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by Pete Kallin
As I mentioned last week, Mother Nature is marching forward with her schedule, pandemic or not. Suddenly the days are getting a little shorter, and I am noticing more swamp red maples beginning to turn red in the wetlands and birches turn yellow high on the hillsides. It is still quite warm during the day but the nights are growing cooler.
Like the birds and squirrels, I am double checking my summer "to do" list and trying to make sure everything gets done. I am amazed at how many things are still on the list. In addition to looking for mushrooms and elderberries when I hike, I find myself keeping my eyes peeled for grouse, deer, and turkey sign. Those seasons are rapidly approaching, and last year's venison supply is running low in the freezer. Both the loons and the bass and pike in the lakes are chasing large schools of baitfish (mostly landlocked alewives) and trying to build up fat reserves to get through the winter.
Additionally, the loons with chicks are teaching their offspring how to catch their own food. When the chicks are first born, the parents chew up fish and crayfish and basically regurgitate food morsels into their chicks' eager open mouths. The chicks grow rapidly, and the parents soon simply bring the chicks, still wriggling morsels, which the chicks grab hungrily. After a week or so of this routine, the parents simply drop the food in the water near the chicks and the chicks need to catch their food before it escapes. At the same time, the chicks are learning to dive underwater, which is a major step in evading airborne predators such as eagles. Soon the chicks are foraging for their own food alongside the parents. Over the next two months or so, the loons will molt, replacing their insulating down with feathers, and begin to learn to fly. Those chicks that learn to fly before the lake freezes over will head to the ocean for the winter and eventually return to lake.
The local hiking trails remain quite busy. All the medical experts agree that "taking it outside" is the safest way to recreate this summer and many families are taking the opportunity to get out hiking. With fewer out-of-state visitors than a "normal summer," more Maine families are exploring Maine. On a recent hike up Mount Phillip, I ran into the Dionne family from Fort Fairfield, up in The County. (Editor's Note: Aroostook County, often simply called "The County" spans the top of Maine. Geographically, it is the largest county east of the Mississippi.) Dad was working in Madison at a mill that was adding a new product line — I believe probably the former Madison Paper Industries Mill, which is now manufacturing wood fiber insulation — while the family has been renting a camp on a pond in Emden for the summer. Mom has been exploring the area with the kids and recently discovered the 7-Lakes Alliance trails. It is good to see that some new jobs are being created in Madison and good to have new visitors to our area who are hoping to move here permanently.
Other families are taking the opportunity to visit grandparents for a bit before returning to school for the fall semester. Parents and kids are learning new education-related vocabulary, including "remote," "hybrid," "in-person," or "home-school." A nice visit to the lake can ease the stress a bit before heading home.My neighbors, Joel and Kathi King, had one of their daughter's families in town for the week, swimming, boating, and fishing. Their young grandson, Miles, caught several fish off the Tracy Cove swim dock. You can tell by his smile that he enjoyed it. His parents and grandparents were smiling just as much.
It is hard to believe that this is the final issue of Summertime in the Belgrades for this year. I hope this column has inspired some of you to get out and explore the outdoor recreation opportunities the region has to offer and I hope you took a kid or two along.
Until next year, I encourage everyone to "take it outside." For those of you who will be around for the winter, I encourage you to join me on the local trails on snowshoes or skis. Carpe ski-em!
Pete Kallin is a past director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which merged with the Maine Lakes Resource Center in December 2017 to form the 7-Lakes Alliance.