March 16, 2012

Recalling a winter trip…

With a fresh cover of clean snow, Jordan Chalfant, Matt Dickinson, and I set out on February 13th, 2012 to try to find tracks of the elusive bog lemmings of Mount Desert Island, Maine. We went to Sunken Heath bog as our first destination. Little did we know that this trip would take us through a medley of other animal and botanical signs. 

To reach Sunken Heath we had to first go through a red spruce and balsam fir forest. Inexplicably drawn by our curiosity to follow any animal tracks we found, we were forced into a slow, but deliberate walk. Most of the tracks in the forest were the bounds of mice and red squirrels--common in these coniferous habitats. Matt suddenly stopped, staring at some squirrel tracks as if there was something different to them. Indeed! These tracks were not the bound pattern of a red squirrel, but mostly a hop pattern common to flying squirrels! Out first special find of the day.

Flying squirrel
Further along we came to some eastern coyote tracks that altogether deviated us from the path towards the bog. This coyote then led to the intricate tunnels left by a species of shrew in search of insects. The track patterns of the shrew were actually visible within the tunnel! Finally, after another coyote and some mice, we made it to Sunken Heath bog. The botanical world opened its doors.

Shrew tunnel
Eastern coyote
I had been to bogs in other seasons and greatly appreciated their botanical diversity. But I never thought I'd find it out here in the winter. I realized that a common feature of bog plants is woodiness with evergreen leathery leaves (an adaptation to help them deal with the extreme growing conditions of bog habitats). This allowed me to identify most of the species I encountered--a botanist's greatest revival in the brown winter months! 
Picea mariana (Black spruce)
Sarracenia purpurea (Pitcher plant)
Oclemena nemoralis (Bog aster)

Alas, although we came across some other wonderful tracks, we found no bog lemming signs in Sunken Heath bog. Out next stop was to be Wonderland Bog in Acadia National Park. 

But.... we were halted once again. This time by a weasel! Of course, that wasn't enough. Following another coyote, we reached a set of impeccable bobcat tracks! The bobcat had crossed the coyote trail, stepping carefully right over the prints the coyote had left. We followed a bit, only to realize we were following the coyote. The bobcat had elusively left the trail! Being a bit hurried for time, we moved on towards our final bog destination.

Bobcat track
Finally at Wonderland Bog, we found what may have been some burrows in the snow left by bog lemmings. Unfortunately, their lack of clarity prevented any conclusive certainty about their presence. The bog lemmings continued as an elusive—yet useful—mystery for exploring the plants and animals of Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Possible bog lemming burrow...


  1. Hi Luka, I'm commenting here at random since I don't know how else to get in touch with you: I just saw your thing on kickstarter and was happy to hear you might be coming back to Romania. Your project sounds very interesting, and I'd be more than happy to assist you and Phil in any way I can, or tag along if you'll have me.

    I'm still studying architecture, and have become concerned with the same problems that Phil mentions, trying to keep track of the local experiments and workshops concerned with traditional building practices. I've also been trying to tidy up my climbing since you introduced me to it at Cheile Râşnoavei, although not as much as I would have liked.

    1. I sent you an email. Send me your number so that we can connect.

  2. Salut Radu! Send me your email and I'll reply that way.