Welcome to the Windy Ridge trail. This trail takes you through upland areas of the Penquis Virtual Nature Center. It follows the upper ridgeline for some distance. It is better not to try this trail on cold, windy days. Remember the name. 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, long files may take half a minute or so to download.
Spring has sprung. Mud season has passed, and the ground is dry underfoot except in very low areas. Leaf-out has just started. You decide to do this walk on your own. Your ride is a wonderful person but can’t stop talking, and that is disasterous for someone dependent on sound for the enjoyment and understanding of nature.
Anyway, you enjoy being alone, well, except for your dog. 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 urge the dog onward, fold up your cane, and you are off.
Almost before you get started, you hear a long, deep, rattling snore from the grassy area you are traversing. It isn’t quite right for an insect or bird. Must be a frog. You search your memory. Yes, a northern leopard frog. The frog stops, but another sound is heard from the same general area. Killdeer, you decide.
Your feet scuff on some last-year’s leaves, so you reach down and pick one up. It is pretty well disintegrated by this time, but you can still feel that it is roughly hand-shaped with lobes and deep clefts between. Feels like a maple of some sort. The edges have a few large teeth, so it must be a sugar maple. Cane time again. You find a tree and feel the bark. Yes, it has that long, flat ridge feel of the sugar maples in this area. Might be the same tree. Or maybe not. Your foot encounters a twig and you pick that up. The buds and the leaf scars grow opposite to each other. Maple, likely, in view of the leaf you just found. This is probably a stand of sugar maples you are in, though distinguishing the twigs of sugar from red maple is a little uncertain for you. Let’s see, the red has larger buds… Oh, well, this could be either.
What on earth was that? Oh, yes, a mourning dove. They are common here.
You carry on, the path tending upward. Here comes another sound. What might that be?
Then you hear it. Click to take a good listen
Easy! A black-capped chickadee. Too bad they can’t all be so easy. Some of those little monsters are tough to identify. This one, though, is Maine’s state bird. 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 sound 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. It must be in the open fields around the center or across the road in the cleared area. And there is the crow’s cousin, the bluejay.
From somewhere off in the distance comes a long, ringing call. It is familiar, but what is it? It is too long and not sharp or resonant enough for a pileated woodpecker. Must be a flicker. Good. They’re back.
The breeze sighs through the branches of the trees. Are they conifers or deciduous. You strain to distinguish the small differences in sound that must be present. A quick drumming sounds. It is too fast to count and not terribly loud. Must be a downy woodpecker.
You check the sides of the trail for trees. Here is one. Bark peeling in long sheets. Obviously a birch. But which one? A search locates a small branch, and you scratch it. Wintergreen smell. Must be a yellow birch.
You have now reached the ridge tops. Did you decide earlier that there was only a breeze? Well, down there it was pretty calm. Now you lean into the wind to keep from blowing away. And you button your jacket. What was that thin scream blowing away overhead?
Listen again. Yup, there it is. Maybe it is a good snowshoe hare year. Good hawk food. The hares vary in about an eleven year cycle. You make a note to ask somebody if this is an up point in the cycle. You lean into the wind and continue on.
Almost lost in the wind a friendly chattering sounds overhead. Tree swallow. Good. Not many bugs up here, but any they can eat will be a welcome donation.
Soon you come to a choice point. This is the end of the short loop of the Windy Ridge Trail. 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
- Return to the trailhead, or you can head back to
- the lobby
You’ve decided to continue with the Trail. The wind is pretty fierce, but no wimp are you. Besides, you know that the trail drops down below the ridgetop soon to loop back to the center.
There is a definate sighing of foliage from your right, just off the trail. You feel with your cane and find a branch. Must be a small tree. Your hand closes on it. Hmmm. It is an evergreen with short, stiff four-sided or round needles growing singly. That should tell you.
Stiffish fat needles growing singly. Short. It has to be a spruce. White spruce is uncommon here, but you crush the needles to test. Whoa, how about that! You haven’t smelled anything like that since you had to clean the litter box when the cat had a kidney infection. It is a white spruce after all. Good thing you checked; you had been ready to pass it off as a red.
The trail drops you below the ridgetop and the wind relents some. From nearby a beautiful song comes clear, sweet. It is a hermit thrush, perhaps the sweetest sound in the bird world.
Next your cane locates a tree, and you decide to check it out. The bark is sort of thin flakes. Feels like red pine You reach up, but the bark remains consistent as far up as you can reach. You find several clusters of dry needles on the ground. They are all in twos and finger-lengthy. Definately a red pine.
From the branches above you comes a song. You always have trouble with these. That must be a purple finch, though. This one is easier (DVG) A yellow-rumped warbler. You also like the alternate name of butterbutt.
You continue on down the trail. An elusive fragrance in the air reminds you that flowers are blooming. Spring is when the world breaks out in scents and sounds and becomes a comfortable place for you.
Just before you come out of the forest, you hear one of the familiar sounds of the eastern deciduous forests. A red-eyed vireo. It can go on like that for hours. Nearby another bird bursts into song. This is a wood thrush, distinguishable from other thrushes by that gargled note. But still beautiful.
You hear something overhead. Sort of a “chick-o-ree” or “per-chick-o-ree”. (long)(MIST) Well, that could only be one thing, an American goldfinch. This is one time when the ear birder is better off than the eye birder.
You are almost back to your starting point. It has been great fun. You got some exercise, some time alone, and found that you really can enjoy and learn about nature by touch and sound — and smell, you add remembering the white spruce.
You take a casual feel with the cane, and find some low bushes. You reach out and grab a branch and –“ouch, damn it!” — learn to be careful where you grab. You just found the rosebushes that somebody told you feeds mockingbirds during the winter.