What are you seeing out there? We'd love to hear from you! The following posts are from some of our local Harpswell Nature Watchers.

Click here for more information about Harpswell Heritage Land Trust's community nature journaling initiative.
This time of year when may plants have become dormant in preparation for the winter, the smaller, more subtle species are more easily seen. The color of these adorable pebbled pixie cup lichens ( Cladonia pyxidata ) is more vibrant with the moisture of the snow, melting ice, and rains this time of year. Lichens are interesting organisms. Neither a plant nor an animal, they are two organisms a fungus and an algae, living symbiotically to sustain each other. The fungus provides the structure and water retention for the algae. In turn, the algae, through photosynthesis (similar to a plant) produces food for the fungus. The fungus partners of lichens living on rocks also secrete acids to extract minerals from the rock. Lichens produce other chemicals to inhibit growth of neighboring lichens and repel insects. Mary Holland in her book "Naturally Curious" states: "The chemicals lichens produce to repel insects have been found to be effective bacteria-fighting antibiotics for humans." She explains that other chemicals lichens produce are used in deodorants and herbicides. (Contributed by Lynn Knight, November 28, 2018)
In winter, I'm always looking out for interesting ice formations. Streams, ponds, the shoreline, and even puddles left by heavy rain or snow melt can hold some amazing and wonderful surprises lovely concentric rings around the base of a tree as in the first picture; beautiful starry shard-like crystals as in the second picture; or pancakes...yes, pancakes, as seen in the third picture. Pancake ice is a real thing. It forms in streams or the ocean in strong currents or wave conditions. As the water begins to freeze, crystals form and float to the surface as slush that eventually accumulates into quasi-disks. As these disks continue to bump into each other and spin in the waves or stream currents, they become rounder and form raised edges on their perimeter. To me, they look more like lily pads than pancakes. I saw these pancakes on the Cathance River. You can read more about pancake ice on the National Snow and Ice Data Center Website . As you come across your own winter ice wonders, I invite you to share them with the group. (Contributed by Lynn Knight, December 3, 2018)
Alders ( Alnus incana )

In winter, after it has lost its leaves, the interesting woody cones and catkins of the alder that continue to decorate the branches of this common small tree really stand out. Belonging to the birch family, alders grow in moist woods, floodplains, and near streams. Just as birches do, alders produce catkins when they flower — cylindrical spikes that dangle from the branches. They produce both long male catkins and shorter female catkins. Unlike birches, they also produce small cones that release oval winged seeds in the fall. The female catkins and the cones are woody and don’t disintegrate after maturing, thus adorning the tree throughout the winter. Alders have some other interesting characteristics. They enrich the forest soil with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that inhabit their roots. The bacteria take nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in a form useful to the tree. The tree in turn supplies food (carbohydrates) to the bacteria. Alders are often the first colonizers of disturbed soils, and they improve the soil to the point that grasses, sedges, and ferns are able to thrive. Native Americans used alder bark for its antibiotic properties to help heal wounds and for respiratory ailments, including tuberculosis.
For pictures of the leaves and more information check out the New England Wildflower Society's Go Botany site . (Contributed by Lynn Knight, December 10, 2018)
Earlier this week I was delighted to see a flock of bufflehead ducks on the ocean. These little beauties are always fun to watch as they are perpetual motion machines on the water. Driving home last night I nearly hit a red fox as she dashed across the road. In the cold weather we are having, foxes stay warm in their luxuriant coats but they must hunt constantly to find enough rodents and birds to avoid starvation. Click here to read Ed's interesting and informative wildlife stories. (Contributed by Ed Robinson, December 13, 2018)
This time of year, the rose hips of the native Virginia rose or prairie rose ( Rosa virginiana ) call attention to themselves with their lovely bright red color. They tolerate dry, salty conditions, so are common in Harpswell along roadsides and the ocean shoreline. The fruits are rich in vitamin C and can be made into jam. Also, if you ever find yourself stranded on a Harpswell island, you can eat the fruits raw as an emergency food — it won’t be the best thing you ever tasted, but it will do the job. Don’t confuse these native roses with the less delicate Rosa rugosa , a species native to Asia and brought here more than 200 years ago as a showy ornamental. The Asian rose forms dense thickets that out compete native plants. Rosa rugosa is a much larger plant with larger leaves and fruit. Its stems are covered with dense straight prickles, as opposed to the hooked, more widely spaced prickles of the Virginia rose. Virginia rose has light pink flowers that adorn the shrub for a long period of time in midsummer. In fall, the leaves have lovely color — turning yellow to orange to deep red. (Contributed by Lynn Knight, December 26, 2018)

An excerpt: "But as soon as I arrived at the creek bank, I forgot all about what I wasn't getting done and what was being asked of me in my day. It melted away as I noticed a new aloe-shaped plant I'd never seen before and would look up in my field guide, and that the snag has a new flush of oyster mushrooms, and that the Steller's jays seemed agitated…oh, there's why, a red-shouldered hawk is in that tree over there. As I sit and observe, my mind and body are free from the daily grind and I feel a smile curving up the edges of my mouth."
Here is a favorite tree for a very busy pileated woodpecker! Pileated woodpeckers are very distinctive because of their large size and brilliant red crest. Also, you can’t mistake their loud, ringing call. They leave these characteristic oblong excavation holes in trees where carpenter ants have built nesting galleries in the dead heartwood. When the bird reaches the nest in the center of the tree, it scoops out mouthfuls of ants with its barbed tongue. You will often see wood chips on the ground below these holes, along with pileated woodpecker scat. These birds stay in Maine all winter. They keep warm as other birds do by puffing up their feathers to create insulating air pockets. Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpecker found in North America with a wingspan of more than two feet. Click here to learn more and hear their call. (Submitted by Lynn Knight, January 7, 2019, bird photo is from
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac , in the fall of 1948 Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, went north to find some woolly bear caterpillars ( Pyrrharctia isabella ). “Dr. Curran collected as many…as he could in a day, determined the average number of reddish-brown segments, and forecast the coming winter weather through a reporter friend at The New York Herald Tribune.” Since then, folklore persists that woolly bears can tell how severe the winter will be. Unfortunately, according to NOAA, the width of the reddish stripe actually indicates how well the caterpillar ate during the year, how old it is and what species it is. You might find one curled up under a piece of bark this time of year. (Contributed by Priscilla Seimer, January 10, 2019)
Common Green Shield Lichen ( Flavoparmelia caperata ) is one of our very common lichens. It grows on all kinds of tree bark in full sun or partial shade. Lichens are generally very sensitive to air pollution and can be indicators of air quality. In urban or industrial areas where formerly polluted air becomes clean, Green Shield lichens, including F. caperata , are often the first group of lichens to return to the area. Look closely at the structure of this lichen and its complexity may surprise you. (Contributed by Priscilla Seimer, January 15, 2019)
Red squirrels are a common sight in New England. This time of year they have their winter coats, which are more dense and have longer hairs than their summer fur. A red stripe also develops from neck to tail and tufts of fur develop near the ears. According to Northern State University, only around 25 percent of red squirrels survive to become adults. Squirrels that do survive can live to be about 10 to 12 years old. The red squirrel’s main predators are hawks, owls, coyotes and pine martens. Last fall I watched a barred owl attempt to catch a red squirrel. In order to escape, the squirrel jumped from tree to tree and darted among the smaller branches where the larger owl could not go. (Contributed by Priscilla Seimer, January 21, 2019)