A Few Songbirds of Maine.

While visiting in Southern Maine a few weeks ago we encountered several songbird species that I was able to capture video of.  Included are some birds I don’t often get to see such as Common Yellowthroat, Brown Thrasher and Prairie Warbler.  Hope you enjoy it!


Maine Primitive Gathering 2013


This year at the Maine Primitive Gathering I only took a few pictures.  The Gathering has come to be so important to me, a chance to see so many special people and feel part of a community that shares a common interest.  My time there this year was abbreviated so I was not able to connect with as many of those special people as I wanted to.

The images here do not begin to do justice to the scope and dynamic nature of the Gathering.  I was too busy enjoying myself to take pictures that might express this better.  Dozens of instructors taught workshops about archery, bow and arrow making, friction fire of all types, tracking, survival skills, health and healing, and many other primitive and wilderness skills.  Many families attended, I saw a lot of little babies on their mothers hips and kids running everywhere.  What follows are a few examples of what went on.


Primitive Skills Experts

Some oldtimers and whippersnappers Mike, Al, Nick, Red and Bob, all experts in one field or another, there to share the knowledge.




Maine Primitive Gathering

One of many workshops.

Hide Tanning

Hide tanning.


Garlic Hawkers

Garlic Hawkers Rich, Gabby and Maple

Boys at the campfire

Some of the boys hanging out around the fire.

Fire Workshop

A  fire workshop on group friction fire.  Here they are teaming up on a giant hand drill.

Someone saw me looking around for my daughter and our friends and asked “Looking for your tribe?” and I thought, yeah I am, my tribe within a tribe.  In this place I am a member of the the Gathering Tribe, the Fire Clan, the Deneen, Andy, Gabby, Jace, Evan, Dena, Maple Tribe (my “extended” family) and the Long Time Instructor Society.

Pardon my sentimental words.  To be part of something meaningful is a great feeling and a tough thing to explain.

Porcupines Porch

Porcupine sign, tracks


There is a steep rocky ridge near Mt Agamenticus in southern Maine where the Hemlock trees are thin and the Porcupines are thick.  Above and below you can see obvious sign of the damage Porcupines can cause as they feed on the bark of trees by nipping off branches to get at the tender ends.

porcupine damage to Hemlock tree


I came here knowing I might run into the creatures and hoping to see other creatures as well.  After wandering around for a few hours and seeing a lot of porky tracks and not much more I returned to the rocky ridge hoping for some bobcat sign.  This spot is known for bobcat.  They like to den and lay up in the same bouldery places as porcupines.

Porcupine tracks in snow

By now I had been out for quite some time and my body had relaxed and slowed.  I climbed up the jumbled boulders toward a likely spot.  I have been told it is better to hold no agenda in the wild, that it can be sensed by other animals and cause them to flee or that an agenda narrows one’s focus and other things can be missed.  I had an agenda to get to a certain spot likely for Bobcat sign.  Maybe I held it loosely enough because as I moved up I was a bit startled by this sleeping Porcupine beside me, napping on the porch of its den.


Porcupine in Den


Porcupine, I soppose can afford to sleep more soundly than other animals having quills to protect them.  I managed to maneuver around a little and take many pictures with a noisy shutter without waking it.

Sleeping Porcupine


Sleeping Porcupine in den




Eventually I got greedy and disturbed this cool creature.  A good tracker gets in and out without the animals knowing, I have some learning still to do here.  It clicked its teeth and moved slowly back to the deepest gap between rocks.  I left slowly too, as not to disturb further.

Bird Language

Deneen at Drake's Island

Deneen and I went to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of southern Maine.  At the estuary we saw this harbor seal swimming around looking for a place to bask.  The rivers edge proved to steep for it in the end and we got to observe it for quite some time.

Harbor Seal in river

Gulls and Canada Geese had been around all day occasionally calling or flying about.  As we relaxed against a bank of sand some gulls and a couple geese all squawked at once which caused me to turn around toward the noise.  This was not something I think I would have taken note of in the past.  Last fall we took an bird language intensive course with White Pine Programs.  Since then I have become a little more aware of what all that bird sound might mean.  I am most often left wondering.


This day I had little time to wonder.  When I looked back I saw half a dozen gulls and two geese calling and flying toward us all in a group.  Above and behind them a bald eagle came out of the trees and flew over us.  I did not get pictures of the fleeing birds (the movement they made is called a bird plow) but did get this picture of the eagle.

Bald Eagle


Bird language is an extension of tracking.  One can “track” the presence and movement of animals by the reaction of other, more visible or audible, animals.

Mouse or Vole?

small mammal tracks

I struggle with differentiating mouse from vole tracks when behavioral clues are not obvious.  Voles, at least the commonest of souther New England, baseline movement (sometime known as harmonic gate) is a trot while mice move in a bound most of the time.  Of course they are each capable of both gates as well as others.  There are distinctions in the foot morphology but I have not looked at enough clear tracks of these species to reliably see these differences with confidence.

mouse tracks

The creature in these pictures moved in a protected area close to cover most likely exploring the cracks and holes in the frozen sand at the bottom of a big eroded drainage.  All kinds of things blow in there from the sand barren-like wild blueberry fields above.

Mouse or vole tracks in sand

The measurements I took fit into several mouse and vole species.  Some of the morphology is apparent but not consistent.  In some sets the right foot looks different than the left.

small rodent tracks walking Mouse or vole tracks bounding

If I have it right the toes of voles show more connection to the pads giving them a finger like appearance.  I don’t really see that in these tracks.  These do however walk a great deal like a vole is more likely to do.

There were a few bounds mixed in as well.

small mammal tracks bounding


Every time I think I got this tracking thing licked I find something else to learn.

Pitch Pine

Pitch Pine Tree

We don’t have many Pitch Pine where I live in Connecticut.  This one is in Southern Maine in an area that is essentially a tiny  sand barrens.  They are a great bushcraft/primitive skills tree for many reasons.  One can use them for tea or medicine the same way as any other pine (though the taste may be less appealing) and, as their name suggests they produce an abundance of “pitch” or more accurately sap.  Pine sap becomes pitch once it is mixed with another substance like wax, fat, or charcoal to make it more useful as glue, a lubricant or preservative.

Some people may not see this tree as beautiful in the same way the stately White Pine is.  Thriving in a difficult environment of sandy soil and adaptations to forest fire give it its own kind of elegance I suppose.

Pitch Pine cones and needles

Above and below show the needles and old female cones.  The needles are twisted and in groups of 3.

Pitch Pine Cone


Pitch Pine Male Pollen Cones

Above are male cones and below a partially formed female cone.  I am not sure if this cone is brand new or an unfertilized cone from last year.  These picture were taken in Feb and neither male or female cones start to grow until spring.  I saw many male cones and several female cones on the trees.

Pitch Pine growing cone

Porcupine Under the Garage

porcupine in trail camera

Deneen and her nephew Jace put our camera trap behind her parents house in Maine where we had seen tracks going in and out from under the neighbors garage.  While they were out they saw the culprit in person trudging through the snow.  The porky was well known to her family, its trails are visible year round as well as the damage it caused the trees as it feeds.

camera trap

The camera did good work and captured many more pictures than I put here.  The animal seemed to come and go from its den under the garage multiple times a night.

porcupine near barn porcupine in camera trap

A couple winters ago we saw Grey Fox tracks going under the garage as well as the Porcupine.  I don’t know if they were sharing winter quarters (Grey Fox, unlike other canines, will use dens year round to sleep in) or if the fox merely  went under there several times looking for mice.  No sign of grey fox yet this winter.

Porcupine in back yard

My friend Mal and I got out a couple weeks ago up in Wells Maine to do some tracking. Here is a White Tailed Deer skull we found left by hunters and scavenged by a smallish bird. I have guessed its size to be about that of a Jay. Only the tail marks were visible to us as it had landed and taken off right there beside the skull. There are the tail marks in front of my fingers.
Mal showed me where there has been some extensive Porcupine damage to a stand of Douglas Fir. Here is one example.
And, in my book, the coolest find of the day, as it elicited much discussion between us on gates and behaviours, are these tracks of a Coyote descending a hill in a trot on the right then ascending in a bound/gallop, depending on who’s terms you use.
The two tracks on the right side are the trot down and the four on the left belong to the up hill gallop track group. The uphill movement would have used the power of the animals rear-end hence the large space between track groups.

Tracking in Maine

I had the pleasure of going tracking while visiting some dear friends in southern Maine this weekend.

My girlfriend Deneen and I went to look at a spot she had seen deer bedded down in earlier in the day and we (by that I mean I, Deneen is much less clumsy) startled seven deer up out of their beds but not before getting a good look at a couple of them 30 or 40 yards away. They were so graceful as they bounded off.

Here is Deneen alongside one of the many beds we found. I did not count but there was more than a dozen.
Here is the most beautiful bed we saw. It is easy to see how the animal lay there and quickly rose at our disturbance.

In another area we found what I am pretty sure was a Ruffed Grouse landing and take-off. the Tail is clear in the landing and delicate wing marks are to either side of the take-off along with the body prints.

More pictures to come.