Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018 - The Mystery Bone

It's always fun to run into a friend who is also out enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.  Last week I bumped into Russ Brummer, a teacher at New Hampton School, out with a couple of his students on field trip, and we talked a bit about interesting things we had seen over the winter.  After we had gone our separate ways I thought, I should have asked him about a mystery Linda and I had been working on (after all, Russ is the Science Department Chair at the New Hampton School and has degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies!).  Linda had found this fox scat (or possibly coyote scat) that featured a prominent bone protruding from it.
Fox scat with an unusual bright-white object sticking out

At least it looked like a bone to me.  But after separating it to look closer, it didn't have the structure of any bone I could recall.
Hollow and folded construction made me think bird

So when I got home I sent a few pictures to Russ to see what he could offer.  He immediately proposed that it was a tooth.  Since I happen to have a couple of animal jaws that I have collected from my walks over the years I went to look them over.
Deer and beaver bones
Deer teeth are sharp and pointy
It doesn't look like a deer tooth.
Beaver teeth however have that folded characteristic
So sure enough, it is a tooth, and most definitely a molar from a beaver!  It makes one wonder if the fox caught a beaver, or more likely was just gnawing on the leftovers of one that had died or was killed by something else.  Either way, thanks Russ for solving the mystery!

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After a few steps forward, spring took a step backward this week with another cold stretch and a touch of snow that brought us back to winter scenes.
Wicwas from Crockett's Ledge

But the past few days have put us back on the right track, with ice in Meredith Bay receding down the lake, and the ice on Wicwas showing signs of softening as it turns from white to dark gray.
Ice in Meredith Bay is almost to Church Landing
There is a large section of Wicwas that had turned black by noon today


I also saw my first Great Blue Heron of the season, fishing in the ice off the Harris Conservation Area, and just today, the first wood frogs were singing in a vernal pool, calling to their mates that spring is here.  Other signs of spring are joining in too:
Bright Blue Jays
An oak is born

It won't be much longer now, and with the weather finally changing I look forward to seeing more friends out on the trails - and soon enough on the lakes - with more mysteries to share and solve.


Late breaking news:  The first loons were spotted on Lake Wicwas today, in the open channel of water along the north side of the lake!  (Thanks AC & TC!)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15, 2018 - Summer residents returning, ready or not

The world is inching its way along towards spring, always at its own pace.  The days (until today that is) have been nice enough to get out and enjoy some springtime walks, but it's clear we still have a ways to go before lake activities are at hand.
Lake Wicwas still firmly in the grasp of Old Man Winter


The latest report from the Lake Winnipesaukee Ice Out team (Emerson Aviation) is that there is still no appreciable open water on the big lake.  Here on Lake Wicwas we have the same story, just bits of open water around a few edges edges.
Open water is growing, enabling ducks and beavers to cruise the shorelines

I'm still able able to venture out a short ways from shore to measure the ice, and it stands 12" thick, though we are now down to only 3" of solid ice with the rest being soft, porous ice.  But it was still strong enough on Friday to support me without sinking in at all.
12 inches of ice yet to wilt away

Bird activity seems to be picking up - there was a bald eagle and a pair of red-tailed hawks soaring over the lake this week. 
Red-tailed Hawk riding the thermals

And mallards have joined the geese on the lake.
All my ducks geese in a row
Mom and dad mallard looking for the best nesting site
Time to warm up my feet

The mallards seem to spend most of their time in the water, though they occasionally climb up onto the ice for whatever ducky-reason they may have:  (Link to video)

I even flushed out a grouse on one walk, though I had to send a picture of the tracks to one of my colleagues at the Conservation Commission to identify the tracks (thank you JS)!
Grouse tracks are much closer together than the larger turkey and pheasant

Even in the absence of insects the flycatchers and warblers are starting to return;  I heard my first phoebe and chestnut-sided warbler with its pretty "sweet-sweet-sweet-to-MEET-you" song on Friday.  On morning walks it's reassuring to hear the summer songbirds singing again.  We enjoy the sounds of chick-a-dees, titmice, and other year-round residents through the winter, but the songs of warblers provides some subliminal message that even if one's walking on snow and ice, summer will arrive.  Sounds are hard to capture, but here are some of the sights from one spring walk this week after an April shower.
An April Sunrise
Morning dew on last years survivors
Wintergreen wanting to be springgreen
Pretty barren in the understory

Pearl necklaces
Winter.  Still.

Pussy willows are among the first trees to blossom

It is a time of contradictions, old man winter fighting to conserve the past, and spring, pushing us into the inevitability of the future.
Cracks showing in winter's defenses

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 8, 2018 - The Early Goose Gets the Nest

The Canada Geese always arrive at the lakes long before I think they should, well before the ice is out.  But this year, unless they get a sudden change in the weather pattern, they are going to have a particularly long wait to get their feet wet.
It looks cold, but at least it's soft

I can only imagine they arrive early in order to stake out their nesting location.  One pair always nests in the marsh near here, and these two are probably just hanging out to keep any intruders from taking their spot.  And yes, that's fresh snow all around, about 3" worth that fell on Friday night.

And just when we starting to see signs of progress towards spring, including the first bright yellow gold finch of the year.
My first "gold" finch

And then, the very next day:
Sitting in snow, looking for spring

Strips of liquid water were starting to open up along the shore lines, but when the temperature fell below freezing overnight, they iced over again - the water must still be only 32 degrees.  At least the strong April sun melts things away quickly at this time of year.
That black ice was water the day before

But fresh snow followed by blue skies is always a great reason to get outside and enjoy the sights.  I'd heard about a new hiking area managed by Squam Lakes Association in Ashland called Whitten Woods, so I took a drive up there to explore.  It's an easy loop of about 4 miles including a spur to a second summit.
Whitten Woods

There have been views cleared from the south summit and along a ridge approaching the north summit, both of which provide nice views of the mountains and lakes to the east.

View from the south peak

The trailhead is on Highland Road, one mile north of Ashland center, and they have trail maps at the trailhead and posted along the trails at each junction.



Finally, on a run through Meredith Center this week I saw someone doing spring cleanup at an old family cemetery so I stopped to thank him.  He wasn't doing it for any group, or because he has any relationship to the family buried there;  he was just being a good neighbor and citizen, and he's been maintaining it for several years.  Volunteers truly are what makes New Hampshire such a great place to live.
Cemetery on Meredith Center Road at the intersection with Chemung Road

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 1, 2017 - Carnivorous White Pines

That may sound like an April Fool's joke, but it's true, though somewhat indirectly.  A friend recently told me about spotting bunches of snow fleas - a type of insect know as springtails - on the snow (thanks BB!).
Snow Fleas on my finger

These are very tiny animals, but there are lots of them.

This reminded me of something I read in the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest's publication "Forest Notes".  [Summer, 2017]  It has been found that a certain type of fungus, the bicolor deceiver (Laccaria bicolor), has a toxin that kills springtails when they feed on the fungus.  The toxin paralyzes the springtail, and then the fungus absorbs the insect's nutrients through filaments it extends into its body.  Knowing that the underground portions of fungus exchange nutrients with trees, scientists tagged a bunch of springtails with a radioactive tracker so they could follow it through the food chain.  The tagged springtails were placed near fungus which were in proximity to white pine, and after a few months, they found the pines contained radioactive nitrogen from the snow fleas.  It is incredible how so many creatures are interrelated and depend on each other for survival.  You can read more details about the process from the SPNHF article here.

The snow fleas will be around all year, though once the snow is gone they won't be noticed without looking for them, as they blend into the forest floor.
Snow fleas on an oak leaf

But they'll find the mushrooms, eat them, and in return, be fed to our giant white pines.
How many snow fleas were consumed in creating this giant?

As the snow melts, signs of spring are becoming more evident.
Puddles forming on the lakes
Hobblebush Viburnum ready for spring

Beaver ponds starting to open up
Meredith Bay peeling back


There are even a few green plants starting to photosynthesize the increasing sunlight.
Tree clubmoss (Lycopodium dendroideum) reappearing from under the snow pack

But don't let these signs fool you - there isn't much spring in the lakes on this April first.
Happy Easter!