Nature up close: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument


Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in the fall.

Sherri O’Brien

By "Sunday Morning" contributing videographer Judy Lehmberg.

Several years ago, while taking photos along a creek, we discovered a freshly-killed white-tailed deer. We noticed the carcass had been broken open by a predator who appeared to have eaten its fill and disappeared. We also noticed pieces of the stomach were missing and freshly-eaten grass was spread out along the creek.

After spending about 30 minutes photographing the creek, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. It was a pine marten, one of the most elusive animals in the northern forests of North America! We had seen them before but had never been able to photograph them because they move fast! We finally realized it was the pine marten that was spreading grass from the deer's stomach as it carried stomach pieces along the creek and up a tree. It stopped in the crook of the tree to eat its lunch, and we actually got a few photos.

A pine marten licks its lips after a meal of deer stomach. Verne Lehmberg

Pine martens, one of the less common species in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, are members of the weasel family in the order Carnivora. They don't hibernate, but they are usually less active in winter. They mate in July or August, but the developing embryo then goes into a period of inactivity and does not implant in the female's uterine wall until January or later. This has big advantages for the pregnant female who does not to have to spend energy on a developing fetus during a time of year when food may be scarce. It also keeps her lighter and more agile, improving her ability to catch prey -- and it assures the kits are born in the spring when prey may be more plentiful. Although the process of delayed implantation is poorly understood, it must be advantageous, as it occurs in around 100 species of mammals, including many carnivore species.

Nature: Maine 02:10

Pine martens, as well as many other unique species, add to the high biodiversity in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in north-central Maine.  Designated a national monument on the eve of the 100th anniversary of our national parks, on August 24, 2016, it consists of 87,563 acres of heavily wooded land intersected by the east branch of the Penobscot River. The monument would not exist if it were not for Roxanne Quimby, a co-founder of Burt's Bees, who in 2001 began buying land east of Baxter State Park in Maine. The monument now consists of 87,563 acres donated by the Quimby family and their foundation, along with $20 million and a promise of an additional $20 million in the future to maintain the monument.

The west side borders Baxter State Park in north-central Maine, thus creating a large area of wilderness which is home to many cold-adapted plants and animals.

Katahdin Woods and Waters was covered with glaciers as recently as 14,500 years ago. Since then, a large diversity of plants and animals has repopulated the area, including pine marten, white-tailed deer, bobcat, black bears, snowshoe hare, and even the illusive Canadian lynx. Plants include oak, ash, beech, maple, aspen, spruce, hemlock and fir, as well as a large diversity of herbaceous plants, including several species of orchids and trilliums.

A cow moose and her yearling calf. Sherri O'Brien

Moose are relatively common in Maine, with the most current population estimates of over 76,000 animals. At over seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighing more than 1,500 pounds, a male moose is the largest member of the deer family. Like other deer, male moose produce antlers in late spring and early summer in time for the fall mating season. The antlers grow surrounded by a layer of skin with lots of blood vessels. As the breeding season approaches antlers lose the surrounding skin (or "velvet"). Antlers are composed of bone, while horns are bone covered with a sheath of keratin which is similar to our fingernails. Horns aren't shed; antlers are shed annually, making them more calorically expensive than horn.

Red trillium. Sherri O'Brien

The red trillium, or sweet wakerobin, is a harbinger of spring in this cold, northern climate. It is often smelled before it is seen as it has wonderfully sweet fragrance. Bog orchids and white lady's slipper are two other striking flowers found on the monument's land.

The East Branch of the Penobscot River varies as it runs from the north of the property to the south, continuously changing from mild rapids, to white water to calm pools and to riffles.

Logging has been the primary industry in this part of Maine, and much of the land shows varying stages of harvesting and tree regrowth. Because of logging, much of the land does not look like the wilderness Thoreau and Roosevelt saw, but with careful logging methods to protect streams, and the preservation of wild areas such as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the Penobscot valley will retain the species diversity of plants and animals, reminders of how it was when Native Americans first inhabited this land thousands of years ago.

Judy Lehmberg is a former college biology teacher who now shoots nature videos.

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