A Walk Through the Woods – Hidden Gems of Spring

ArrayJune 17, 2019 at 12:19 pm

By Sarah Spencer, Wildlife Biologist

I recently joined several wildlife biologists to conduct stand level habitat assessments on a piece of property being managed primarily for wildlife in western Maine. While our primary goal was evaluating shelter value of softwood stands for deer wintering habitat, there was much more to see in the woods than the trees themselves. As we meandered through each stand, signs of spring and early summer were everywhere.

Songbirds migrating from the tropics to Maine and points north could be heard and seen throughout each day. Black-throated green warblers and bay-breasted warblers were heard in nearly every mature softwood stand we entered. An antler, long since shed from the head of a moose, drew our attention to the ground where we also found the nest of an ovenbird. Every time we looked up, there was a fleeting glimpse of something flying from branch to branch. These tiny songbirds fly impressive distances to breed and raise young in Maine, only to head south again in the fall. Maine’s long summer days, diversity of invertebrates, and abundance of forested landscapes are to thank for why these birds choose Maine to raise their young.

Grouse scat

The day wasn’t without other signs of wildlife as well. A delicate blue drew our eyes to an eggshell in the middle of a gravel road, signaling a successfully hatched egg. Though several species of birds lay blue eggs, we thought this one was likely from an American robin. We heard the distinctive sound of a male ruffed grouse drumming and a few minutes later we found a large uprooted aspen laying on its side, providing the perfect spot for that drumming grouse. Last but certainly not least, there were also signs of herpetofauna (reptiles & amphibians). A garter snake in the sun of a forest opening early in the day and amphibian egg masses in a roadside pool on our walk back to the vehicles were a great treat. 

It wasn’t just sights and songs of birds and other wildlife which made our field time so enjoyable, but also the abundance of native plants in bloom this time of year. As we searched the ground for signs of deer use, noting well-worn trails and scat left over the winter, our eyes were also drawn to the spectacle of flowering plants.  Painted and red trillium carpeted the forest floor and the splotchy brown and green leaves of the trout lily growing along edges of ephemeral wet areas drew our eyes to their yellow flowers. As we passed through mixed wood and hardwood stands, we were greeted with the bright white blossoms of the blooming hobblebush and hidden flowers under the leaves of wild sarsaparilla. 

It’s a great time of year to spend time outside enjoying sights and sounds which may only be here for a short time each year. If you can tolerate the biting insects and pay attention to your senses, you’re guaranteed to be rewarded.