August 2, 2008

Hike to the Lakes

Posted by Steve N.

Friday I went hiking. All day. The forest changes so quickly here. Plants that weren't even sprouted 3 weeks ago now litter the trail. A lot of berries are bursting into existence as I write. I snacked on huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, almost baneberry (that would have been bad), and trailing blackberry on my way to Tomtit lake, located about 5 miles east of the Alderleaf property.

At Tomit, I noticed a massive amount of cedar waxwings fluttering about, singing, and posing on stumps for me:

A thriving waxwing population is a good sign. Since they survive mostly on fruit (thanks Jason), it tells us that there are lots of vitamin-packed wild edibles in the area. The lake is loaded with cattails as well, a great survival food. I uprooted one and tasted my first corm, a cone-like structure protruding from the roots. I ended up only eating one third of the food I brought because of the amount of wild edibles available trailside.

On the return trip, walking along an old overgrown road which tangents Lake 1 (an un-named lake, the closest to the property), I thought I smelled something strange and there were bird calls very unfamiliar to what I had been hearing all day. I froze mid-step and heard a big splash in the lake. From a fallen hemlock at the lake's edge I watched this fellow:

An American beaver, whose lodge was at the other end of the lake, swim swiftly in a snaking pattern, diving and thumping his tail on the surface every now and then. As I watched I noticed more cedar waxwings, tons of them, fluttering about the edge of the lake. How wonderful it was to be share the space with these beautiful birds. I felt at peace. All of the sudden, another splash about 40 feet to my left. My head turned quickly to see a hawk (most likely a Cooper's hawk, anterior plumage orange-brown, posterior brown, 1-2 feet in length) with a struggling cedar waxwing in its talons. The raptor saw me, clamped down on his catch, and took off into the conifers. I couldn't believe my eyes. It happened so quickly I couldn't even turn on my camera.

Nature has a strange way of revealing her secrets to us in moments we least expect them. Tom Brown writes about how Grandfather always told him not to get so wrapped up in the task at hand that you block out the whole scene in front of you. This was a perfect example of me getting wrapped up in the swimming beaver and missing the actual catch of the small bird by the big bird. I feel fortunate, however, that I saw what I did.

The walk home was a bit hurried because I couldn't wait to tell the folks about the sightings. But I did find something that is rather unusual, a perfectly registered black bear track, amongst others, along the logging road.

Black bears, unlike humans, have the largest of their digits on the outside of their feet. This is a front track. Rear tracks have palm pads that connect to the heel pads, making for a longer track. Black bears have hair between their palms and digits, which usually splay the track significantly, but this one is very defined.

There is so much going on back in the forest behind the property. A good quarter mile section of the trail is lined with bobcat scats and scrapes every ten feet. Belted kingfishers are now hunting along the water's edge, coyote are making their way to the east meadow, and hawks are eating cedar waxwings!

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