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Posts Tagged ‘Deer Prints’

I’ve heard stories about a deep cut rail trail up in Hancock New Hampshire for a couple of years now so last Saturday I decide to see what it was about. This railroad was different than the ones that I’m familiar with because it went out of business before the second world war and all of the steel, including the rails, bridges and trestles were sold off during the second world war to help the war effort. The original railroad, built in 1878, was called the Manchester and Keene Railroad. It was taken over by the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1893 and used until flooding damaged many of the trestles. Since replacing the trestles would have been extremely costly, the line was simply abandoned.

What I thought was a drainage channel was actually a stream. It was nice to have its music with me as I walked along.

The water was crystal clear.

Just as I was thinking that it was strange that the stream wasn’t frozen I ran into ice on the trail. I had my micro spikes on so I wasn’t worried about ice.

I like looking at the patterns in ice.

Ice can do amazing things and it can also be very beautiful.

I saw some unusual things out here and this was one of them. This wall is not holding back anything so it isn’t a retaining wall. It looks more like a loading dock but it’s too far away from where the rail cars would have been, so it’s original use is a mystery. Someone went through a lot of time and effort to build it though so it had some importance in its day.

Ice needles grew here and there by the thousands.

I saw the seed heads of heal all (Prunella lanceolata) so I know there are flowers out here. Heal all has been known for its medicinal value since ancient times and has been said to cure everything from sore throats to heart disease, and that’s how it got its common name. Native Americans believed the plant improved eyesight and drank a tea made from it before a hunt. There are Botanists who believe that there are two varieties of heal all; Prunella vulgaris from Europe, and Prunella lanceolata from North America.

I saw the tracks of wild turkeys that had come out of the woods. Turkeys have a “toe” at the rear of their foot that leaves a little dot in the snow and though it’s hard to see in this photo, they are there.

There are whitetail deer out here as well.

The land sloped away on my right and an old stone wall marked what was once pastureland. Many of what are today forests were cleared pasture lands in the past. Most stone walls dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming and their pastures slowly returned to forest, but I have a feeling this land was still being used for pasture when the railroad came through in 1878.

The original stock fencing, so common along these old railbeds, wouldn’t have been needed if the land wasn’t being used to keep animals on. You didn’t want animals on the tracks so many miles of this fencing was strung up along the railways.

And then there was this; a tunnel under the railbed. I doubted it was a culvert because there wasn’t a stream nearby so I think it was a passage for animals. A way to get them from one side of the tracks to the other without them having to cross the tracks.

It was all concrete. Concrete has been around since Roman times so it wasn’t a clue to age but I’d guess it had to have been built while the original railbed was being built. The roof wasn’t high enough to let a horse, cow or tractor through but it was plenty high enough for sheep. Sheep farming was very big in New Hampshire’s rocky ground in the 1800s so a passage under the railbed would make perfect sense. You wouldn’t want your flock on the tracks when a train was coming.

And here was the deep cut, snowier than I had hoped. I like to see what grows on these old exposed walls and that isn’t an easy thing to do when they’re snow covered.

It was easy to see what they did with all the stone from the cut. There are several of these big piles in the woods.

I wondered if they had blasted the stone and sure enough, there were the marks of a steam drill. The railroad workers cut through solid rock by drilling holes into the stone and then blasting. Holes like these were often drilled by steam power and are evidence that black powder rather than dynamite was used. Packing these holes with black powder and lighting a fuse was a very dangerous business and many were killed doing it. Dynamite wasn’t invented until 1866 so it was either black powder or brute force before that. Since this railroad was built in 1878 they might have used dynamite but I doubt it. It would have been far more expensive and harder to get than black powder. After the wall face was blasted away someone had to clean up tons of stone, and that’s how all the stone piles came to be in the woods.

There were signs of groundwater seeping through the stone and the staining on the snow pointed to minerals in the groundwater.

All in all though I didn’t see that this would be a good location for great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) because of the lack of water. They like to grow on stone that hangs over water. That way they get plenty of the humidity that they need.

But there were liverworts here; or at least I think so. I believe this example might be ciliated fringewort (Ptilidium ciliare). Wikipedia says the Ptilidium part of the scientific name comes from the Greek word ptilidion, meaning “small feather”. According to what I’ve read it is widespread in Canada, Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. I’ve never seen it before, so if you know that I’ve given it an incorrect identification I hope you’ll let me know. I suppose it could be a very dry moss but I don’t get a moss feeling from it.

NOTE: A lichenologist friend told me that this liverwort is actually called  grove earwort or (Scapania nemorosa) . It’s great to have helpers.

I also saw an old friend; a single smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens), and the light was just right to show off some of its beautiful blue spore producing apothecia. Like jewels sprinkled on the stone; that’s what they always remind me of.

Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) peeked out from under the ice.

I was surprised to find a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) out here. These shrubs are on the rare side in this area so I hope nobody cuts it. From its purple buds in winter to its pretty white flowers in spring to its bright red berries in fall this is a beautiful native shrub. We had a beautiful well shaped example where I work until someone who thought they knew what they were doing hacked at it. Now there is a lot of dead wood on it and I’m not sure it is going to make it.

It looked like a mouse or chipmunk had done some house cleaning. Acorns keep a lot of birds and animals alive in these cold winters.

No matter how much fun you’re having it can’t last forever so I finally headed back down the trail, promising myself that I’d come back in the spring. I have a feeling this might be a good place to find some spring wildflowers. Because of all the deciduous trees a lot of sunlight must reach the ground in early spring and that’s what they like.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

Thanks for coming by.

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There is a rail trail in Swanzey that I drive by occasionally and I noticed this past summer that there was heavy equipment all along it. There were piles of what I first thought were pipes, but they turned out to be new power poles. I noticed that the heavy equipment was finally gone last week so I thought I’d go see what had gone on. In other words I was being nosey.

What had gone on was new power poles had been put in place and the growth under them had been removed. All the plants that once grew under them had been replaced by grass but luckily, along the side of the rail trail that the power company doesn’t have rights to, the plants were left alone. It is very common here to have high tension electric wires follow right along beside what once were railroad tracks. The railroads in turn, often followed rivers. I suppose materials to build railroads could have been floated down rivers and then, once electricity came along, the materials for power lines could have been shipped by rail. I don’t know this as fact but it would explain why rivers, railroads and power lines always seem to be side by side.

These new poles are made of steel and are very tall. They are also 12 sided, with the upper pole section slipping down over the lower section. They’re then bolted together. Lining those holes up to get the bolts in must be quite a chore when everything is dangling from a crane.

I would guess, since steel is an excellent conductor and wood is not, that the poles would have been much less hazardous if they had been made of wood as they have always been.

Many of the new poles are right there on the side of the rail trail, so how they expect that people will stay away from them is anyone’s guess. I’m sure children will be all over them. I was when I was a boy, but those were wooden poles. You can also see in this shot how, where the poles go into the ground they’re coated in some type of rubberized material, most likely to keep them from rusting. Since the coating was already scratched away in many places I have little faith that there will be no rusting going on.  

There is an old railroad bridge out here that once carried cars over the railroad tracks. I’ve driven over it many times myself.

The timbers are stout and still appear to be strong but the highway department has closed it to all but foot traffic.

They could have closed it because the road was put down over wood, as this view of the underside shows. All the paving of the road over the years was actually being supported by simple wooden boards. Of course when this bridge was built the traffic might have been chiefly made up of horse drawn wagons and model A Fords.

Though a brush cutter cleared the sides of the trail recently you’d never know it from this shot. You can see lots of the old wooden poles that hadn’t been replaced yet.

These old poles still look solid to me but I’m not a power company engineer. They could all be like hollow trees.

It was cold enough for there to be frost in the shade on this morning.

I saw that horses had used the trail.

Deer had used it as well.

There is lots of old farmland out here. I’d guess it is probably all used for hay fields now.

It was clear that this cattle gate hadn’t been used for a while.

An old stone boundary marker had been cut by hand and was shaped like the state of New Hampshire.

I saw a few American hazelnut (Corylus americana) catkins, and that made me think of spring.

The hazelnuts themselves had been bored into and the meat eaten, either by a bird or an insect. I’ve never seen this before. I have seen birds pecking at goldenrod galls though, so maybe that’s what has happened here.

I was surprised to see a young goldenrod plant looking like it thought spring was here.

Most goldenrods looked like this; long gone to seed. These tall plants that stand up above the snow are an important source of food for the birds in the winter after snow covers all the seeds on the ground. There were several chickadees scolding me as I took this photo so I wondered if they were eating the seeds already.

Last time I was out here I found a well-constructed hideout some kids had made. They would have to crawl on their stomachs to get through that small hole but that wouldn’t have bothered me when I was a boy. I thought, since all the growth along the sides of the trail had been cut, that it would have been destroyed but no, the mowers went around it and left it alone. I’m guessing whoever was driving the tractor once had a hideout too.

The last time I walked a rail trail a flock of robins was busy eating all the staghorn sumac berries but out here the fruit was untouched. It’ll be good winter food.

I saw some escaping pumpkins. I’m guessing that they wanted to get into the drainage channel. From there they could get to a stream and from there to the river and from there to the Atlantic. Once in the ocean well, the world is your oyster.

Everything is light, everything is warmth, everything is electricity, everything is a magnetic field, everything is you.~ Md Anisuzzaman

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1. Pondside

As any parent of a male child will tell you, boys have an innate attraction to the muddy shores of rivers and ponds and though you might use every trick in your parental bag of tricks, you’ll never keep them from exploring it. There really isn’t anything to worry about though because most boys grow out of their mud exploration phase. Since I never did I recently decided to visit the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey. They draw down the water level there each fall so people can maintain their shorefront docks, rafts, etc. and this exposes yards and yards of the wonderful muddy pond bottom.

2. Deer Print

Did you see the deer tracks in that first photo? Since it rained the day before I came here I knew that these tracks were very fresh. A deer was most likely getting a drink earlier that morning.

3. Raccoon Prints

A raccoon had also paid the pond a visit, most likely looking for snails and mussels.

4. Snail Shell

Empty walnut size snail shells were everywhere. I never knew there were so many in this pond. I’ve read that there are invasive Chinese snails (Bellamya chinensis) in our lakes and ponds but they’re the size of a hen’s egg, so I doubt this was one of those. Another invasive snail found here is the Japanese trapdoor snail (Viviparus malleattus) which gets its name from the trapdoor it can close when danger appears. The snail pictured is smaller than that one too, I think, so I’m not sure what their name is.

5. Frozen Footprint

Ice had formed in a footprint. Once the sun’s rays fell on it, it didn’t last long.

6. Alder

Alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni) rather than an insect like many galls. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams.  These galls have a bright red phase in spring but I never remember to look for them at that time of year. They blacken over time so the ones pictured are older.

7. Birch Catkins

Birches have their catkins all ready for spring. Surely it must be right around the corner.

8. Goose Feather

This pond is a popular spot for Canada geese and their feathers hung from the branches of the bushes.

9. Mussel Shell on Nickel

I put a tiny mussel shell on a nickel to see how small it really was. Since the diameter of a nickel is 3/4 of an inch, the mussel was the smallest I’ve seen. It looked like a tiny shiny butterfly.

10. Turkey Tails

Colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) brightened up a stump at the water’s edge. I’m seeing more blue / purple ones this year than I ever have, and I have no idea why after nearly two years of seeing just a very few brown ones.

11. Spot on Driftwood

There was more color on this piece of driftwood; a nickel size orange spot. You can find colors like this at any time of year if you’re willing to slow down and look just a little closer. I don’t know if this one was algae, rust, or something else. It had virtually no thickness.

12. Stone on Beach

The pond has been drained so low that the water’s edge where it is now would normally be at chest level or higher on an adult, so the rock in this photo wouldn’t be so easily seen. But this is a beach where people swim, and the rock is in a perfect position for swimmers to stub their toes on it. I wonder why someone doesn’t move it now that it’s so easy to get to. No doubt boys vie for a chance to stand on top of it when they swim.

13. Ganesh Statue

I was dumbfounded when I saw this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh lying on the shore because this is the second statue of him I’ve found this year. The first was in September on the banks of the Ashuelot River and this statue looks exactly like that one except that it has a lot more wear. The Ashuelot River doesn’t flow into Wilson Pond so unless someone brought the statue that I saw on the river bank here, this is a different statue. Why would two different people throw statues into a river and a pond? I wonder what significance water has in the worship of Ganesh? He is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity. And he seems to be trying to tell me something. I wish I knew what it was.

14. Pond Mud

Maybe Ganesh is trying to tell me that I’m already prosperous. After all I have the riches of this New Hampshire landscape laid out before me like a never ending feast for the eyes and soul, and occasionally I’m transported back in time to enjoy being a boy of 10 again. I don’t see how anyone could possibly be wealthier.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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