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.
The summer is getting on. Still should plenty of birdsong, though there will be less than there was earlier. Today is pretty windy, too, so that will keep down song numbers, especially of those who sing from exposed perches. Maybe this wasn’t the right trail to pick today, but no softy are you.
Anyway, you enjoy being alone, well, except for your dog. She is very much a part of you and her presence a joy, not an intrusion. 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.
Your hand encounters a low branch and you feel the leaves. Palm-shaped. Five lobes. Smooth margins with a few large teeth. Must be a sugar maple. You reach for it again to be sure. This time you find the same general shape, but toothed margins. OK, is it a red or a sugar? It takes a moment to figure out that there are two branches on two young trees here.
A call blows in on the wind. You listen Oh, yes, a mourning dove. No shortage of them here. In the shelter of the trees there isn’t so much wind, not even enough to keep away the bugs as an insistent whine lets you know. You hope the repellent you got in the native american craft store will do its job. So far, so good. And there is somebody to eat the bugs themselves (long)(MIST). You wondered if you would hear the center’s resident phoebe. Good.
You carry on, the path tending upward. You hear it, high enough up to get a bit wind-blown. Now you get it.
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 voice. 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. You’ve heard flickers referred to as groundpeckers because they spend a lot of time on the ground eating ants. They’re about the only woodpeckers that do so.
The wind whistles 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. The sharp ‘pik’ that sounds from the same general location confirms the identification.
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 feel for a leaf. Almost palm size and uneven at the base.
You have now reached the ridge tops. Wow! Some wind. You lean into it to keep from blowing away. And you button your jacket. A lot of times you can hear a red-tailed hawk from up here, but he’d have to be sitting on your shoulder bellowing to be heard over the wind up here today.
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. Oops, smell of recently-used cat box. It is a white spruce after all. Good thing you checked; you now remember finding one up here another time.
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. They generally sing from pretty low so the wind shouldn’t bother them much.
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. You know there are some up here from previous trips.
From the branches above you comes a song (long)(MIST). You always have trouble with these. That must be a purple finch, though.
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 from the low branches. Cardinal. You remember them as being beautiful, but you scarcely noticed them until you could no longer rely on vision to detect birds. Now there seem to be lots of them. Are they becoming more common, or are they just easier to find by sound than by sight? Who could you ask? This is familiar. Sure, a prairie warbler.
You pause for a moment to listen to a call from the grass (long) (WK). An American toad. Guess the wind isn’t bothering him much down there. The drowsy sound (DVG) of bees says summer.
Back to the starting point. Go inside or take another trail? That is the question. Wish all life’s problems required decisions as painless as that.