Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowy Trails, Out of the Wind

The forecast today was for winds over 30 mph. And cold. Not such a good day for the snowshoe hike that Laurie and I had planned, hoping to take advantage of this beautiful fresh snow that fell yesterday. But then we thought Hmm, that wind should be blowing from the west, so maybe if we stay on the lee side of the mountains in Moreau Lake State Park, it won't be too bad. And indeed, it was lovely. As this photo shows, the lake was nearly calm, although those clouds overhead were racing along like . . . well, like the wind!

Deep in the woods we could hear the wind whooshing way up in the treetops, but down on the snowy ground we felt barely a breeze. This little brook added its music as we followed its course up the mountain to connect with the Red Oak Ridge Trail.

Now and then the sun made it down to us through the trees, setting the stream a-sparkle.

We were headed toward rocky heaps at the top of the ridge, a place where Laurie is positive porcupines live.

In among all these heaped-up boulders we found many caves, some big enough for a human to hide in, but most just the right sort of spot for a porcupine den.

And sure enough, we found one. Not the critter (darn!), but a trail that led from its den in the rocks to the base of a hemlock tree. Nibbled twigs of hemlock lay scattered about on the snow, but peer as hard as we could in the trees, we could not see any Porky. That doesn't mean it wasn't up there. Porcupines can be very well camouflaged among the branches.

Even though we didn't see any critters, we saw some other cool stuff. Like this small (half-inch) frozen drop, hanging from the face of a moss-covered boulder.

And this tree stump that looks like its innards oozed out and sagged down.

And this cluster of twigs that looks like some kind of nest but is actually part of the tree. It's called a Witch's Broom, and results when some organism -- insect, virus, bacterium, etc. -- invades the bark, causing the tree to explode with these twiggy masses. Witch's Brooms are relatively common, and this is the best time of year to find them, when all the leaves are down and snow creates a white backdrop. We couldn't tell what kind of tree it was. A smallish, understory tree, it had curled-up leaves that were small, simple, and sharply serrated. This photo shows the bark on that limb just below the clump. Any tree experts out there?


squirrel said...

Nice hike. I have never seen a porky or a witches broom. Hope you find the proky.

suep said...

Late last winter Dave took us up to the Porcupine Dens - by then you could find them by SMELL alone ! we didn't see any actual porkies, it being high noon, but the little troughs they make in the snow when waddling around were everywhere.
Let's keep checking on them!
Also, on the way there, you might see tracks of fisher-cats too. They, too are looking for porcupines...

Ellen Rathbone said...

Beautiful pics of the water droplet and the "oozing" tree!

Can't see enough of your Broomed tree to render an ID for you, though. Sorry.

One of my winter goals this year is to track a porcupine...maybe I'll have to head to Moreau to do it!

936000 said...

i'm definitely not an expert, but the first thing that popped into my head after viewing the bark was "Ash." Maybe this site will help:

Photos were great-was there hot chocolate afterwards? :) ~nutmeg.
p.s. had to repost this as the url did not go through correctly. Argh!

Kenton and Rebecca Whitman said...

What an awesome adventure! The curls of that wood, and the mysterious witch's broom. Wish we had been along for this one!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi squirrel, thanks for your comment. I expect I will see a porky at some time. They don't really run away when you encounter them because they feel invulnerable to attack. Unfortunately, they don't run across the roads quickly, either, and I often find their corpses in the ditch. Their only predator around here is the fisher, whose populations seem to be increasing all the time.

Hi Sue, let's make a date for the next good snowfall to go tracking porcupines. By the way, we did see fisher tracks in the woods down by the lake.

Hi Ellen, thanks for your kind comments. I agree you should come to Moreau, not just to track porkies, but also to share a hike with me. You're always great company!

Thanks, desertnutmeg, for the link about winter trees. I don't think it was ash because ashes have compound leaves, and I believe these were simple. I'll be eyeballing this tree as the seasons progress and see what it looks like in the spring. I also could ask one of the park naturalists, but that would be too easy.

Kenton and Rebecca: I too wish you had been along on our hike. As your blog demonstrates, you have such a wonderful sense of delight in all things natural. It sure would be fun to join you outdoors! But that's almost what we do with our blogs, isn't it?

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