Why Birds?

There are a host of reasons to pay attention to birds. Watching tree swallows sail over a meadow, or listening for a ruffed grouse’s drumming from deep in the forest can bring pure joy.

Paying attention to the birds around us is also a way to access the wild world we enjoy here in the Mahoosuc region. Hearing a loon for the first time can be as exciting as seeing a moose. When yellow-bellied sapsuckers return in the late winter, you know that sap is running.

Common Loon with chick

Common Loon with chick

Maybe more important, birds can be a good indicator of change in the world we share with them. Like the old saying, “the canary in the coal mine” birds can signal when something is wrong. The World Wildlife Fund in its 2018 paper, Living Planet, reported a 60% drop in animal populations across the planet in recent decades. And, birds have not been immune. The 2018 State of the World’s Birds report states that 1,469 types of birds are threatened with extinction. 

Here in the Mahoosuc region, loon populations are being watched closely to protect the waters on which they rely. Many of the birds that migrate to our region from the tropics are undergoing dramatic drops in their populations. Understanding these trends isn’t just for the birds. If birds are doing poorly, it is a good bet that the air, water, soil and forest we share may be threatened as well. 

Birders can help. More and more they are reporting their sightings to scientists who use the information to gain insights into trends and patterns. This is often the first step in finding solutions. Here are few success stories:  

  • Nesting bald eagles are regularly reported along the Androscoggin when, just a few decades ago, they had almost entirely disappeared.

  • · Wild turkeys, once absent from New England, are now common. I recently had to stop my car on Vernon Street because a flock of almost 30 turkeys were crossing the road.

  • · Dick Albert of Fryeburg tells of how in the last five years sandhill cranes, a wading bird larger than a great blue heron, has returned to nest along the Saco where they had been absent for decades.

    If you are interested in learning more about birds, watch for upcoming events sponsored by the Mahoosuc Land Trust. On January 12th, I am teaching a Beginning Birder Class. It’s free and will provide tips designed to help all birders but is designed for beginners. Call (207) 824-3806 To find out more and register.

A Landscape of Superlatives

“The Western Maine Mountains region is a landscape of superlatives.” That is how Janet McMahon, writing for the Maine Mountain Collaborative, opened her recent paper describing our corner of Maine.

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Those who live and visit here know this to be true. Mahoosuc Bird News periodically focuses on those “superlatives” by highlighting birds (and our other non-human neighbors) of the Mahoosucs. 240 different kinds of birds have been reported in Oxford County. Many travel here hundreds, even thousands of miles in the spring to raise their young. Others, like the Golden-crowned Kinglet, weighing scarcely more than two dimes, have found a way to survive our long winters.

Our area is home to some of the last remaining tracks in the Eastern U.S. which can host populations of large mammals like moose and bear. There are many unique plants and birds. For some, like the Boreal Chickadee which typically lives further north in Canada, we are at the extreme Southern point in their range. We truly live among “superlatives.” So join us as we explore the nature around us – who they are, where they can be found and what we can do to ensure they endure for generations to come.

Now for those Golden-crowned Kinglets - this tiny bird lives year-round in our region. It prefers hemlock and spruce forest. Kinglets are olive-green above and paler below. They sport two white bars on their wings and what I call black and white racing stripes on their head.

When alarmed, the males display an orange patch on the top of their head. This patch can be concealed. Females only show a yellow wash. Because of their size and the dense forests they prefer, they are hard to find. They constantly seek insects to eat in order to survive through long winter nights in Maine.

Kinglets are known to travel in mixed-flocks with other small birds. They may find security following the much noisier chickadees, which scold any threat. To find Golden-crowned Kinglets, first search online and listen to their high, soft song.  Then, the next time you are out and surrounded by a flock of chickadees, listen for tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee-teet-leetle. Once you hear them calling, a little patience may reveal this “superlative” of the Mahoosucs urgently seeking food for the cold night ahead. (Information sourced from www.birdsna.org).

 

Mahoosuc Land Trust celebrates its 30th year working to conserve the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit us at Valentine Farm Conservation Center, 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or atwww.mahoosuc.org to learn about how you can join us for a hike or attend an upcoming event.

Welcome to Mahoosuc Bird Notes, written by James Reddoch, MLT member and bird enthusiast. This is the first of a year of weekly articles celebrating everything birds.

Volunteers Prep for Black & White 2 Peak Challenge Sept 23

Volunteers from Mahoosuc Land Trust and Chisholm Ski Club and an Outward Bound group from Lowell, MA, worked together to clear downed trees, brush, and leaves over approximately two miles of the Black and White Trail.  The trail, which connects the land trust's preserve at Whitecap Mountain with Black Mountain is the route for the upcoming September 23rd Black and White 2 Peak Challenge, an annual 8.7-mile foot race organized by Black Mountain of Maine.  Information is available at www.skiblackmountain.org or by calling (207) 357-8844.

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Member Profile - Mahoosuc Guide Service

Photo credit: Greg Nolan

Photo credit: Greg Nolan

Photo credit: Little Outdoor Giants

Photo credit: Little Outdoor Giants

I want to share with all of you my mid-night encounter with a big black bear on Umbagog Lake...Polly Mahoney

Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater, owners of Mahoosuc Guide Service, live the dream life.  Each year they lead people from all over New England and the world on wilderness canoe trips and dog-sledding excursions.  Kevin and Polly will pull back the curtain and give us a peek as to how things have changed in their 28 years providing guiding services to the public.

Before meeting at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in 1989, both had already experienced outdoor adventures.  Polly was born in Bangor and grew up in South China, Maine. She went to Alaska when she was 20, spending the next 9-½ years in the Yukon living a subsistence lifestyle and perfecting her bush skills including learning to dogsled.  The dogs they have now are direct descendants of the ones she learned to mush with 38 years ago. Kevin grew up in southwest Pennsylvania and came to Maine at the age of 18. He initially worked for Chub Foster on Grand Lake Matagamon and with various Outward Bound Schools.

He is a mountaineer, paddler, guide to far off places like Denali in Alaska, and Ben Nevis in Scotland and he is one of the first people to paddle the Grand Canyon in a canoe. Kevin is a Master woodworker who makes dogsleds, wood canvas canoes and paddles.

After 28 years in business, Polly and Kevin have seen lots of changes.  The weather is different – winters are shorter, storms are more extreme in both summer and winter.  The clientele have changed too – some people are looking for “shorter experiences not wanting to be away from their phones” too long, while others want to connect with family away from their everyday lives and welcome being “unplugged.”  Schools have added trips to enrich students’ education – a Harvard student said the highlight of his four years was a three-day dogsledding/winter camping trip with Mahoosuc Guide Service. However, not all clients are looking to shorten their stay. A couple from Scotland started taking trips with Polly and Kevin when they were in their late 60’s and continued to do so for 21 years! At the spry age of 85, Polly’s Mom still accompanies them on multiple day canoe trips, using her experience as a sailor to help read the weather and water.

Dogs are central to Kevin’s and Polly’s work and life. They have raised dozens and dozens of Yukon huskies, from puppies through training to in-house retirement. Currently they are caring for 34 sled dogs. 

When not guiding trips, Polly’s pastimes include organizing events in the Mahoosuc Mountain Lodge – concerts, dances, first aid courses, retreats, and meetings.  The timberframe building (which they mostly built themselves) has spectacular views of the Mahoosuc mountains and beckons visitors to come and sit awhile.

Polly and Kevin have been supporters of Mahoosuc Land Trust for about 20 years.  “We know many of the people on the board and officers of the organization. We like what MLT is doing and love to see more country go into conservation so that future generations can enjoy it as we have.”

On Wednesday, October 24th, Polly and Kevin will be speaking about “A Day in the Life of a Maine Guide” at the McLaughlin Center at Gould Academy at 7pm.

MLT Receives Large Conservation Parcel in Bethel, Gilead, Newry

A Gem of a Property: The McCoy-Chapman Forest

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After working with Geneva “Ginnie” McCoy of Gilead for a number of years, and with her estate after her death in 2016, Mahoosuc Land Trust recently took ownership of the McCoy-Chapman Forest. This incredible property, located on the North Road in Bethel, stretches from the north side of the Androscoggin River in Bethel and Gilead, to 1600’ in elevation in Newry. To ensure Ginnie’s desire to maintain the property in an undeveloped state, MLT took title subject to permanent restrictions allowing for recreation, education, timber harvesting, and related conservation uses.

MLT will prepare a management plan that is likely to include future pedestrian trails to some of the over 4000 feet of Androscoggin River frontage, snowmobile access across the existing route parallel to the river, and walking and skiing trails north of the North Road. Some exciting features of the property include mature pine and hardwood stands, clear mountain streams with cascades and pools and abundant signs of bear and other wildlife.

We are working with other organizations in the region toward the common goals of a connected Bethel area and are exploring the possible linkage of the McCoy-Chapman Forest to other recreational parcels in the area, including the future Bethel Community Forest.

Relatives of Mrs. McCoy and her late husband, Sam McCoy, made very significant financial gifts to MLT in order to facilitate the transfer. In order to complete the terms of the transfer, MLT took out loans which will need to be repaid within two years, through a fundraising effort which will also cover costs for initial recreational improvements, land management, and perpetual stewardship responsibilities.

MLT is looking for interested individuals to join a group of volunteers to inventory and plan for future uses of the property in a manner that serves public needs. For further information, or to assist the Trust in its effort to make the project come to fruition, contact Kirk Siegel at MLT, at 207-824-3806 or kirk@mahoosuc.org.

Global Big Day at Valentine Farm

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How many birds can be seen in one day? That’s the question that drives a ‘big day,’ a 24-hour birding binge that is a fond tradition among birders. The current record for a single Big Day team is 431 species, set in Ecuador.

Traditional birding ‘big days’ focus on a single team of birders, which got Cornell Lab of Ornithology thinking: what if everyone in the world joined together for a single Big Day? The answer, it turns out, is an incredible 65% of all the bird species on the planet—at least.

On May 5, come to Valentine Farm at 8:00AM and join more than 20,000 other birders from around the world counting bird species as part of Global Big Day

Androscoggin River Watershed Conference

The Androscoggin River Watershed Council will be hosting the 23rd Annual Watershed Conference on May 3rd at Sunday River Ski Resort.  The agenda addresses both environmental and recreational opportunities and challenges in the watershed.  A final session addressing climate change in Western Maine should be of interest to all.  Presenters include MLT's Executive Director, Kirk Siegel and Gabe Perkins, Executive Director of Mahoosuc Pathways.  For more information and to apply, click here

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Our Speaker Series Continues

A Day in the Life of an Ocean Swimmer

Todd Seikman celebrating another successful swim

Todd Seikman celebrating another successful swim

Todd Siekman, has been an avid swimmer his whole life. He began long distance ocean swimming 4 years ago for two reasons: to support the Lifeflight foundation, and as a means of recovering from brain surgery.  He swims with 4 to 13 others, ranging from 13-69 years old, accompanied by up to 7 kayakers.  They typically swim from 1.5 miles up to 5.5 miles depending on the day, weather conditions and ability of the participants. Come and join the discussion.  Wednesday, April 18th, 7:00 PM at McLaughlin Auditorium, Gould Academy, Bethel

MLT Member Profile

Meet Mike Richard, A tree Climbing Arborist and Forester

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Mahoosuc Land Trust is grateful for its strong member support. As a member, what connects you to this organization? Is it a strong commitment to land conservation? An affinity to one or more of our properties? A belief that everyone should have access to the outdoors? In this new feature we will regularly profile members’ lifestyles, passions and connections to Mahoosuc Land Trust and the region.

Volunteers are a key component of the long-term viability of Mahoosuc Land Trust, bringing diverse skills, perspectives and dedication. Meet, for example, forester Mike Richard of Albany Township. We couldn’t resist telling his story, especially when we learned that he spent four years in the treetops as a “licensed climbing arborist” pruning, cabling, and bracing trees. His work showcases the connections between natural resources and the people who rely on them for work and enjoyment.

Mike is now District Forester for the Maine Forest Service. His service region covers most of Oxford County with the exception of areas north of Upton and Byron. He replaces Merle Ring, who retired after more than 30 years of service to the region. Mike is excited to build on Merle’s work and to share his passion for forestry with landowners and the public.

At MLT, Mike volunteers on the Stewardship Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the maintenance and monitoring of all of the trust’s properties. Mike’s wealth of hands-on and technical work experience adds a “boots on the ground” perspective to the committee. For example, his work as a forester for logging companies and timber investment firms provides valuable insight into how forested lands are valued as a resource. Also, his experience with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is invaluable as MLT moves maps and data about its properties from paper to a digital format. This is great background to help MLT as we monitor our properties as part of our obligation to steward them “in perpetuity.”We asked Mike about being a volunteer for MLT.

First off, can you tell us a little bit about tree climbing?

I worked as a climbing arborist for four years before making the decision to return to higher education in forestry. I worked along the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and Southern Maine where I climbed trees to prune them, remove them or provide cabling and bracing to preserve them. This involved learning a lot of rope, chainsaw and rigging skills. Some of my favorite memories of that time were doing crane assisted removals with views of the White Mountains from the end of the crane's ball. It was great work that I still sometimes do for friends and family, but I decided I wanted to spend more time in forests with my feet on the ground.

"You’ve lived in Western Maine for the past 6 years. How did you first learn about MLT?"

A couple years back when my daily commute was through Grafton Notch, I would pass by both the Grafton Loop Trailhead and Step Falls areas. I have always been interested in land conservation and was looking for a way to be more involved within the Bethel community. I decided to reach out to MLT about volunteering and have been part of the Stewardship Committee ever since.

"What excites you about being an MLT volunteer?"

I enjoy the opportunity to use my professional skills to help MLT care for its properties. I appreciate that by helping to further MLT's mission, my family can look forward to spending time on properties that will be well managed for years to come.

I also personally benefit from volunteering with MLT. Designing trail maps for Step Falls and Puzzle Mountain is a very satisfying creative outlet. Being part of the monitoring team allows me to better understand how land can change with time. It has also been an ideal way for me to make more connections with people in the community. I also look forward to helping with trail work now that my son is getting older.

What do you do as our District Forester?

I am one of 10 District Foresters providing technical and educational assistance to landowners, loggers, municipalities and other stakeholders. In addition to educational workshops, field demonstrations and media presentations, Field Foresters can provide some one-on-one contact with individual landowners. Meeting with individual land owners and walking their woodlot is a large part of what I do. I answer questions they might have and help to steer them towards goal-based forest management. We also try to encourage them to work with a consulting forester.

When he’s not at work, Mike enjoys spending time with his wife and son, hiking, fly fishing and playing the guitar and banjo. He is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire’s Thompson School of Applied Science Forest Technology and received his bachelor’s degree in Forestry from UNH as well.

 

MLT Member Profile: Morning Glory Farm

Mahoosuc Land Trust is grateful for its strong member support. As a member, what connects you to this organization? Is it a strong commitment to land conservation? An affinity to one or more of our properties? A belief that everyone should have access to the outdoors? In this new feature we will regularly profile members’ lifestyles, passions and connections to Mahoosuc Land Trust and the region.

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Life is a series of choices. For Eric List and Christine Trefethen, a choice to purchase 5 acres of land in Bethel 20 years ago, is giving them an opportunity to develop a lifestyle that has long been in their dreams.

Back in 1998, Christine and Eric were looking for land that could eventually turn into a self-sustaining homestead. The flat, open parcel, complete with remnants of an apple orchard on the Flat Road showed promise. Slowly, over time, they built their house, created gardens, raised their two children, Eliot and Sophie, rejuvenated the apple trees and planted more. Recently they added chickens, and a couple of cows, sheep and goats and have increased their efforts to fulfill their dream of more personal self-sufficiency and keeping the land as a working farm.

For Eric and Christine, becoming members of Mahoosuc Land Trust mirrored their values of caring for the land and connecting to the community via local agriculture. Currently, they are busy experimenting with different crops and products to see what makes sense financially, fits into their daily rhythms and doesn’t require expansion into large machinery or work crew. Ice cider, cheese and 40 varieties of apples are some of the potential value-added products under consideration.  Part of the mission of their farm is to connect people to the natural world through farming and food production. Their farm is associated with a non-profit organization WWOOF - Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms - that links people wanting to learn farming skills with organic farms willing to teach and house the volunteers. This program ensures Eric and Christine a year-round supply of students eager to experience life on a small, organic operation.

In addition to their expertise in creating value added products, Eric has become highly skilled in fruit tree pruning and top grafting. To learn more about the farm, visit Morning Glory Farm’s Facebook page.