Posts Tagged ‘American Black Bear’


Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and traveling it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. The one I chose to hike on this day is in Swanzey and dates from the mid-1800s.


The road itself is wide and flat but can be rocky in places. A vehicle with good ground clearance could easily navigate it, at least until it came to the streams that cross the road. The one bridge that I saw hasn’t been maintained, so stream crossing would be a bit of a gamble. According to the Swanzey Town History the road was originally laid out in 1848 and went from the village of West Swanzey to the Chesterfield town line. From that point the town of Chesterfield took over and continued it up the valley to the “Keene and Chesterfield highway,” which I think must now be route 9 that runs east to west.


The many small streams and rivulets that drain down from the hillsides empty into California Brook, which runs alongside the road for miles. California Brook is a strange name for a brook in New Hampshire and I’ve tried to find the name’s origin but haven’t had any luck. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.


This was a cold hike; in shady spots there were still traces of the snow that fell several days ago.


Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) don’t mind a little snow. The tough leathery leaves will stay green under the snow all winter long. In spring they will turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.


Foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew along the old road. This plant has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I still like the native best, I think.


Just off the road a small pool had formed and frozen over. It was much like the vernal pools that we see in spring that are so important to wildlife.


I came out here several years ago and was able to drive over this bridge but I doubt I’d try it now. Part of it looks to be fairly rotten. There’s a drop of 3 or 4 feet to the stream bed under it.


A snowmobile or a 4 wheeler could get over the bridge with no problem in spite of the rotted and missing planks, but it looked like it would be tricky for a wider vehicle. I was glad I decided to hike it, especially since a second bridge further up the road had washed away completely. The flooding that happened here a few years ago must have taken it. Someone had tried to fill the stream bed with crushed stone but it would still be a tough crossing. The flooding also destroyed a beaver dam and the large beaver pond that was out here several years ago has drained away.


Moss covered stone walls line the road. They were most likely built in the mid-1700s after the original land grants and years before the road was built. According the town history most traveling was done on foot and bridle paths in the early years of settlement. Stone walls like this one which are all but forgotten are sometimes called “wild” walls.


One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much farther into the forest once the leaves have fallen. This view shows that there are a lot of stones that would have to be cleared before this piece of land could become a pasture. Frost brings more stones to the surface each year so clearing them out of a pasture can be a constant effort. Though the trees in this view look young I saw some large examples that were obviously very old.


Fresh woodchips lay all around the base of a beech tree. I’ve learned to look up when I see this.


Because every time I see wood chips at the base of a tree I see pileated woodpecker holes in it. These were high up, just below where the tree had lost its top. The old dead beech must have been full of insects, probably carpenter ants.


The tree’s trunk had slashing scars on it, made within the last few years.  According to the town history the largest animals that settlers in this area saw regularly were wolf, bear, catamount (mountain lion), lynx, beaver, otter and deer. Of those wolves and bears presented the most “annoyance.” Since we don’t have wolves any longer and mountain lion sightings happen only very rarely, the only other animal I can think of that is powerful enough to leave marks like this is a black bear. I doubt very much that they were made by a human.


Just as water will take the path of least resistance black bear, deer and other animals use manmade roads and trails and bears will mark the trees and utility poles along them. I saw several trees with marks like these along this section of the trail but they aren’t something that I see regularly in my travels.


This might not seem like its best side, but if you meet a black bear in the woods this is the side you want to see. Black bears normally weigh from 135 to 350 pounds, but they can reach 600 pounds. They’re amazingly fast and very strong and you can’t outrun, outswim, or out climb them so your best bet is to avoid them. Bear attacks are rare but they do happen, usually when the bear has been surprised or startled. The area I was in on this day is about as close to a wilderness you can get in this part of New Hampshire and is known bear habitat, so I used my monopod as a walking stick and had a bear bell on it so they’d know I was coming. I also had some bear spray with me. I’d hate to ever have to use it but you never know. This photo was taken by a friend’s trail camera just a month ago.


A marker and an arrow on a tree pointed me that way.


But there was a gate that way, barring a side road that went sharply uphill. It was unlocked and that seemed odd, but I went through it anyway.


A still, beautiful pool was just inside the gate. I thought it would make a great place to sit for a while but then I saw something that changed my mind.


This cave at the side of the pool looked big enough to walk into by bending a bit, but not small enough to have to crawl into. It looked very inviting and called loudly to the hermit in me but it also looked big enough to hold a whole family of bears and snug enough to be attractive to them, so I decided to go back out through the gate and keep moving. Personally I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the solitude of a cave, but I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with a bear to earn the privilege.


Though it might look like some tree cannibalism was going on things like this are easy to explain. The tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has almost healed over the offending branch. I expect that one day it will heal over completely and look very strange with a foreign branch poking out both sides.


The old road went on and on. On a map the distance from Swanzey to Chesterfield is about 18 miles using the highway and, though cutting through the forest like this is probably shorter, at a slow pace of three miles an hour hiking to Chesterfield and back could have taken about twelve hours. Since we only have about 9 1/2 hours of daylight available right now that didn’t seem like a wise decision so I turned around. The days will be longer in summer and it will certainly be warmer.

In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to. ~Lawrence Anthony

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. Mount Monadnock from Troy

This photo isn’t really about Mount Monadnock; it’s about the incredible shades of spring green that the surrounding forests are clothed in right now. I’ve tried several times to capture these colors on “film” and have failed. Even this photo doesn’t do them justice, but it’s the closest I’ve been able to come.

 2. Bee

The long antennas on this insect tell me it isn’t a hoverfly, but what look like little knobs at the ends of the antennae have me wondering if it’s a bee or not because I can’t seem to find an example of a bee with those knobs. A carpenter bee maybe? Whatever it is, it seemed to want its picture taken. I was shooting over this branch focused on something else when it walked down the branch and stopped right in front of the lens.  And then it sat there letting me snap as many photos as I wanted. Usually the minute I point the camera at them they’re off and gone. Maybe it was the sunny spot on the branch that attracted it.

 3. Robin's Eggs

Some friends had a robin’s nest in their holly bush so I snuck my camera in and took a quick couple of shots after momma flew off.  They look green to me but my color finding software sees blue and turquoise.

 4. Stuffed Black Bear

The same friends that have the robin’s nest deal in antiques and found this stuffed and mounted juvenile black bear at a tag sale recently. If it was standing on its hind legs those front paws would fit comfortably right on your shoulders as if you were about to waltz. Being surprised by a cousin of this guy on a trail wouldn’t be good at all, so you have to be aware of what’s going on around you. The black bear population is on the rise in New Hampshire and I’ve even seen them in my own yard.

5. Cinnamon Fern

Someone once thought that the fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) looked like cinnamon sticks and that’s how it got its common name. The reddish brown, fertile fronds appear after the green, infertile ones. Once the fern grows its fertile fronds it stops growing and puts all of its energy into producing spores.

6. Cinnamon Fern Closeup

Many ferns have their spore bearing sporangia on the undersides of their leaves but cinnamon and other ferns in the Osmunda family grow them clustered on small leaflets on fertile fronds. The sporangia are tiny round growths that will dry as they mature until finally splitting open to release the spores.

7. Great Scented Liverwort Colony

The lighter green color in this photo means that great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) are showing plenty of new growth, but I still haven’t seen any of their umbrella-like fruiting structures.

8. Fungus on Pine Tree

I don’t have any idea what is going on here except maybe that the fungus that looks like bread dough has a fungus on it. The larger of the two was as big as a marble and was growing on a pine tree.

9. Juniper Haircap Moss Splash Cups

Splash cups on juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) are as rare as hen’s teeth in this area. Mosses in the polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, so when you see these little cups you know you’ve found a male plant that is ready to reproduce.

 10. Juniper Haircap Moss Splash Cups

The male moss produces sperm in these splash cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough water to swim in, the sperm will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of tiny orange leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

 11. Spider on Rhody

This spider magically appeared in the photo I took of a small leaved rhododendron blossom. It’s a tiny little thing and I didn’t even see it while I was taking the photo. I’m not sure about its name. I know it isn’t a crab spider but that’s about as far as I was able to get.

12. Viceroy Caterpillar

I think this creature is the caterpillar of a viceroy butterfly. It tries to look like a bird dropping so it doesn’t get eaten. It looks to me like it was successful.

13. Viceroy Caterpillar

Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillars also resemble bird droppings but they don’t have the horns that this one does. It is said that viceroy caterpillars feed at night and stay still during the day when birds are out and about, but this one was crawling along a twig in daylight. It couldn’t have been much more than an inch long.

14. Waves on the Ashuelot

For over three years now I’ve been practicing photographing cresting waves on the Ashuelot River and I’ve learned a little by doing so. Like a great blue heron I stand at the ready and wait for the perfect time to strike, because just a fraction of a second either way can make a big difference in how advanced the curl of the wave is. Click the shutter too soon and you have a strange lump of green water, too late and you have only white foam and spray. In this spot the best colors and sharpest detail are found in the morning when the sun is over my shoulder and the river is before me. Noon or later means washed out color and less detail, and on cloudy days trying for stop action isn’t worth the effort.

If you take the time to sit and watch for a while, and then close your eyes and just listen to the crash of the waves, a river will speak to you in its own way. After a time you’ll come to feel as well as see and hear its rhythm, and the rejects will become fewer as a result.

Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence. ~Alfred Bernhard Nobel

Thanks for stopping in.


Read Full Post »