What does that make it?

A white pine, of course. That is one way to remember. The white pine has five needles per bundle and five letters in its name. It is also the only pine in the region with more than two needles per bundle. Your remember hearing that nearer the coast you sometimes find pitch pines with three stiff needles per group. Of course, if you’re around where people have planted trees, it could be anything. Still, there aren’t very many five-needle pines that will survive in this climate.

Wow! Great! This isn’t the first time you’ve heard the sound (MIST) this spring, but this is the first time you’ve gotten the full impact. The geese are moving north!(DVG) And here is a familiar resident. The mourning dove.

And here’s another. Click to take a good listen

Now that is an easy one! Too bad they can’t all be so easy. Some of those little monsters are tough to tell. This one, though, is 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.

While listening to the chickadee, you swat at one of the liabilities of the season as it lands on your arm and tries to extract its pound of flesh — or quart of blood. It makes you especially happy to hear the next bird (long)(MIST) from back towards the center. A phoebe. You have to love something that eats biting insects.

Another noise stops you. Also 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. It must be in the open fields around the center or across the road in the cleared area.

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.

You continue on the trail without hearing much else for awhile. You wonder what kind of woods you are in. Deciduous, you think, but you can’t find anything near enough the trail to be sure. And then comes the answer. Thanks, little bird. White-breasted nuthatches are found only in deciduous trees. A ringing tea-cher, with the accent on the second syllable sounds nearby. An ovenbird. They are found in the undergrowth of deciduous and mixed woods.

You sweep your cane back and forth overhead and beside the trail again and finally encounter branches. A bit of groping brings one to hand. Where are the buds? Oh, yes. They seem to be growing in a bunch near the end of the twig. It would be nice to get a feel of the trunk, but it seems to be a small tree, too young to have distinctive bark. Still, you think you know what it is.

The northern red oak is about the only tree growing in this region that has buds clustered toward the end of the twig that way. Oh, if you know where to look, you might find other oaks, but they really aren’t major parts of the flora of central Maine. Wow, was that what you think it was?

This is the end of the short loop. You can head on back to the lobby where you can sit down, or you can go back to the trail heads. Or you can continue on with this trail. What do you wish to do?

You’ve decided to continue with the Granite Hills Trail. Almost immediately you come out on the exposed ridge that reminds you that this is called the Ridge Trail system. It’s steep here.

But are not going to wimp out. You continue on, puffing a bit as the trail winds up the hill. Well, they do call it part of the ridge trail system. You try to keep down the puffing; it makes it harder to hear what’s going on around you.

You are now right at the top of the ridge,and the wind has become a factor to recon with. Amazing how much stronger it seems here than farther down. Suddenly, overhead, you hear a deep croaking cry, carried off quickly by the wind. A raven. Great. You wonder if they are still courting. Ravens often play in the wind on winter days. They must have a nest by now.

The trail starts down into the forest. It must be a coniferous forest. That was a red-breasted nuthatch, unlike the white-breast, a bird of coniferous forests.

Beyond the nuthatch, you hear another bird voice. Listen carefully. Ouch! That’s a tough one. It’s got to be one of the red finches. Out here in the woods it’s probably a purple finch. As if to confirm your guess, you hear soft, dry chip notes. Yep, purple finch. Onward and downward.

You haven’t gone far when your cane finds a branch near the trail. It has short, soft, linear leaves growing singly from both sides of the twig and seems attached to a thick trunk with ridged and flaky bark. An eastern hemlock, probably. But the tree is forgotten in a riot of birdsong that erupts almost at your side. What a beautiful song! It can only be a hermit thrush, considered by many to have the most beautiful song of all birds. A little beyond you hear another thrush. It’s a bit early for this one, but there he is. A veery. And there is another sound from nearby. It is only about head height. Either it is in a small tree or shrub, or the lower branches of a large tree. It is a prairie warbler. If you remember the guide in the museum correctly, it is probably in a small tree or shrub.

Well, it has been fun, but you are back at the trail head. You find the various pointers, but as you do, another familiar bird pipes up. A mockingbird. Scientists say that these birds have spread following the spread of the multiflora rose, the fruits of which they eat. So do humans sometimes. You have enjoyed rose hip jelly upon occasion. So now you are back. You check the pointers for directions. It has been fun.

image: Pixabay