Today’s blog is a break from the horse talk. Sort of.
Steve and I hired a Registered Maine Guide to walk us through our backyard. We’ve owned our 11-acres in southern Maine for a year now. We look at, walk through it, and appreciate it, every day. But that doesn’t mean that we see it.
On a beautiful late winter afternoon, Dan Gardoqui took us for a three-hour hike in our woods. We checked out what the beaver are up to. Sometimes they try a sapling and decide not to finish the meal. Before the hike with Dan, I would have recognized this as beaver sign. But what I didn’t know was that the scrapes on the right are the upper incisors, the ones on the left the bottom teeth. With that information, you can imagine the big brown rodent, sitting on its butt, with its head tilted, peeling the bark off of the tree with its long yellow teeth.
I’ve also seen very large trees with their bark girded off. The trees seemed too big to be ones that the beavers were harvesting for food. Dan explained that sometimes the beaver decide that a tree should die. They simply don’t like it standing in their way. Not good for the tree, but very good for the forest ecosystem, as dead trees are home and food for many other creatures.
We learned to recognize the paths the beavers use to go to and fro the wetlands, and all sorts of other clues that tell us what these animals are doing. We also looked for the best places to spot river otter.
We checked out some of our neighbors’ homes. A porcupine likes to den here. They don’t need deep caves or bedding. Another porcupine lives in the hollow of a tree. We saw scat and quills at the base of that shelter.
Lots of small critters live in tree cavities. If you look closely at the chewed up nuts that they toss out, you can tell who is in residence.
The forest housing market is frequently changing. A pileated woodpecker is making room for a new family. It’s not ready yet.
We learned how to distinguish between deer browse on sapling and other marks that indicate antler rubs. Before this walk, they all looked the same to me.
We looked at a pile of feathers, and looked up to see where the owl had consumed its kill. We learned how to look at feathers to tell if the predator was a mammal or a raptor.
Dan was excited to see this right on a trail. A bobcat scratching post.
Perhaps my favorite find of the day was something far more subtle. It’s something I’ve enjoyed looking at, but somehow never questioned. Have you ever seen beautiful swirl patterns on bark?
These are made by slugs eating the algae on the surface of the tree! How amazing is that?
Loving something is fine and good. But close observation, combined with knowledge and science, gives you a depth of appreciation that is very gratifying. Learning more about our property will allow us to be better stewards, and also, simply, to make our time here more filled with wonder.
Many of my blogs about horses return again and again to starting from a base of observation, then learning about what it is that we’re seeing, and then applying that to our horsemanship. Not a bad way to see the world, too.
What small thing have you seen for ages, but finally recently learned about? Tell me in the comments!