Friday, March 29, 2019

Hiking Central Maine

Last spring, my two sons informed me that it was my fatherly duty to take them up Maine’s highest peak, Katahdin. While in my 20s and 30s I had climbed Katahdin over 30 times, including 7 winter ascents, old knees, a bad back and a 47 year old cardiovascular system had me realizing that before attempting the mountain, I needed to train. (*Side note, before starting the Katahdin hike last summer, I packed a small container of Bayer aspirin in my backpack in case I had a heart attack, LOL! When I later told my wife, she didn’t find it nearly as funny as I did!)

While millions of people head to the gym to prepare their bodies for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits, I have always found that the best way to train to climb mountains is to well…climb mountains. No elliptical runner, stair stepper or tread mill ever created, can prepare muscles, ligaments and tendons to handle slippery, unstable rocks, adverse weather, airy heights and the full body workout that is required to drag oneself up Katahdin Stream Trail. Because I knew this to be true, my training regimen consisted of hiking some of the “larger” mountains in the central Maine area.

Bond Brook 
Anyone starting out on a new exercise program should first consult a doctor. It’s also a good idea that if you have not exercised in a long time to start out with something relatively easy. In Augusta, the Bond Brook Recreation Area (Map 12, C-5) is a 270 acre urban wilderness area owned by the City of Augusta. At only 270 acres individuals will be pleasantly surprised to discover a network of over 12 miles of trails here. These trails are popular during the summer with mountain bikers and hikers and in the winter enjoyed by snowshoers and Nordic skiers. The Bond Brook parking lot is located directly behind the Augusta airport. To get there from Downtown Augusta, head north on Mt Vernon Avenue and turn left onto Bond Brook Road. From Civic Center Drive, head south and turn right on Bond Brook Road. Turn left on Tall Pines Way; there is parking located before and after the bridge and more parking is available at the stadium. Follow Tall Pines Way up the hill to the Stadium Parking Lot. Parking is also available at Mt. Hope Cemetery off Winthrop Street.

Mt. Pisgah Conservation Area 
Once a new exercise program is started, it’s helpful to slowly increase the intensity of your workouts to continue to strengthen muscles and cardiovascular systems. Mt. Pisgah (Map 12, C-2) is a perfectly “moderate” hiking trail. The 0.7mile trail to the summit is up a steady grade but not oppressive. The forested summit of Mount Pisgah features the former Maine Forest Service fire tower, which was in use from 1949 to 1991. The tower provides spectacular 360 degree views and on a clear day, Mt. Washington can be seen looming on the western horizon. To get to the Mt. Pisgah Trailhead from Route 133 in Wayne, turn south onto Fairbanks Road. At the end, turn left onto the Mt. Pisgah Road. Travel south about 1.7 miles, the parking lot is on the left. From Route 202, turn onto North Main Street and go into North Monmouth. After about 0.7 mile, turn right on New Road, which becomes Mt. Pisgah Road. Continue for approximately 1.6 miles, the parking lot is on the right.

Kennebec Highlands, Hiking Kennebec County’s Highest Peak 
After maintaining a fairly steady hiking program for a couple months, most individuals will be ready to take on more challenging mountains. The Kennebec Highlands are comprised about 6,400 acres in the town of Vienna, Rome, Mount Vernon and New Sharon and is the largest contiguous block of conserved land in central Maine. Fantastic hiking opportunities, exist in the Kennebec Highlands, including Kennebec counties highest peak, McGaffey Mountain (Map 20, E-3). The summit of McGaffey Mountain (1,310 ft.) is accessible via the “A” trail, a “moderate” hike which follows a gradual uphill grade. After 3.3 miles of hiking, the trail opens up onto a beautiful overlook. Following the trail another 1.2 miles across a rocky ridge line and it terminates at the view less summit of McGaffey Mountain. The McGaffey Mountain Trail starts off Watson Pond Road, which branches from the west side of Route 27 about a mile north of the intersection of Routes 27 and 225. Several other small mountains, exceptional for hiking and well worth exploring include: the 2.9 mile loop trail up 854ft. Sanders Hill, the 4.5 mile loop trail up 1,133 ft. Round Top Mountain, the 1.3 mile loop trail up 755 ft. Mt. Phillip and the 1.5 mile trail up 665 ft. The Mountain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wildlife Quiz - Gray Squirrel

The Eastern Gray Squirrel’s (Sciurus carolinensis) native range stretches from northern Canada, all the way into sections of Texas and Florida. A species well adapted to survive in a wide variety of rural as well as urban environments, the gray squirrel has rapidly spread across the country, largely displacing native red squirrel populations.

Highly prolific, gray squirrels breed twice a year, once in the spring and again in late summer. Gray squirrels construct nests comprised of dry leaves and twigs called a drey, usually constructed in the crotch of a tree. Litters range in size from 1-8 young, with only one in four managing to evade predators, avoid sickness and starvation to survive to one year of age. Of those individuals fortunate enough to survive the first year, about half perish in the follow year.

In preparation for winter, gray squirrels hoard tremendous amounts of tree buds, berries, seeds, acorns and even some types of fungi in small caches for later consumption. Scientists studying the behaviors of gray squirrels have estimated a single squirrel make thousands of caches each season. To prevent other animals from retrieving cached food, squirrels will sometimes pretend to bury a food item, if they feel they are being watched. Those who have spent time watching the antics of the gray squirrel in woodlands and parks across the country will surely note this species amazing ability to descend a tree head-first.

Gray squirrels rank as one of few mammalian species that can accomplish this amazing acrobatic feat. The squirrel does so by turning its hind paws so that the claws point backwards, allowing the squirrel to easily grip the tree bark.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Ice Fishing Trout on Sheepscot Pond

Authors Son "Wildman" with a nice Sheepscot Brookie
Sheepscot Pond in Palermo (Map 13, B-4) is an expansive (1,193 acre) pond situated among the rolling, wooded hills of southeastern Waldo County. A moderately developed lake (unusual for Central Maine!) it remains an attractive setting for ice anglers. A state-owned boat ramp, located off Rt. 3 on the lake's north shore, provides access for anglers and other recreational users. While individuals can fish just off the landing, this area is typically hammered hard throughout the season. Better ice fishing is found further away, from this highly pressured area, on the western shore of Leeman Arm or eastern shore of Bald Head.  

Ice Fishing Variety
For the ice Angler who believes that variety is the spice of life, they will find no better thrill than a day spent ice fishing Sheepscot Pond. On an expedition to the lake in 2018, family, friends and I managed to pull up 7 different species of fish including, salmon, largemouth bass, pickerel, white perch, yellow perch, lake trout and brook trout. According to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the lake additionally contains, brown trout, smallmouth bass and even splake, which were originally introduced to the lake in 1993. While we were unsuccessful in catching any of these additional species, the possibility of going to a lake and catching 10 different species of fish is exciting! As an angler who typically targets big northern pike, Sheepscot Pond is a refreshing change and a great place to take kids. It was a lot of fun showing the kids (and some adults) how to identify the different fish species pulled out of the ice holes. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Coyote Night Hunt

Author's son with his first coyote
December 17th, the coyote night hunting season begins and it remains open until August 31st. For those who have access to heated hunting shacks, the cold nights can be spent in relative comfort, peacefully reading, listening through ear buds to a ball game or playing video games on your cell phone. Whatever the choice, hunting from a heated shack isn’t nearly as physically challenging as pursuing coyotes at night, without the protection of some form of enclosure. 

I rather enjoy the extreme nature of setting up on the evening of a full moon, on the edge of a desolate and deserted frozen pond and attempting to call a coyote in close enough for a shot opportunity. Don’t expect however to see one of our crafty Maine coyotes recklessly charging into a call across the empty white expanse of ice. Instead, coyotes will creep in, 15-20 feet inside of the timber, exposing themselves to the barren lake surface only after closing to within easy striking distance of the perceived “prey”. Hunters who set-up back from the lake surface 20-30 yards in the woods will frequently enjoy more success than hunters who sit right on the lake edging. Coyotes are crafty and unwilling to give away their position unless it is absolutely necessary. 

This is where a motion decoy and remote controlled calls work wonders as they can be set out on the lake surface to draw coyotes into the open for a shot opportunity. For those using handheld calls, once a coyote is spotted working the tree edging, the hunter stops calling and allow the motion decoy to do the rest of the work. A motion decoy can be something as simple as a piece of fur or feathers tied to a stick with a short length of cordage and allowed to blow in the breeze.   

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Wildlife Quiz - Opossum

The Common Opossum or Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), also known as simply Possum in North America, exists as the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States and Canada. Possessing a pale face, rounded ears, a pink, pointed nose and a coarse, grizzled gray overcoat the possum closely resembles a rodent. Through seemingly rat like in appearance, possums actually are closely related to the kangaroo and koala. Their adaptive nature, flexible diet, and prolific reproductive habits, make possum’s successful survivors in diverse locations and conditions. Though originally only found in South America, Possums have been steadily moving northward over the last several decades, a trend likely contributed to climate change.

The range of the Possum currently stretches across North, Central, and South America. Adapted to survive in a wide variety of rural as well as urban environments, Possum’s gather together in family groups in underground burrows or even under houses. Being nocturnal (night loving) creatures, Possum’s seek dark, secure areas to sleep during the day where they are protected from predators. The possum has a large number of natural predators including owls, eagles, dogs, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, house cats and humans who consistently kill a sizable number each year through automobile strikes. When threatened, the Possum will mimic the appearance and smell of a dead animal. This involuntary response (like fainting), causes the animal's teeth to become bared, saliva to foams around the mouth, its eyes close and a foul-smelling fluid leaks from the anal glands. The animal typically regains consciousness after a few minutes once the threat disappears. Highly prolific breeders, female possums often give birth to very large numbers of young, with as many as thirteen being birthed in a single litter. The possum lifespan is unusually short, with most living only one to two years in the wild and about four or 5 years in captivity.

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