Leaving the James Bay region in mid-August, we stopped for the night in Ashuapmushuan Provincial Park, southeast of Chibougamau, Quebec. We expected to head out first thing in the morning, but discovered that, despite the remoteness, we had a good cell signal, enabling us to catch up on a number of tasks that had piled up. We ended up staying three nights, photographing a couple of new dragonflies, and enjoying small flocks of migrating songbirds each day. One of these had a Philadelphia Vireo, a somewhat scarce species. The uncommon Mountain Holly, Nemopanthus mucronatus, was in fruit; the dusky bluish red color of its berries is a favorite of ours.
Our original plan after James Bay was to explore portions of Quebec and New Brunswick that we had previously only covered superficially, then head for the Maine coast. But a telemedicine consultation, our first ever, determined that Eileen needed some prescription medicine, which was most easily obtained by returning to the U. S. To that end, we had the prescription filled just over the border, in northern Vermont. On the drive there, we passed close to La Maurice National Park (NP), in Quebec, and stopped in for a day paddle, as we could not reach the pharmacy in Vermont before closing anyway. Our best plant in La Mauricie was a pretty hybrid aster (Oclomena x-blakei) we had seen only once before. This was the 25th NP we had visited in Canada, leaving us only one remaining road-accessible NP in the country.
Once in Vermont, we spent some down time in the Prouty Beach Campground, near Newport. We needed a break, time to do research on a revised route, and somewhere to weather out Labor Day weekend. The campsite was right on Lake Memphremagog, so we paddled most days for our exercise. There was a flock of about 15 Hooded Mergansers there, which we saw multiple times. Our stay was broken into two pieces by a three-day excursion farther south and west in Vermont. Our first stop was in the Enosberg Town Forest to look for Ditch Stonecrop, Penthorum sedoides, the sole Western Hemisphere representative of family Penthoraceae (there is one other Asian species in this small family). We saw immature plants earlier in the year, but here we were able to observe flowers and fruits and add it to our life list. With this addition, we finally reached our goal of seeing 95% of the native North American vascular plant families!! Of the remaining 12 families (out of 254), there are two or three that I think we will eventually see, but the rest seem difficult to nearly impossible.
Our other two stops in Vermont were preserves managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Shaw Mountain had nice limestone habitat, and we were surprised to find Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, in fruit. This plant has become quite rare because of exploitation for Asian markets, where it is considered to have medicinal properties. Chickering Bog is misnamed, as it actually is an excellent example of a fen, which differs from a bog in receiving nutrients from ground water or flowing surface water (whereas water in bogs is entirely from rain, which leaches minerals from the soil). Bogs are often good for insectivorous plants, which obtain nutrients from the insects they catch, and so are advantaged in depauperate soils compared to more conventional plants. Fens, in most cases, have a greater variety of plants, some of which are quite rare, local, and/or interesting, especially fens that are more alkaline.
After Labor Day we headed for the Maine coast, having decided to leave further exploration of eastern Canada for another trip. The drive had some lovely mountain scenery, passing through Dixville Notch in New Hampshire, and Grafton Notch in Maine (a notch being essentially a narrow pass. Although we traveled very extensively in the Northeast during the 20 years we lived in Rochester, New York, most of our trips to the coast were in late fall or winter, when the birding was particularly interesting, so we expected that we would find some new plants in maritime habitats such as rocky headlands, cobble beaches, dunes, swales (low, moist areas among sand dunes), and salt marshes. The first coastal site we visited was a TNC preserve on Great Wass Island, which gave access to rocky headlands and cobble beaches, and yielded four new plants.
We then spent a week exploring Acadia NP, camping at nearby Lamoine State Park (SP) to avoid the crowded campgrounds in the NP. The botanizing there was greatly facilitated by the recent publication of a photographic guide to the park’s vascular plants. It was fun to be able to identify many plants very quickly in the field (whereas, usually, I key the plants at night from photos and/or samples, a slower process). Although we only averaged about one new plant per day, we were able to reacquaint ourselves with a number of northeastern plants we had not seen in over a decade. The scenery was lovely, especially the views from Cadillac Mountain, which at 1530 feet elevation is the tallest mountain on the immediate coast in the eastern U. S. There was a surprising amount of fall color, which we particularly enjoyed while paddling on Jordan Pond. Acadia NP had the best rocky headlands of the year, from which we saw seabirds such as Northern Gannet, Black Guillemot, and Common Eider (eiderdown comes from the nest of this duck, which is lined by the female using their down feathers).
After Acadia, we visited four more sites in Maine. Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) has several nice hikes; we took the Hollingsworth Trail, which was excellent, with good numbers of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. Next were three preserves managed or formerly managed by TNC. The Basin Preserve had a scenic loop trail passing Sprague Pond and visiting nice granitic outcrops. Saco Heath featured a lengthy and beautiful boardwalk through a true bog with some areas nearly totally covered by shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae), hence the location’s name. This site is technically a rare coalesced bog, formed when two lakes were filled by peat, which continued to accumulate, raising the bog levels above that of the adjacent land, until the two advancing peat fronts met and joined. Finally, the Kennebunk Plains have the largest stand of Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. novae-angliae) in the world, and though we were well after the peak flowering date, a few of the purple flowers could still be found, as well as several other species characteristic of inland sandy soils.
We had some nice mammal sightings in Maine, including Porcupine (Petit Manan), Harbor Porpoise, and Snowshoe Hare (both Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia NP), but the best of all was right in camp in Lamoine SP. After dinner one night, we heard a scrabbling noise from the roof of our camper, and quietly got up to take a look. I thought it sounded like it was near the roof fan vent, so before opening the door and going outside, I shone a flashlight straight up, through the opening. A moment later our curious visitor, attracted by the light, clambered under the vent cover to check us out — and there, in full view, less than two feet away, was an adorable Northern Flying Squirrel!!
Continuing south, we reached Parker River NWR, on Plum Island, in northeastern coastal Massachusetts. This refuge is an outstanding birding spot, and though we saw few birds on this visit, the native plants of the dunes and salt marshes were very interesting, with three new species, one of which was a new genus for us (Beach Pinweed, Lechea maritima). We camped nearby at Salisbury Beach, where we were pinned down for one whole day by rain. I spent some time watching out to sea with a telescope, and was surprised to see three Manx Shearwaters, a pelagic (oceanic) species that I had previously only seen well out to sea.
Heading inland, we sampled two more TNC preserves. At Loveren’s Mill Cedar Swamp in New Hampshire, conditions were apparently perfect for dispersal of Red-spotted Efts, the land form of the Eastern Newt, a type of salamander. We saw a couple dozen of these bright orange herps with metallic red spots, which may signal to potential predators the presence of toxic compounds in their skin. Lime Rock in Rhode Island had a nice trail system. The most interesting thing we found there was Hairy Pinesap, Hypopitys lanuginosa, a saprophytic species known from only about eight counties in New England, and nowhere else in the world.
We spent five days on Cape Cod, with relatively uncooperative weather – high winds canceled all whale-watching trips from Provincetown during our stay. These trips can be quite good, because the rich shallows of Stellwagen Bank lie so close to shore. We did spend time scoping from shore with some success, seeing Cory’s Shearwater, Parasitic Jaeger, lots of Northern Gannets, Gray Seal, and some distant dolphins, probably Atlantic White-sided Dolphins. But it would have been nice to get out onto the ocean, where we probably would have seen much more. However, the botanizing was good, despite a fair amount of rain. Sandy Neck Park, near Barnstable, at the base of the Cape, had marvelous examples of salt marsh, dunes, and swales, and we found an impressive six new plant species in one moderate hike! We did nearly as well in a longer hike in Nickerson SP, at the bend in the Cape, where we camped. A particularly lovely new species there was Pink Tickseed, Coreopsis rosea. Cape Cod National Seashore has a number of nice short hiking trails, of which our two favorites were the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, and the Beech Forest Trail. On the former, we found our first fruiting Inkberry, Ilex laevigata, a native holly with beautiful red berries.
Leaving the Cape, we proceeded west through Rhode island and Connecticut. We spent a few hours at Trustom Pond NWR in Rhode Island, an area that can be very good for voles and lemmings when their populations peak. This did not seem to be such a year. As the day was densely overcast, everything was at the same temperature, allowing us to use our thermal scope effectively during the last few hours of daylight. We did find a number of common mammals, but neither of our target species. There have been some reports of the rare New England Cottontail here, but a biologist with whom I spoke said they have systematically sampled pellets and done DNA testing, and that only Eastern Cottontails (which were introduced for hunting) have been detected. We saw about a dozen cottontails, unfortunately all clearly Eastern.
Our last activity in New England was to spend an afternoon canoeing near Deep River, Connecticut. We paddled around Pratt and Post Coves; on the Connecticut River; and through a natural channel paralleling that river for several miles, along Selden Neck. There was considerable lovely native vegetation in the coves and along the channel, featuring Wild Rice, Zizania aquatica, a remarkable grass. Though an annual species (one that grows from seed, flowers, and dies in a single year), we saw some individuals that appeared to be about 13 feet in height, of which about 8 feet were above the surface of the water, and so the plants towered over us in our canoe! The two coves, which are in part protected by TNC, are unusual in that they are tidal, but freshwater. This is possible because they are fed by the strong freshwater current of Connecticut River, but when the ocean tide is high, salt water invades the river farther downstream, backing up the freshwater flow, and raising the water levels in the coves.
We next head toward Cape May, New Jersey, for songbird and hawk migration.