Animal tracking adventure with LEA naturalist

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

When the wintertime trekkers arrived at a fork in the trail, their guide said she had two exciting things, and each was on a different trail.

Mary Jewett, a teacher and naturalist from Lakes Environmental Association (LEA), decided it was best not to limit anybody to only one path.

So, the participants traveled down the first path, explored some weasel tracks near open water, backtracked, and started down another trail until they arrived at the foot of a dead tree. Hungry animals had removed the bark. Around the trunk, pieces of bark were scattered on the snow like an explosion had taken place.

Jewett crawled across the snow, and two curious children followed her for a closer look at the tree carnage.

Jewett pointed out what appeared to be mosquitoes. She told everyone that the bugs had been alive a few days ago; and she thought it was unusual for mosquitoes to hatch in the middle of the winter. Some of the children tried to guess what kind of animals might have enjoyed the insect buffet.

LEA’s annual February family wildlife tracking trek took place Wednesday, Feb. 23. It was the third wildlife tracking event that the association has held this year.

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Next event sponsored by Lakes Environmental Association (LEA)

What: Full Moon (and headlamp) Walk at Holt Pond

Where: Participants to meet at LEA, 230 Main Street, Bridgton.

When: Saturday, March 19, 7:30 p.m. Hike to begin around 8 p.m. — weather permitting.

Bring: Snowshoes and headlamp — if you have them. LEA will provide extras.

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On the morning of the nature hike, Jewett told the group of more than 20 people that the conditions were not perfect for animal tracking. The hard snow did not leave many prints behind. However, there was evidence of wildlife along the Pondicherry Pond trail system.

Another dozen people showed up, but started at the other end of the trail. So, LEA Teacher Sara Morrison led that group on the hike.

The families who accompanied Jewett did spot some fox prints. Jewett explained fox prints go from point A to point B in a straight line — compared to domestic dogs, which leave trails going in circles and curves.

Eight-year-old Celeste Fisher grabbed her digital camera and took pictures of the fox prints.

Fisher, who is from Scarborough, said it was her first time ever doing animal tracking.

“My favorite part was looking at the round circle in the tree, and learning about the red squirrel,” Fisher said.

Lakes Environmental Association Teacher-naturalist Mary Jewett examines insects in the bark as Seige McGinnis, 10, of Harrison, and Danielle Gordon, 7, of Raymond, look on. LEA held its annual Animal Tracking for Families event in conjunction with February school vacation.

“The first time they see an animal, they’ll be hooked,” Fisher’s dad said.

Arturo Roach, 7, did the trek with snowshoes. He saw tracks from fox and weasels.

“I liked when we crossed the bridge. That was fun,” he said. “I liked the beaver house. That was cool.”

Roach and his family went snow tubing earlier in the week during his February vacation from school. His mom said they were looking for more outdoor activities to do, and LEA’s event filled the need to get outside to play and learn.

When Sara’s group returned from a wildlife excursion, one of the moms lined up cups of hot cocoa for rosy-cheeked children.

Over her cup of cocoa, Abigail Gibson, 7, described her adventure.

“We saw beaver tracks — old beaver tracks. We saw the red squirrel and a couple of chickadees in the trees,” she said.

Gibson, a resident of Sterling, Mass., said she has visited Pondicherry Park many times. She has walked along the trail system in the spring and summer.

This was her first time seeing and walking across the new Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. It was also her first time animal tracking during the winter, Gibson said. She added she enjoyed seeing all the animals and learning about beech leaves, which cling to branches all winter.

Morrison had thrown in some tree identification during the wildlife walk.

Also, the red squirrel made an appearance, Morrison said.

“There was some woodpecker activity. We were looking for a pileated (woodpecker) around the dead tree,” Morrison said.

Meanwhile, Jewett had collected an insect from the dead tree, and was looking forward to viewing the tiny specimen with the microscope she received as a Christmas gift.

She wanted to confirm it was a mosquito — that had been born with hundreds of others, providing an out-of-season snack for the wildlife that calls Pondicherry Park home.

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