Granite Hills Trail -- Summer

Granite Hills Trail -- Summer

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.

It really is summer. Not only is it hot, but the drowsy hum of bees in the center’s garden – to say nothing of the mixed and varied fragrances coming from the same place – and the buzzing of the cicadas in the trees all spell summer. It’s cloudy; otherwise, it might be too hot to walk today.

Your ride has decided to come along this time. You hope she won’t talk too much. She is a very nice person, but not terribly knowledgeble about nature. She probably still thinks that they dig maple syrup bottles out of a mine. She has said she’d be glad to guide you around the trail. Your dog makes no comment on this; it’s probably too hot for her to be bothered.

Suddenly your friend clutches your arm just as a loud humming sound passes quickly by. “What was that?” she asks. “Some big bug dive-bombed us.” You reassure her that it was nothing more than a hummingbird heading for the scent garden. She keeps hold of your arm and you grin wondering just who is guiding whom on this hike. That one, however, is an insect (DVG) a yellowjacket. You duck and move on.

The grass feels luxurient under your feet. There has been that ideal combination of rain and warm days. There is usually a toad or two around here if it too hot. Now that is taking a cue! (long)(WK). An American toad. Pretty musical for a creature seldom associated with beauty. You ask your friend if she knows what that is. “What what is?” she asks, so you explain.

You enter the woods, your friend chattering, of course. “I wonder what this is,” she says. “What what is?” you ask. She guides your hand to a tree that has interlocking ridges. You tell her to find a leaf and a twig. She pulls one down for you, and you feel along it. No buds at the base of the leaves. That means that they really are leaflets and that this is a compound leaf. “Ash,” you tell her. “Probably white.” She is silent. You hear another sound, somewhat surprising. Generally they call only at night. (long)(WK) You tell your friend about gray treefrogs. She remains silent.

But a little bird in the lower limbs of the tree doesn’t. You pause to listen Your friend, of course hears nothing until you point out the song to her. “Black-capped chickadee,” you explain. “It’s our state bird. It’s also the state bird of Massachetts.” She asks wonderingly, “Do you know everything?” You laugh, pleased.

You point out the next bird to her a familiar resident. The mourning dove. If she is still impressed, she doesn’t say so.

Next comes a less pleasant sound. That insistent buzz of a deer fly. You hope your repellent works. You remember hearing that these insects relish the taste of it, and you hope it is only a joke. The next bird you hear is especially welcome. It eats flying insects. (long)(MIST) You explain to your friend about phoebes and other insect eating birds.

Another noise stops you. Also back in the direction of the nature center you hear a familiar sound. 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. When you ask, even your friend recognizes this one.

She does not, however, recognize the next one. here it is. So you tell her it is a bluejay.

You also tell her about bluejays imitating red shouldered hawks to drive other birds away from feeders. She is scandalized.

You continue on the trail without hearing much else except your friend for awhile. You wonder what kind of woods you are in. Deciduous, you think, but you haven’t found any material since the ash. 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 point out both to your friend and tell her about their preferred habitat and how you know from that that there are deciduous woods around you.

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.

You puff a bit, but try to keep your friend from noticing. She is definately breathing hard, though.

As often happens here, a faint scream sounds from overhead. You point it out to your friend. “Sounds like something in pain,” she says. “Or mad.” You smile indulgently and tell her about red-tailed hawks.

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. You explain all this to your friend.

You haven’t gone far when your cane finds a branch near the trail. You tell your friend to stop while you investigate. The branch 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. Not a bad song, either. A veery. You point out all to your friend who just says, “Wow!” at your display of knowledge. It is nice of her not to change the subject; that’s what people usually do when they find out you know more about some subject than they do.

You are suddenly deafened by a scream in your ear, and your friend paws at your arm. “Snake! A great huge slimy thing! Bite your head off! You’d just swell up and die.” Patiently you point out that snakes are not slimy and that there are no poisonous ones around this area, anyway. “What did it look like?” you ask. She tells you it was about 6 feet long and as big around as your leg. You manage to get the proportions reduced to something more likely and find it was maybe 2 feet long and striped. “An eastern garter snake,” you decide. That’s the only striped one in this area.

You have enjoyed your role as tour guide, but you are back at the trail head. You find the various pointers, but as you do, another familiar bird pipes up. A mockingbird. You tell your friend that scientists say that these birds have spread following the spread of the multiflora rose, the fruits of which they eat. You talk about rose hip jelly. She has seen some in a store, and offers to pick some up to eat with you over toasted bagels.

Just as you are ready to head inside, you hear another bird (long)(MIST) Wonderful! A bluebird. A fitting finish to the day, as you explain about bluebirds and nest boxes.

image: Pixabay