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The habitats within the northern tier of states here in the USA, range from wet forest in the far east and far west with deciduous forests and prairie lands in the central part of the country. Here in New England, the furthest northeast, we have bits and pieces of boreal forest in New Hampshire and especially in Maine with deciduous forest to the south. Most of the USA is covered with deciduous forests and the conifer woodlands are restricted to higher elevations and northern latitudes. There are exceptions of course but the generality holds. In Canada the conifers rule and in the Appalachians the deciduous trees dominate. But, as an aside, the maple/beech/birch forest is very common in southern Maine and around the larger lakes. The logging within the spruce forests for soft wood (pulp) is extensive and the harvesting of hardwoods for dowels, clothespins and laminate is also widespread. Maine is called The Pine Tree State and pine, especially White Pine, was harvested heavily from 1630 onward. Now the harvest is mixed as just mentioned. The big pines were originally used in the sailing industry but now the uses are much more pedestrian.
Maine is a rather large state for New England, it is about the same size as Indiana. It may rank only 39th in size but it has more than 50% of its land in “northern” habitats and these areas are sparsely populated. There are plenty of bear, moose, deer, beaver, and millions upon millions of mosquitoes but the human numbers are pretty low in the great spruce woods of northern Maine.
Much of Maine is covered in forest lands of spruce (black, red, and white), larch (tamarack or hackmatack), cedar (red, northern white, and Atlantic). These are generally wet forests and have an understory made up of lichens, mosses, ferns, and small trees. The small trees might be alders, birches, goosefoot maple, or mountain ash but are usually younger trees of the dominant conifer group. The forest is quiet and the ground acidic. There are rather few leaves that fall annually and the rate of decay is slow. The buildup of a soft mossy (often sphagnum) layer is readily seen and felt under foot. The trees are often coated with lichens.
This image shows a fallen young spruce tree edging a bit of mossy ground and shows the thick layer of un-decayed vegetation that is usual in the spruce woods. On the edge of the image there are spruce branches and at the top a very small dogwood. The webs and fungal mycelium catch moisture most every night giving a sunny morning an extra bit of sparkle. We really didn’t have any sunny mornings and the spruce woods are so thick with vegetation the sunlight never really reaches the ground anyway.
One of the more common ground cover plants is the Canada Dogwood; also called Bunchberry Dogwood or Creeping Dogwood. This is really a dogwood; a member of the genus Cornus. Most of the stems have six leaflets. All the vertical stems rise from extensive rhizomes that thread along underground. There are only a few plant types that have opposite leaf and branching arrangements and dogwood is one of them. “Mad horse” gives you a clue to the other opposite-branched plant groups . M is for the maple family. A is for the ash trees. D is for the dogwoods.Horse is for the Horse Chestnut. All the other forest plants have a branching arrangement that alternates from side to side on the branch.
There are several spruces in the Maine forest. This is probably a Black Spruce in the spring where the new growth is a light green and the needles (leaves) that overwintered are a darker green. Black Spruce is the more common tree in the wetter ground and is often the only species in and around acidic bog lands. When associated with another species it is often White Spruce in Maine and Lodgepole Pine in central and western Canada. It is a very widespread tree and found in every Canadian province. As we saw in coastal Maine woodlands it often grows in dense mono-crop patches. I have no idea how a big broad animal like a moose can move through this sort of dense woodland.
The recent glacial melt-back left much of northern North America with wet and patchy ground. There is sand and gravel and rock every where, washed into piles, layers, and eskers by meltwater rivers and rivulets. The forest here and further north didn’t exist a few thousand years ago as this was all ice covered land with no vegetation. In many places huge chunks of ice were buried under the sands and gravels and were slow to thaw. When they did thaw, a depression formed what we call a “kettle”. The kettle hole ponds have, in many cases, filled with water and vegetation has encroached from the edges. This vegetation often formed a floating mat on the ponds and this bog habitat became special and important to carnivorous plants and terrestrial orchids. Throughout the forest many of these bogs remain as floating mats or as areas where only Black Spruce persists as a tree. They are areas where not much can grow and are referred to as Dwarf Bog Forests. The dying vegetation from the underside of the mat sinks into the old pond and slowly it fills with what we know a peat moss.,
A closer look at a spot in a bog shows the red flower of the carnivorous Pitcher Plant, a few leaves of Bog Rosemary, Labrador Tea, Leatherleaf, and a lot moss, and lichen. There is no soil here and the plants bind together to form a floating mat. The clumps of white on the left are reindeer lichens.
The Swamp Sparrow is a rather quiet and secretive member of the camo-gang. They are not really uncommon or infrequent but simply live in habitats that aren’t easily visited and thus are a bit hard to find. They have a gray face and a reddish cap setting off the rich browns of the back and flanks. Its is a rather pretty sparrow. It is about the size of a Song Sparrow and a bit larger than a Savannah or Chipping. The Swamp Sparrow is well named as its favored habitats are wet and it often feeds on the wet ground near ponds and streams.
This sparrow, and final image of this post, will take us out of the wet woodlands and into the second growth and fields of Maine. Of course it is difficult to avoid the Maine woods so we will jump back into the dark forest on occasion but the next post will not be totally about the woods. This is a Savannah Sparrow. The SASP is very widespread as it nests in almost any open vegetated area throughout North America. The majority of the breeding habitat is probably tundra and prairies. They nest throughout Alaska and southward across the northern half of the contiguous 48 states. They winter into Central America but can be also found in all the southern states as well. A very widespread bird of grasslands, tundra, and farm fields. The yellow spot in front of the eye is characteristic and can be expanded and flashed to threaten other males and impress females. The song is insect-like.