Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 81

August 20, 2014 - North Reading, MA to Framingham, MA

I awakened before sunrise and went to a Starbucks down the street, getting there a little after 6 a.m.  Most open at 5, which is nice for me, with clean bathrooms and happy workers. It's interesting to note the changing demographics. Many of the men wear dark suits and the women dresses / skirts and heels. Some look like characters in movies, like the Italian guy with sunglasses at 7 a.m. The men have grey or black hair; the women are brisk and smart, come in alone or with a male business partner and have serious work-related discussions. A barista this morning was a short bald gentleman in his 60s or 70s. There are many East Indians / Pakistanis, invariably courteous, soft-spoken and polite. Last night, I was in a Walmart and did not hear English. A beautiful, dark-haired, dark-eyed little boy was rolling a ball around, saw me watching and began earnestly telling me something in a language totally incomprehensible to me.

How many days of perfect weather will I get? It was warm today, but still not humid or uncomfortable. I have been meandering between I495 and I95, both of which run circumferentially around Boston, in mostly an urban/suburban milieu but with huge mature trees everywhere. The roads are never straight, and I seldom go over 40 mph, which is fine as I get to see neighborhoods and town centres although have to be hyper-vigilant of traffic. There are no shoulders; no margin for error and a constant flow of cars moving efficiently and as fast as the law allows. There are often signs for "Blind Driveway" or "Dangerous Curve." But the highway routes are well marked....usually.

Great Meadow NWR has two units, Sudbury and Concord. The first reminded me of Reeds Lake, in that is was accessed via a relatively affluent neighborhood street in Concord. The road into the refuge was narrow, directly between two homes, but once there, the land opened to a mix of hardwoods, riparian habitat (along the Concord River) and two large impoundments / pools, now covered with American Lotus.
Great Meadows NWR,  Concord Unit - MA

American Lotus - Great Meadows NWR - MA 
A dike trail divided them. I hiked a couple of miles, moving slowly, entranced by the cardinal flowers along the river, hearing birds, seeing a few, walking between the tall cattails bordering the marsh  on one side and the woods along the river on the other. Planes from nearby airports flew over; otherwise, it was silent.

I like that I see more people. Today an elderly, frail gentleman and a middle-aged woman moved very slowly to the first marsh overlook, he with the help of a cane on one side and companion (daughter?) on the other. A young guy was moving back and forth on the river bank looking for the perfect fishing spot. Two young women passed me, talking quietly...about other people, exercise, diet, kids, jobs, social plans; a retired couple passed me on the old RR part of the trail; a family with little kids were climbing the observation tower at the parking lot; a gentleman with a scope was looking over the marsh and a woman pointed out a bird..."That's a Great Blue Heron.."

On the way to the Sudbury unit, I passed both Louisa Alcott's Orchard Hill home and Walden Pond with a gaggle of tourists milling about. I stopped and bought a book about two late middle-aged brothers who build a cabin in western Maine. The cover shows a cabin in the woods in winter, late in the day, with lights from the windows gleaming yellow and deep snow on the ground. I occasionally wonder if I should have bought the cabin on Townsend Lake. There was a lot I liked about the setting, if not the actual cabin itself.

While I know Thoreau was an important thinker with a nimble inquiring mind and a man who has a cult following for his philosophy of simplying, I have an ill-defined sniffy attitude about him. The best I can offer is that he had / chose the freedom to be constantly introspective and observant. Why didn't he marry or have children? And if he had, as most humans do, how would that have challenged his idealism? He never seems like fully human to me, but rather a powerfully seductive idea appealing to a socioeconomic class with the intellect and leisure to question the meaning of their lives. And he didn't live all that long on Walden Pond; 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. But apart from the Walden Pond phase, I do respect his interest in Native Americans, East Indian spiritual practices, his support of abolition, his love of nature, his refusal to pay taxes as a protest against slavery and the Mexican-American War. In his flute-playing, rice-eating, yoga phase, he certainly anticipated the 1960s.

The Sudbury Unit of Great Meadows had a large Visitor Center which was closed because of "sequestrations." I come on this situation now and then, but most are open, some even on the weekend. So who makes these decisions?

This Unit was again a mix of hardwood forest and open land. I only had had a bagel for breakfast which meant I was lacking in energy and crabby. So I sat in a shaded pullout for 30 minutes before deciding to go to Assabet NWR, since it wasn't far. I almost didn't go, but after sitting quietly in the lovely, dry hardwoods, with the windows open and a cooling breeze, I was restored. I watched debris continually drop from the trees to the forest floor...bits of leaves, bark, twigs, flower parts, acorns, pine needles, some nearly weightless drifting slowly downward, while the heavier acorns and nuts plunked straight down. The shafts of sunlight always had something.

Assabet was about as perfect a NWR as one can be. The Visitor Center was just closing, but I drove on refuge roads and had maps of the trails. I ended in a cul-de-sac and again sat for 30 minutes, watching familiar things like robins, Chipping Sparrows, BC Chickadees and Eastern White Pines. These are gigantic trees; the older specimens have dead horizontal branches of varying lengths on the lower trunks and full irregular crowns of soft light green needles. They are usually the tallest trees, the patriarchs, and are all over the northeastern US. The sun was in the west, still warming the air and, again, no insects. The refuge has small lakes and ponds and more than a dozen paved and gravel trails.

Leaving Assabet, I drove 30 minutes through traffic to Framingham arriving at Natick Mall passing a Barnes and Noble, an Olive Garden, a Starbuck's and another Walmart with limited groceries but with clothing, a pharmacy, a garden center, home furnishings and mostly non-Caucasians. I stocked up on juices and water, Frappacinos, Ghirardellis dark chocolate pieces with raspberry filling and ice.

Cardinal flowers along the Concord River - Great Meadows NWR - MA

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 80

August 19, 2014 ~ Newington, NH to North Reading, MA

The weather gods definitely have my back...Sunshine with hints of fall in the air, blue skies and absent any annoying insects .

Great Bay NWR is next to an airport. It was originally  Pease Air Force base and a weapon storage facility. The beginning of the two-mile trail runs along rusty barbed wire and old bunkers in various states of disrepair.

Great Bay NWR - NH
One plan is to make them bat caves...seriously.

Abandoned military bunkers may be ideal for managing and conserving bats in areas affected by WNS. They may be manipulated, treated for the fungus, have no sensitive fauna or flora and are on protected lands. ES and Refuges partners have the ability to research, manage and conserve bats on Refuge lands by sharing staff experience (and creativity), labor and costs.

Over six million bats have already died of a fungus that attacks them in hibernation. It's called WNS or White-nose Syndrome and was first identified in 2006. So far, WNS has affected bats mostly in the northeastern US. The Forest Service "estimates that at least 2.4 million pounds of insects will go uneaten" as a result of bat mortality. (Wikipedia).

Of course, I didn't see bats in the middle of the day as I hiked a couple of trails. The first was actually an old road, much of which was covered with pine needles, through gorgeous hardwoods of hickories, pines, oaks, maples and spruce. There were actually many birds moving about in the canopy, mostly silent, but with no mosquitoes or biting flies, I could spend time looking up and waiting for them to pop into view: Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Great-creasted Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebes, Black and White Warblers, BC Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmouse, Baltimore Oriole.... The middle part of this trail was especially lovely because it ran parallel to Great Bay.
Great Bay NWR - NH

The few open areas were filled with goldenrod. After eating lunch in the car, I walked a 1/2 mile boardwalk trail in the opposite direction through more woods and lush ferns. This refuge was profoundly peaceful, even with the occasional plane or helicopter thundering overhead. 

Leaving Great Bay, I got on a toll road to Newburyport, MA, and then went east to Parker River NWR on Plum Island. I think what I have liked best about the northeast are the grand old houses, and Newburyport has many, side by side and close to the sidewalks but also some with spacious shaded lawns set back from the street. Of course this part of the country was settled in the 1600s as is often pointed out on small plaques or signs whenever applicable. 

The very impressive Visitor Center at Parker River was closing at 4 p.m. I got there at 3:45, but the young man inside was in a hurry to leave and was shutting down even as I looked over the available information. He did give me a quick "spiel" about beaches closed to protect nesting Piping Plovers and pointed out specific places on the refuge map, but really wanted outta there. There was a white board with current Piping Plover information: 25 nesting pair this year with more than 60 chicks. Most of these have fledged at this point, but there were four chicks still on the nests, so most beach access was closed. The basic nest is one of small stones on open beaches. DHC and I saw these in Ludington SP a few summers ago. As I sat in the parking lot looking over the road / trail possibilities at least two other cars drove in and walked to the now-closed VC. Too bad....Couldn't volunteers help keep this refuge open longer? 

Plum Island is an approximately 7-mile long barrier island. I spent several hours slowly driving to the southern end. The northern two miles is developed, with homes on fragile sand, and those property owners will eventually pay a price for their view. The dunes of barrier islands are dynamic, always moving as the ocean waves, tides, wind and storms ultimately have their way. 
Parker River NWR-MA

Parker River NWR- MA

The beaches were on my left as I drove south, although behind dunes, and the estuarine marshes on my right. There are open watery places called "salt pannes" in these marshes where the salinity is high due to constant evaporation. At one spot, the water surface had a yellowish, rubbery-looking, bumpy texture and half a dozen peeps (small sandpipers) were able to run about on top of this, pecking and probing. They were silhouetted and looked slightly too big for Semipalmated or Least SPs but probably were one of those species. An occasional bicyclist or jogger went by and a few cars but no crowds....just egrets, hawks, gulls, ducks, swans, shorebirds, herons and thousands of swallows. I had intended to hike as there were a couple of interpretative trails but I had arrived at that point of indifference. It had been a long day, and I needed to find somewhere to sleep, which is much harder in these urban areas. 

I drove an hour to North Reading, in the general direction of three NWRs west of Boston, so was situated for the next day. As usual, it was a Walmart but a Walmart that did not have a deli or a produce section or alcohol. But did have a Subway and a very pleasant East Indian gentleman working the cash register who politely asked if I had had "a productive day." He had moved here from San Diego where work was harder to find and the middle class was being priced out of a decent livelihood. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 79

August 18 - Falmouth, ME to Newington, NH

After spending a couple of hours blogging, and after a lot of iPhone help, I got to Timber Point Trail. The day before, I had checked eBird for this county (York). The local birders were very excited because they were seeing a Prothonotary Warbler here, along with all kinds of other birds. It is one of the many pieces of the Rachel Carson NWR scattered along the Maine coast from Port Elizabeth to Kittery Point near the New Hampshire border.  The Visitor Center is just south of Kennebunkport and Timber Point is northeast of that town. 

Rachel Carson NWR at Timber Point - ME
It was a gorgeous day, AGAIN. Timber Island is accessible only at low tide, a short scramble over rocks and seaweed. Just for the fun of doing it, I went there. I knew it was low tide, plus daily tide tables are posted on the beach. The trail TO the point was a mile long, through a sun-dappled wood and open meadows and along the beach. Being low tide, there were hundreds of people hanging out on the exposed sand. One tiny boy was screaming in fear as his dad waded to a sand spit and his mom tried to get him to follow. Even with her holding him, he was terrified. 

I thought about waiting to watch the tide cover the rocks to the island but it would have been several hours. I wondered how often people get stranded. It's close to the mainland and the size of a few city blocks but today, for instance, one would have to wait until midnight for another low tide. There are over 3000 islands off the Maine coast!

As I walked back to the car, I watched Semipalmated Plovers and Semipalmated Sandpipers for an hour. I could get very close by walking 6-7 steps, waiting a few minutes, walking a bit closer, etc. I was hoping to see some White-rumped Sandpipers but didn't, or at least couldn't positively say I did. There weren't many people on this sheltered little bay beach and few biting beach flies, so it was one more memorable vignette - close up and personal with SP sandpipers. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Rachel Carson NWR - ME
Next, I drove to the main unit of Rachel Carson, passing through very crowded Kennebunkport, a small town with impressive homes and notices for various cultural events (concerts, lectures, art shows), along with hundreds of tourist shops and people ambling along. In June of this year, President George H. W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday and there were banners still noting this. 

Rachel Carson NWR, just down the road was an utterly lovely and welcome contrast with a mile-long interpretive trail, through hardwoods high above the salt marshes and small tidal creeks making their way to the ocean, visible from several overlooks. It was perfect in late afternoon with cooling breezes and only a few insects (surprisingly), and sun and blue blue sky. The quality of light was exactly like that at Big Star in the late afternoon in BACK of the cottage. Only a few other people were walking the trail. At one point, Yellowlegs flew in and landed on a small pond. I am surprised that the digital zoom on my Canon works as well as it does. The Nikon's digital was totally worthless. There were both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.
Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs at Rachel Carson NWR - ME
I also watched a single Spotted Sandpiper move along the muddy banks of the Merriland River. Visiting a gem like this is a reward for all the tedious driving.  The trail is beautifully designed, mostly a hardwood island high above the wetlands, with overlooks of recycled material. A trail guide explained salt marshes and the flora and fauna which can survive here, and their importance in the ecosystem of the coast. Global warming will be and is affecting them as ocean levels rise. This refuge is studying this and working on ways (if possible) to mitigate the effects. 

I eventually found my way to Newington, NH, but repeatedly got turned around and had to keep checking my phone. At one point I got on a toll road and frantically scrambled for cash at the toll booth. I only had a $20 bill and apologized since the toll was 75 cents but the toll lady laughed and said that was fine because she could use it for change for "the $100 bill I will probably get later tonight." 

I ate at an Olive Garden and settled in a not especially nice Walmart lot, but it was dark already and I read an hour before sleeping. I did wake up once or twice but only to check the sky for dawn and quickly fell asleep again. 

Blue Goose ~ Day 78

August 17, 2014 ~ Augusta, ME to Falmouth, ME

The Marriott had a generous complimentary breakfast, which I ate while watching the news from Ferguson, Missouri...specifically, the thuggish robbery.

Still had the jones for some coast; therefore, I went to Bailey Island accessible over the only cribstone bridge in the world which connects this island to Orrs Island to the north.


Design of the 1,150-foot bridge was complicated by the tides in the area known as Will's Gut. It was decided to build a cribstone[clarification needed] bridge using granite slabs from local quarries on the border between Yarmouth, Maine, and Pownal, Maine. Granite slabs were considered sufficiently heavy to withstand wind and wave, while the open cribbing allowed the tide to ebb and flow freely without increasing tidal current to any great degree. Some 10,000 tons of granite were used in the project. A concrete road (now part of Route 24) was built on top of the cribstones.

This area is highly developed with small art galleries, massage parlors, homes, restaurants, boats and shacks relating to lobsters and fishing,  real estate services, churches...and refuges in these coastal areas are even more important because of this. I drove slowly on narrow winding roads to the very end where I could turn around in a small parking lot, the whole Atlantic ocean right off the point.
Bailey's Island - ME

Just south of the cribstone bridge, I pulled onto a side road and found a restaurant where I had lunch, which was pretty much a disaster. It was much too pricey for what one got. I ordered a lobster casserole expecting generous meaty pieces of lobster meat in a good sauce. What I got was a bland, whitish sauce with a pathetic few odds and ends of lobster meat and some dry crumbs on top...dry as in probably poured from a box just before serving. The coleslaw, which was highly praised on the menu, was mostly dressed with an unspectacular sugary vinegar dressing.

A gentleman one or two levels above the waitress was moving about the deck, greeting customers and asking how they were doing.  I showed him the lack of lobster. He immediately offered to "remake" it for me. The second dish was only marginally better, with more meat and slightly browned crumbs this time, but still too much sauce which had an unpleasant texture, sort of a soupy mess between thin and thick. The place was Cook's, so if you ever go to Bailey's Island, don't go there. Later I checked it online and many reviewers had the exact same impression as I did. But they were others who thought it was wonderful...whateVer...

Still, it was pleasant sitting on a deck, watching the boats and people and birds...experiencing the Maine coast.
Bailey's Island - ME

The sky had cleared by the time I reached Falmouth and discovered a Starbucks and Walmart within half a mile of each other. The weekend was nearly over and the traffic had diminished. The late sun settled over the town; the temperature was 70-ish; the air was still and pleasant.

I had been questioning this whole project much of the weekend and half wishing I were done with it. I am driving too much in between the refuges, generating a carbon footprint angst, but which I (so far) rationalize away, often with thoughts of vacations involving planes. I am also spending more money than I should, but this is mostly for the immediate gratification of eating in restaurants, a recurring theme of my life, and obviously discretionary. Maine lobster was the current seduction with its mixed results. But I also feel blessed to be able to have this grand adventure...

Blue Goose ~ Day 77

August 16, 2014 ~ Bangor, ME to Augusta, ME

I intended to work this morning and did for a bit, but then had computer issues. The whole motel was compromised and they were frantically trying to fix it, but never did before I left. I had breakfast, hoping it would get fixed in the luck. The waiter was a recent high-school graduate, articulate, eager to start college and admittedly very apprehensive. We talked books awhile. Oh my....wouldn't it be fun to be starting college? (knowing, of course, what we know...)

I thought about what to do and where to go next. One option still niggled and that was more of the coast, specifically Mt. Desert Island, but again decided against that and ended up driving two hours to Augusta, ME, where I got lucky with Priceline and stayed in a Marriott at a very good price. I had a second floor room with windows that opened (slightly) and a stable Internet connection. What more could I want....

Had vending machine hummus with crackers, juice and salted peanuts for dinner. Worked and read and slept well.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 76

August 15, 2014 ~ Calais, ME to Bangor, ME

I woke early - about 0530 - and went to McDonald's to use their facilities and get coffee and a couple of breakfast burritos. I thought perhaps I might have a chance of seeing moose or bear if I drove around early enough. I checked the maps thoroughly and found a loop road that was open but saw not a single bird or mammal. Still, it was fresh and utterly quiet, and the air had that wonderful North Woods fragrance of damp leaves and pines and essence of wood smoke.
Moosehorn NWR - ME

Moosehorn NWR - ME
As one of the pamphlets pointed out, Moosehorn is a misnomer in that moose have antlers, not horns. 

One-third of this refuge (with chunks of land in both the Edmunds and Baring units) is National Wilderness.

I only experienced this refuge briefly from a few roads, but so it goes....and I got the GISS of it. I drove south, passing through the Edmunds unit, which includes Atlantic shoreline in boundaries, with 24-foot tides moving up and down twice daily. The exposed mud flats, even well inland, are impressive at low tide with damp matted grasses in the meadows and along the stream banks. I kept looking for shorebirds which are starting to migrate south, but I didn't see more than an occasional GB heron or Great Egret. 

My next goal was whatever I could see and walk in the Maine Coastal Islands Refuge which option was pretty much only Petit Manan NWR. The others are islands and off limits this time of year to visitors to protect nesting Atlantic puffins, guillemots, terns, razorbills, eiders and eagles....Scientists and student interns live on these islands in the summer, studying these birds, protecting and enhancing habitat, censusing the birds and working to mitigate predators. A nice blog at has good photos and more information on what they do. There are also commercial boat trips one can take to observe the birds from a distance. 

I drove a couple of hours to US 1 which is the Maine coastal route with its ragged peninsulas usually accessible by narrow curving roads. I thought going to the tiny town of Starboard situated at the end of one of these peninsulas might be fun, so I did that, the road getting more marginal as I drove south to the end. A few men with large rakes and buckets were clamming at low tide in the mud flats. It was sunny with fog slowly rising off the large islands in the distance and very quiet with only the slightest movement of the water...the moon's influence.

The word "tides" is a generic term used to define the alternating rise and fall in sea level with respect to the land, produced by the gravitational attraction of the moon and the sun. To a much smaller extent, tides also occur in large lakes, the atmosphere, and within the solid crust of the earth, acted upon by these same gravitational forces of the moon and sun. 
Tides are created because the Earth and the moon are attracted to each other, just like magnets are attracted to each other. The moon tries to pull at anything on the Earth to bring it closer. But, the Earth is able to hold onto everything except the water. Since the water is always moving, the Earth cannot hold onto it, and the moon is able to pull at it. Each day, there are two high tides and two low tides. The ocean is constantly moving from high tide to low tide, and then back to high tide. There is about 12 hours and 25 minutes between the two high tides.

I continued to Petit Manan NWR (little island).
Petit Manan NWR - ME

Petit Manan NWR - ME
There IS a Petit Manan Island but the refuge is at the end of a peninsula. I spend several hours on the Hollingsworth Trail, named in memory of John Hollingsworth, who photographed NWRs. Many of his photos (and his wife's) are in the book I use as my main reference. This trail was roots and rocks all the way to the beach but bugs were absent and the air temperature pleasant. Nor was there much elevation change. I just had to watch exactly where I stepped. 

On the beach part of the trail, I  saw Semipalmated Plovers, a Lesser Yellowlegs and Semipalmated Sandpipers. There were large islands in the distance, sailboats, a few people beach-combing and taking pictures, and a couple with binoculars who kindly told me what I could expect this time of year in this place. I had Piping Plovers on my mind but the plovers here were the much more common SPs. There are so many inlets and coves and bays and rivers and islands on this coast. The homes have lovely gardens, porches, small white fences and most are not ostentatious. Some are obviously summer places and some have split-wood piles and pickups in the yards. Many are cedar shingled, reminding me of Nantucket.

Back on US 1, I stopped at Ruth and Wimpy's and had a delicious lobster roll and glass of wine on the deck.

Kennebec, Penobscot, Memphremagog, Meddybemps....only a few of the wonderful names on the landscape up here...

I carried on the inner dialogue about whether or not to go to Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor and Acadia State Park and, ultimately, decided not to. It was Friday afternoon, motels ranged from $200 to $500 per night, and I had already experienced enough of the basic tourist scene in Maine in August. Also, I had been on Mount Desert years ago.

Instead I went back to Bangor, stayed in a Holiday Inn and worked. The window opened on a pleasant courtyard with a fireplace and comfortable chairs. It was a busy place with an eclectic customer base. I worked late and then read Natchez Burning until I fell asleep.
Lesser Yellowlegs at Petit Manan NWR - ME

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 75

August 14, 2014 ~ Orono, ME to Calais, ME

I went back to Bangor this morning (about 12 miles) to get coffee and use the WiFi at the only Starbuck's in the area. The barista noted that I had been coming in "every day" which surprised me, but then, whatever you think of this corporation, it does have the customer service thing nailed. And this was a large and busy Starbuck's.

I also went to the nearby Best Buy to redeem a reward that had been emailed to me and bought CDs of Hank Williams and Miles Davis, found a mailbox and headed to Calais (NOT pronounced the lovely way but rather "callus") The town is right across the St. Croix river from New Brunswick, as far east as I will be traveling and almost as far east as one can go in the continental US.
On the way to Calais, ME

Moosehorn NWR has two units: Baring and Edmunds, and Baring is just southwest of Calais. I drove to the headquarters and office areas and picked up maps and information, but it was raining and dreary and buggy. I didn't explore much, although I did drive one of the few available roads through flowages and wetlands, bogs and forests.

Moosehorn NWR - ME
There were several trails but nothing tempted at this time day and in the rainy weather. Bear and moose and migratory birds....all find refuge here. A special area of interest is the woodcock which are "studied and managed intensively" at Moosehorn. One can can fish and hunt at certain times of the year or pick a couple of quarts of blueberries in season, while watching for bears which love this food. It seemed one of those busy refuges with the obligatory nod to the public. Some are like that; some are very welcoming. But I know it is not fair to judge a refuge so quickly.

I had a good pizza in town before settling in for the night. Often a few RVs pull into the Walmart lot at dusk and occasionally 18-wheelers if not specifically prohibited, but usually not many of those. I have no idea how many others choose this option for just sleeping, but I suspect I'm not the only one. It's so easy.....although rather boring as far as meeting people and hearing their stories....and surprisingly quiet after 10 or 11 o'clock, even though most are open 24 hours.