Birding Biddeford’s Hills Beach

During my Maine vacation, I spent two evenings walking Hills Beach in Biddeford. Both nights the tide was low, and the birds were plentiful.

On the first night, this American Avocet landed fairly close to me in shallow water, allowing me a close opportunity to identify this life bird.

americanavocet

On the second night, I found this Little Blue Heron feeding on exposed mud flats alongside Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and a Great Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron at Hills Beach in Biddeford, Maine

Exploring Plainville: Eagle Scout Nature Trail

Located on Everett Skinner Rd. just north of the Plainville Athletic League (PAL) fields, the Eagle Scout Nature Trail features a wooded swamp, a small pond, a pine grove, a vernal pool, and a brook (called the Old Mill Brook). A wooden sign welcomes visitors to the parking area.

The property is owned by the town and managed by the Plainville Conservation Commission. As the name suggests, Boy Scouts have contributed over the years to the site by installing bridges, marking trails, and trimming fallen trees.

Birds

This property attracts a variety of song birds at all times of year. Resident birds include the Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpecker. This is a fairly reliable location to hear and sometimes see Hairy Woodpecker and Brown Creeper. If you walk quietly along the stream, you may spot a secretive Wood Duck.

Migrant summer nesters include Pine Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, and Northern Waterthrush. On several occasions in the spring, I've heard a Winter Wren singing enthusiastically along the brook, though I don't believe this species remains here to nest.

Other Animals

The Old Mill Brook is a good spot to observe animals and their sign.  Muskrats can be seen in or near the water, though they can be quite secretive.  In winter, look for the tracks of Mink, Fisher, or Coyote in the snow.  Summer is a good time to see Ebony Jewelwing damselflies fluttering along the shaded stream.  The bridge near trail marker #10 is a particularly reliable spot.

Trees, Shrubs, and Plants

In June, be sure to visit the pine grove and enjoy the Pink Lady's-slippers that dot the ground. Earlier in the year, the trail along the stream features a variety of flowering species, including Three-leaved Goldthread, Partridge-berry, Marsh-marigold, and several species of Violets. Northern Spicebush – a native shrub – is also quite common here, sporting round, paired buds in winter.

Scan the ground near post #5 for Downy Rattlesnake-plantain. This plant grows in patches and has distinctive leaves (see photo below). In late July or August, you may even see some of the plants in the colony flowering.

Lastly, this is an excellent site to meet some trees. The trail features twenty numbered posts that were originally installed as part of an Eagle Scout project. Years ago, a descriptive brochure was available in a box near the trail head, but for now, let this list guide your tour.

1 Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
2 Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
3 Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
4 Cherry Birch (Betula lenta)
5 Flowering Big-bracted-dogwood (Benthamia florida) and Downy Rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera pubescens)
6 Corner of Stone Wall – a reminder of former land use
7 (Painted on rock) Glacial Rock – a reminder of the ice-age
7 (Post Marker) Rotting stump of Cultivated Apple (Malus pumila)
8 White Ash (Fraxinus americana)
9 Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) near water
10 American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) near wooden bridge
11A Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)
12 Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)
13 Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
14 Poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
15 Glossy False Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)
16 Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
17 Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) succumbing to the shade of the forest
18 Eastern White Oak (Quercus alba)
19 “Bridge to Nowhere” overlooking Vernal Pool
20 "Fern Valley"

If you walk this trail, I'd love to hear about your experience.  What is your favorite part?  Leave a comment below.

Edible Farm Weeds: Common Dandelion

By late summer, Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can lie under the radar. Having flowered and fruited en masse in the early part of spring, most plants you'll find in August will be all leaves.  I've recently located plants with lush basal rosettes growing on the edges of cultivated fields.

Photo of Common Dandelion rosette

Practiced foragers generally recommend that those new to consuming dandelion greens aim for the early, young leaves that are available prior to the plants flowering in spring -- as they tend to be less strongly bitter.  But so long as I mix the leaves with milder components, I find the strong flavor of even late summer leaves to be a welcome treat. Dandelion greens have extremely high levels of vitamins and minerals, and in the right places they are large and abundant.  Plus, they look delicious!

Photo of Common Dandelion leaf