On the evening of March 1, eight hikers gathered at Gate 1 of Hirundo Wildlife Refuge. Naturalist and Program Director Gudrun Keszoecze led the group on an hour and a half hike around the refuge. The hike, advertised as the Full Moon Walk, lacked one thing — a full moon. Although no rain fell during the hike, clouds covered the sky. Keszoecze made light of the situation, bringing a yellow paper circle cut-out and holding it up in the air, illuminating it with her headlight.
The hike started a few minutes after 6 p.m., beginning down the main trail. The first 10 or so minutes were icy, before Keszoecze led her fellow hikers down a smaller path. Once the group turned onto this smaller trail, Keszoecze began to point out various things along the way. First was a trail perpendicular to the path, created by deer. She explained that the deer are heavier than many animals in the woods and their hooves have a smaller surface area, compared to coyotes or foxes. Because of this, they tend to reuse the trail over and over to avoid constantly sinking into the fluffy snow, as a way of accessing the warmer areas surrounded by trees. She explained how to identify different animal prints at this location and throughout the walk. Showing everyone the subtle differences between prints and location of the prints in relation to one another, Keszoecze explained what animal could have made each set of prints the group encountered.
The hike traversed various areas of Hirundo, including along the stream. Keszoecze pointed out that the temperature dropped closer to the water, and the hikers could feel the difference as they continued along the edge of the stream. At one point Keszoecze stopped and pointed out part of the stream, which used to have far fewer fish and osprey until a couple of dams were taken out, altering the flow of the water. Now she sees many more osprey and explained that when the weather is warmer, you can canoe upstream about three miles from where the group stopped to see fish in the fish ladder.
“You can’t find many places that have such a diverse amount of habitats. I teach a lot of nature studies with my kids. And if I want to do forest, field, stream, pond, I can walk five minutes and get them within a different environment,“ Joane Alex, one of the group members, said of Hirundo.
The hike also went through an area that had been used for an archaeology project in the 1970s. At this site they found artifacts dating back 4,500 years, which Keszoecze explained was from when the glaciers started to retreat northward and the people moved farther and farther north, as more land was available. She shared that the archaeology project had been a collaboration between the University of Maine, National Geographic and the Hazel Smith Fund.
The hike came to an end as the group looped back onto the icy path that they had started on, passing by the summer parking lot and the starting point for many of the trails. Keszoecze took the opportunity to point out the Trail of Senses, which is accessible for people with mobility concerns such as those who use wheelchairs or walkers. She explained that it incorporated every sense except taste, which initiated some jokes from the group.
After having stayed together, walking in a line for most of the evening, the group broke up into twos and threes for the final portion of the walk, some working hard not to fall on the slippery surface. Before everyone went their separate ways, Keszoecze thanked everyone for coming and reminded the guests in attendance that she could accept donations, as all events are donation based. Before getting into their cars, many hikers joked about not seeing the moon and how the paper cut-out was almost as good as the actual full moon.
Hirundo is entrusted to the University of Maine as a resource available to the faculty and students to do research and use the facilities, but some people present at the hike expressed feelings that it was underutilized. Keszoecze said that she would love to see people of all disciplines working with the refuge. She mentioned groups who are already using the facility, such as wildlife ecology and botany students, as well as groups of engineers who are working on projects there.
“It helps everyone tremendously to do something like this. They do the design work, present to us, actually do the work. We have students come out and help with the nesting project. I had some of the students come out to help with the Canoe Trail. If people want to do a project out here, there’s always something they can do,” she said.
Hirundo will be hosting another Full Moon Walk for the Blue Moon on Saturday, March 31 at 7 p.m. For a donation, anyone can come and participate. For students interested in attending the event, but don’t have transportation, the German Club will be carpooling to Hirundo for the walk.
The refuge is also open seven days a week from dawn to dusk, and in the warmer months there is more programming as well as the opportunity to rent and use canoes.