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Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Walking around Chaffin Pond today in North Windham with my dog, Sophie-Bea, we kept our ears pricked for peepers, or wood frogs, but didn’t hear them. I anticipate that after today’s afternoon showers, together with this eerily warm spell, the wood frogs and salamanders will make their annual journey back to vernal pools to spawn. I have a vernal pool in my woods at Nixie’s Vale and like to listen to the wood frogs in April. By May, they hop through my woods and over my yard, heading for uplands. At Chaffin Pond, a 13-acre freshwater pond that’s part of the 123-acre Windham Parks and Recreation Donnabeth Lippman Park, there are two identified vernal pools and an educational sign for visitors, explaining the significance of vernal pools. See a map of the pond and park here.  Right now, it’s clear that the local Conservation Corps volunteers are implementing some erosion control measures. Wetlands act as natural “controls” for protecting roads and dry land from run-off and for controlling erosion, however, during heavy rains, the pond’s water can get quite high and overflow onto the trails very easily. Thus it seems prudent for the use of man-made erosion control barriers to protect fish habitat from sediment intrusion, especially during such projects as replanting grass in the park recreation areas.

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Today’s walk was a little muddy in places, so I recommend wearing the right boots, and staying on the trails, rather than trying to go around certain muddy spots. The 20160401_123203Conservation Corps volunteers built and installed beautiful bridges that cross some of the wetter areas, brooks, including Hyde and Outlet Brook, and crossing through some of the areas that include vernal pools. These pools look shallow but would be deep enough for someone wearing hip-waders to feel that cool water creep into their pant legs. I know the feeling all-too well: several years ago, in 2010, I waded into vernal pools throughout parts of Windham, Maine, as part of a vernal pool mapping and monitoring project with University of Maine, Orono. Along with my monitoring partner, a land conservation colleague, I waded into vernal pools, counted wood frogs and salamander eggs, and took photographs for the projects data collection. (I previously blogged about that experience on Strange Wetlands.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.52.11 PM

Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program has mapped the wetlands of Windham, including those adjacent to Chaffin Pond, including Boody Meadow. I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s something mysterious and irresistible about wetlands. These maps, while informative, don’t take any of that mystery or lush

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

meaning away from these special places, at least for me. Instead, maps serve to identify, aid in the planning, sometimes for conservation purposes, or to show connectivity between waters. While walking around in the woods, it’s sometimes hard to imagine from a bird’s eye view how all of these much smaller waters connect and eventually feed Sebago Lake, an incredibly important drinking water source for most of southern Maine!

Map legends, below, show the various types and functions of the wetlands shown in the map of the Chaffin Pond preserve (at right).

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

 

Light green highlighted areas indicate an aquatic bed with submerged aquatic vegetation. Red highlighted areas indicate emergent wetlands, classified as having erect, rooted hydrophytes and usually dominated by perennials. You won’t typically see mosses and lichens in those areas. The dark green highlighted areas are forested or shrub-scrub wetlands. Orange highlighted areas indicate shrub-scrub wetlands, or woody vegetation less than 20 feet tall. These include smaller, young or stunted trees and shrubs. Grey highlighted areas identify rocky shorelines or bottom.

Sophie-Bea noticed some movement in the woods in the preserve by the pond, pointing as she does, when the 50% of her that’s pointer is active. (She’s half dachshund.) We passed a young man fishing for trout and largemouth bass. The

Sophie-Bea points

Sophie-Bea points

pond’s submerged vegetation and shallows along the shoreline make ideal habitat for largemouth bass. There’s no boat launch, however, it’s an ideal spot to put in a kayak or a canoe. (I found the story of a father and son’s fishing experience on Chaffin Pond out of their canoe on the Amazing Fish-a-Metric blog.) What’s interesting to me is how this pond changes from one season to the next. Later in spring, a large area of the preserve will come alive with beautiful green ferns and I like to follow a trail that goes past Boody Meadow, a wetland that filters water that drains into Sebago Lake via Outlet Brook and other unnamed tributaries. Today the brook was running fast and I imagine after this afternoon’s rainstorm, it’s rushing like river rapids on a much smaller scale.

April1ChaffinPond

We love walking there year-round, regardless of mud on the trails. In January, we tromped through slush and last summer, we sauntered through the ferns alongside Boody Meadow, imagining moose and muskrat moving through the wet meadow, unseen, undiscovered, perhaps watching us.

Pretty soon, we’ll return and hear the peepers, after their “Big Night,” a series of rainy nights in early April, when the wood frogs return to the vernal pools by Chaffin Pond, and spawn. These small endangered creatures are vital to Maine’s fish and wildlife ecosystems. Keep that in mind when you’re driving home late at night and see dozens of frogs leaping across the road–something so bizarre it seems straight out of an “X-Files” episode–but as fantastic as it seems, it’s part of real spring in Maine.

Update: Tonight on my way home from the grocery store, a dozen or so frogs leapt across the road –their familiar silhouettes illuminated in the beam of the headlights. I slowed down and smiled.

 

Return to-and-from Morgan Meadow

“Isn’t this nice?” I breathed cool misty fog
Just like my mother would say on an island,
But I was talking to my curvy hot dog dog,
A pointer-dachshund, who isn’t that reliable
When I let her run off-leash; the meadow

Seemed deserted, a 500-acre preserve,
No one else parked in the lot so I got risky,
Let the dog romp loose; lessons learned:
Once, she bounded unleashed into the woods
During our tour with the Inland Fisheries
Wildlife Biologist, and his great dane, Gus, rescued
Sophie-Bea. She trotted beneath his elegant body
As he galloped; it’s fleeting, the love lives
Of dogs, or so I have observed.

We tromped through unpredictable snow,
Followed deer tracks, boot holes and paths
Of snow-machines, a sort of broken treadmill
With trap doors for every third or fourth
Footfall, suddenly ankle-and-shin deep,
Crust-cutting and gator-bruising (I should
Have worn knee-pads). We trekked

A mile or more, then turned back, a hard
Walk (The dog snorted cold air and I panted
“Wait for me,” not a command she obeys.)
I felt somehow dismayed not to have
Seen wildlife, though there were signs:
Scat and smells the dog investigated.

At home, we guzzled water and cracked
Open some windows to let 40 degree
Fresh air fill the house; after that,
The dog tore through the upstairs
Screen, over the bulkhead, diving
Head-first, paws out, as if to jump!

There, by the lilac, where I’d tossed
Soft apples for squirrel and deer,
A small grey opossum rummaged
Around, not showing any fear
While my dog bashed herself
Against the window panes.

Oh, the pointless hysterics,
As I searched, half-naked,
Mid-dressing, for the camera
To take its picture.

I went out in mismatched PJ pieces
Breakfast slippers like an old man
Inching toward this bizarre species
That really belongs in Arkansas—
Just look at the headlines: “Recipe
Time: Eat Possum,” “Opossum
Found at Courthouse,” “Officials
Say ‘unlikely culprit’ raided Scout
Troups’ snack tray,” “Possum Tails:
How to Care for Your Pet.”

oppossum

Leah Stetson photo

Seeing this nonnative creature waddle
Through my little Maine wooded seep
Makes me wonder about the weirdos
Who save orphaned opossums, keep
Them as pets and make home videos
Of their marsupials doing pig-tricks.

Now bobcats and red foxes, moose
And coyotes, hell, local legends
Of wild dogs (they’re suspicious)
Run ‘round Morgan Meadow’s
Marshland and forested wetlands,
But the possum is a new-comer.

Its population won’t sky-rocket;
The possum’s plight is pathetic.
It doesn’t survive under pressure
(Tires, mainly, the kill’s automatic)
On my drive up the Hill of Doom,
I swerved to avoid a dead one,
Quite possibly the same possum
That drove my dog nuts.

She’s from Arkansas, too.

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Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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