2017: Naturalist Goals Review

Photo of Ice-coated branch

It's time again to look back on and evaluate the Naturalist Goals that I set forth one turn-of-the-seasons ago. For the second year in a row, I unexpectedly dedicated a significant chunk of the year to a Maine Birding Big Year (more on this next week), but I nonetheless managed to meet most of my goals. Here's a breakdown of each one:

  • explore each of the following locations in northern York County, at least once per season: California Fields Wildlife Area (CFWA) in Hollis; Sawyer Mountain Highlands (SMH) in Limerick/Limington; Waterboro Barrens Preserve (WBP) in Waterboro/Shapleigh

I visited CFWA most often -- 11 times across 9 months. I was less successful with the other two locations. I visited SMH four times in the first half of the year, and I visited WBP only twice, in January and May.

  • obtain equipment (field recorder and microphone, for starters) to record and share high quality sound recordings of birds, insects, ocean, etc.

I purchased a field recorder and shotgun microphone early in the year, and put them to use documenting bird calls, songs, and non-vocal sounds (e.g., woodpecker drumming).

  • photograph at least 2 of the 5 birds who I've seen but not yet photographed (Dovekie, Tundra Swan, Prothonotary Warbler, Purple Gallinule, and Northern Bobwhite)

This goal proved difficult to accomplish. I almost had an opportunity to photograph a Tundra Swan in Whitefield, ME, but the day I heard about the bird was the first day the pond he/she had been seen on froze over. I'll either need to travel beyond state lines to secure photos of these birds, or else patiently await a twitchable Maine bird. The good news is that I secured photos of all 13 of my 2018 Life Birds, so I still have just 5 species on my to-be-photographed list.

New Year's Eve Update: With less than 2 hours of daylight remaining in 2017, I twitched and photographed a Dovekie off East Point Sanctuary in Biddeford Pool!

  • complete 3 or more Moon Challenges

I completed not 3, but 6 Moon Challenges this year, perhaps my favorite being the Early Bird Moon that began in March.

  • consume a diversity of wild foods by focusing on a different plant, seaweed, fish, shellfish, insect, mushroom, or mammal, each week of the year

Done! This challenge encouraged me to consume a variety of wild foods, including three types of fish that I caught 20+ miles offshore; some shellfish I gathered or dug myself (and others that I purchased); a multitude of fruits, leaves, shoots, and teas; a couple of fungi; and one seaweed. I didn't end up eating any wild mammals or insects (that I know of) -- perhaps a focus for next year?

  • hike 10+ miles along the Appalachian Trail in Maine

In late May, with a bit of the trail still covered with ice and snow, a friend and I birded and hiked an 11+ mile round-trip section of the AT from Route 4 in Sandy River Plantation to the summit of Saddleback Mountain.

  • and continue to publish my weekly Nature Notes, but on Mondays (instead of Wednesdays), and with a new format; each post will feature one photo (and perhaps an audio clip), three phenology notes, my wild edible of the week report (see above goal), moon challenge updates (when applicable), and finally a nature challenge of the week (for you, the reader)

The 2017 Nature Notes format kept me organized and on task. I was pleased with the outcome.

Lastly, I ask you to consider articulating a specific nature-related goal for the coming turn-of-the-seasons, whether it be something you aim to do daily, weekly, monthly, or even just once during 2018. Please share your goal(s) with other readers in the comments below.

17.51 | Nature Notes (Dec 17-23)

Photo of Black-bellied Plover
Black-bellied Plover | Biddeford, ME | 20 Dec 2017

Highlights of the Week

On Wednesday, a lone Black-bellied Plover was with a flock of Dunlin near the Basket Island Causeway at Hills Beach in Biddeford.

While heading to Portland on Thursday, I glimpsed a late American Kestrel hover-hunting alongside I-295 in South Portland.

A drake Barrow's Goldeneye is back in his usual spot below the Route 1 dam on the Saco River between Biddeford and Saco.

Wild Edible of the Week

I enjoyed Autumn-olive jello that Jenny made with fruits we foraged (and froze) back in September.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

During a snow storm, find a quiet place outside to sit and listen to falling flakes. (If there's no snow, substitute rain or wind.)


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Mammal Tracks: Striped Skunk

Photo of Striped Skunk tracks

In New England, a wide range of habitats host Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis), from old fields and wetland edges, to marshes, beaches, and urban areas.* Skunks go mostly unseen by humans, since they're primarily active under cover of darkness, but the presence of their tracks in sand or snow reveals their passing.

In the coldest part of the year, Striped Skunks limit their outside time, preferring to hole up and conserve their energy, often in communal dens, but unlike Woodchucks and Black Bears, Striped Skunks are not true hibernators.

To learn more about Striped Skunks, visit Animal Diversity Web. For book suggestions, check out the Mammal Identification & Tracking section of my Book, DVD, & Audio Picks page.

Photo of Striped Skunk tracks

*I photographed these Striped Skunk tracks at Hills Beach in Biddeford on November 30, 2017.

17.50 | Nature Notes (Dec 10-16)

Photo of Winterberry
Winterberry (Ilex sp.) | Kennebunkport, ME | 15 Dec 2017

Highlights of the Week

I twitched a Lark Sparrow who has been visiting a feeder in Biddeford for at least a couple of weeks.

In less than an hour, I saw two roadside adult Cooper's Hawks: one on an antenna frame in South Portland, and one in a deciduous tree in Biddeford.

A Western Conifer Seed Bug spent some time in my bedroom midweek.

Wild Edible of the Week

I made tea and seasoned a pot roast with dried leaves of Small Bayberry that I gathered during the green season.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Locate and observe a Dark-eyed Junco.


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My work as a naturalist is supported by readers like you. To pledge a monthly contribution of $1 or more, please visit Patreon. Thank you!