Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017 - Annual Loon Census

Yesterday the Loon Preservation Committee held the annual loon census where volunteers all over the state observe and record the loons they see between 8:00 and 9:00 am.  The data is analyzed and compiled to create a picture of the loon population in New Hampshire.  Since the Wicwas loons are nesting late this year, we knew where to find at least one of them.
King (or queen) of his own island

The loon on the nest was somewhat concerned due to several boats in the area, so I kept a safe distance away.
Head lowered means move away before the loon leaves the nest for the safety of the water

What I presume is the mate of the bird on the nest was several hundred yards away and appeared to be keeping an eye a rogue loon, driving it away from the nesting site out towards the center of the lake.  I also saw a loon fly over the lake, circle overhead, and then fly back in the direction from which it came.  Almost an hour later another loon flew in and landed - I don't know if it was the same loon or not.  So over all, my Lake Wicwas Loon count was three on the water, and two flying.  If you are a member of the LPC you will receive the results of the survey;  if not you can join here.

Of course, paddling around on the lake in the morning provides perks beyond loon watching.  I saw two heron fishing beside the Rawson Wood Islands, as a red-winged blackbird serenaded them from its perch high in a shrub over the marsh.
Red-winged blackbirds like to sing from highly visible locations

Right below the blackbird was a pretty Swamp Rose.
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)

These are blooming all around the lake; you will find them along much of the shoreline, sometimes with visiting pollinators if you look closely.
Bumble bees pollinate the Swamp Rose

And the heron and loons weren't the only ones fishing - there were several humans out doing the same.
The strike!

The catch

The release
Thanks DC for being a willing subject!

As we watch the loons nesting in this year's selected location off what are known as the "Rawson Wood Islands" it's worth remembering that Mr. Wood conserved these very islands because he was aware they were prime loon nesting territory.  Rawson Wood was dedicated to conservation - did you know he founded the Loon Preservation Committee which is such an important force in protecting loons in New Hampshire?  He also founded the North American Loon Fund and was a director of the National Audubon Society.  It is quite an honor to have an island in Lake Wicwas named for him, and to have his name on the list of generous people who have likewise granted conservation land to ensure Lake Wicwas will be a sanctuary for loons and many other species long into the future.
A Great Egret fishes on the Rawson Wood Islands (photo from June, 2016) 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 9, 2017 - The loons attempt to nest

One doesn't have to climb a mountain or hike to a remote pond to see the beauty that surrounds us everywhere in the Lakes Region; sometimes it only takes a walk down the road in the early light of morning.  I did that after one of those steamy July nights last week and was treated to an array of delicate, misty, sights.
Low rays of sun reflect off the NHEC's power lines

Mist cloaks dead snags in the Chemung State Forest

Moisture collected by the webs of the Bowl and Doily Weaver Spider

First rays on a Milkweed preparing to bloom

Dew drops on fresh Red Maple leaves

You may have recognized these scenes as all are located on one quarter-mile stretch of Chemung Road in Meredith, although scenes like these exist on most any rural New Hampshire street on a hot summer morning.

As the high July sun warms the earth and dries the atmosphere other common summer beauties make their presence known.
Daises and Hawkweed grow wild in fields and yards throughout New Hampshire

Hawkweed about to bloom

Now some hopeful news from Lake Wicwas:  the loon pair has decided it's not too late for them to try and raise a family this year - they have built a nest now that the water level has receded and hopefully stabilized. However, the nest is in a very precarious location on a tiny hummock in open water, exposed to both the sun and boat action.  
Sitting proudly a new island they just built

You can't always wait for the perfect house to come on the market; sometimes you have to take what's available, especially when your family is expecting.

Our resident loon experts Marge and Dave Thorpe, with the assistance of Caroline Hughes from the Loon Preservation Committee, set out markers to keep everyone a safe distance from the nest.  
Please keep outside the buoy line - and no wake south of Bryant Island

We are asking power boats to travel only at headway speed on the entire south side of Bryant Island as even a small wake could easily wash right over the entire nest.  Of course all boats should stay well outside the marked buoy line, and if you see or hear a loon making its presence known, please leave immediately.  Especially in the heat of mid-July, even a few minutes off the nest could kill the egg.  Another sign of distress is when the loon is leaning its head down low trying to make itself disappear.  Please speak up if you see someone overlooking these guidelines.  I took these pictures with a 400mm telephoto lens and then blew them up on the computer - the loon clearly wasn't affected at my distance away, as seen by its head-up position and the fact it was comfortable enough to turn the egg. Nonetheless, I paddled on quickly.

The pair will have to raise their chick (probably only one at this late date) quickly, and there are still many hazards to navigate, but with good boating etiquette, humans won't be one of them!  At least the parents won't have to deal with black flies at this late date.  

A final item of local delight to seek out:  blueberries!  Blueberry season is about to burst out in New Hampshire, and it looks to be a good one as copious rain and hot temperatures are ripening a bumper crop of these delicious, healthy nuggets - find a blueberry bush near you!

Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30, 2017 - Feeding Time at the Rookery

I'm posting early this week in case people want to take a walk this weekend to see the action at Arbutus Hill Pond.  Last week I noted that there was an active nest in the rookery at Arbutus Hill Pond in the Hamlin/Eames conservation area, and this week I went up with a camera to see if they were still in the nest, and they are!
On the lookout in a crowded nest high up in a dead tree
Last week I thought there were three, but now I see there are four in the nest, and they were standing up when I arrived, looking back and forth, waiting for a meal to arrive.
"Where's our lunch?"
While I was watching I had the good fortune to actually observe a feeding of these large chicks.  A loud racket erupted from the chicks as a parent approached the nest  - imagine a nest full of little robins chirping as a parent arrives with food, but about three octaves lower, and four times louder.

Male and female heron are identical in appearance, and both adults take part in feeding their young, but lets assume this was mom.  She stood on the edge of nest for a bit regurgitating food for the kids as the racket continued.
Feed me!
Earlier she would have placed food directly in the chicks' beaks, but now she leaves the food in her beak and the chicks take it out.  Later on she will just drop it in the nest and let the birds fight over it.  The young-uns were getting restless.
"C'mon mom, cough it up"
But soon the feeding began - click here to see and hear the action.

After mom had emptied the contents of her long neck, she turned to leave.
"What?  Is that all?"
Off to restock the pantry
The chicks were fed, but certainly not satisfied.
"Well, that was good, but I'm still hungry"

They immediately started scanning the horizon for the arrival of dad with the next meal.
"Ok, now where's dad?"
Look at the size of these birds and think about how many fish, frogs, small rodents and similar creatures it must take to grow four birds to this size.  They will stay in the nest until they are almost as big as their parents, at which point they will leave the nest to find their own hunting grounds.  So you probably have time to see them for yourself.  Bring binoculars, as the viewing spot is far enough away to not bother them, but still, be quiet and walk slowly as you approach.  I noted the location last week, but here it is again (the red star).  It's a 4-1/2 mile round-trip hike from the trail head.  Have fun with nature!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 25, 2017 - Nighttime sounds of summer

Hot summer nights mean open windows and  peaceful sounds of nocturnal life drifting in during the quiet hours when we diurnal creatures are sleeping.  Most pleasing this summer are the quiet calls of the loon floating over the water.  This year, with only one pair of loons on the lake, the loud fights of last year have been supplanted with the much more soothing call of one loon to another, "here I am, where are you?" known as the wail call.  Loons sleep on the water at night and will drift apart as the winds blow them, so when one wakes up it will call to locate its mate.

On occasion we hear an excited call when perhaps the single loon comes too close to the pair, but it lasts only a minute and is over.  Loons have many different vocalizations;  you can listen to them, and read short descriptions of each at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

One night this week I was awakened at 3:00 am by the familiar call of the Barred Owl's, "who cooks for you?"
A barred owl on look out

I never mind be roused by this sound.  That night it went on for several minutes, and then after a short break, was replaced by a raucous, wild racket known as "caterwauling."  I reviewed Stokes "A Guide to Bird Behavior" to see what I could learn about this call, and was surprised to find that very little is known about this large yet common raptor.  Stokes provided the same guesses I had:  that it's either a pair interacting (a domestic squabble?) or two territorial birds claiming the hunting grounds. Even the Cornell site provides no explanation for their calls, but you can listen to them here.

The barred owl can often be heard during the day as well, and not infrequently observed.  Walking with a friend at Page Pond Forest in Meredith last week, a barred owl flew right over us and across the quarry pond to land in a pine tree.  It was too far away for a good look, but as the photo below shows, it was a barred owl.  Your best bet to see one is in dense, mature forests on a hot, humid, summer afternoon.
Barred Owl at the Quarry Pond

A bird one doesn't hear at night is the great blue heron, but if often gives its distinctive croak in the late evening as it returns to its roost.
A great blue Heron takes flight

Early this spring I noticed the rookery up at Arbutus Hill Pond in the Eames conservation area looked like it was being maintained so I made a mental note to check on it this spring.  This week I took a pair of small binoculars on a run up there, and sure enough, there were three quite large juvenile herons sitting there filling up the nest, waiting for a parent to return with a food delivery.  If I get up there on a walk with a camera before they depart I'll see if I can get a picture, but it doesn't look like they will be there long.  If you want to see them you should go soon - here's the viewing location (red star):

A quick follow up on last week's snapping turtle story:  Neil was right, some astute predator returned to the beach to feast on the freshly laid turtle eggs.
Someone had a nice feast of fresh snapping turtle eggs

And another great reader sighting from last week:
Bobcat on Chemung Road in its summer dress
Marge Thorpe was doing Lake Host duty at the Wicwas boat landing when this bobcat came and walked right across the road - good thing she was quick with the camera!  It looks so much different in the hot weather with its short summer dress as compared to its warm, fluffy winter coat.
Momma bobcat this past winter
Just one more of the many benefits of being a Lake Host!  Contact me, Paul Trombi or Marge Thorpe if you would like to get in on the action.

Like the bobcats, we are now wearing our summer clothes and enjoying these long, hot summer days. But when the sun goes down, keep those windows open and discover what nighttime sounds are floating though the air in your neck of the woods.
Ker-Splash   -   A beaver crashes its tail on the water at night

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18, 2018 - The Eggs are Hatching

The nourishment from the bounty of the spring season and the hard work of the locals is paying off for them with new life bursting from their eggs.  Although the loons on Lake Wicwas have not yet nested, other loons saw their chicks break out of their shells this week, including the pair on Pleasant Lake.  Kittie Wilson always watches this pair and documents their life through beautiful photography.
Ping sneaks a peak out from under her parent's wing.  Kittie Wilson photo

Pong hatched second, and is still wet from the egg.   Kittie Wilson photo
Yes, the chicks have been named Ping and Pong;  the pictures Kittie takes are simple amazing.
Ping and Pong go for a sail.  Kittie Wilson photo

Nap time for Pong.  Kittie Wilson photo

Because the Pleasant Lake loons have the luxury of a floating nest they don't have to wait for the water level in the lake to stabilize.  Due to all the rain this spring, it's been a slow process on Lake Wicwas, but it now appears to be stable enough for nesting.  It is late, but not too late;  even if a pair has a failed first nesting they have time to try again, though a later nesting usually has only one chick to improve the chances of it growing strong enough to fly away before winter.  We're still hoping for baby loons on Lake Wicwas in 2017.

I've had reports of other baby birds being sighted, though I haven't seen any yet.  Let me know if you see any young fledglings around the lakes.

While bird eggs are already hatching, reptiles, being cold blooded, must wait a bit longer than their warm-blooded counterparts, holding off until the ground has warmed enough that they can lay their eggs, then abandon them, allowing the sun and earth to keep them warm enough to develop.  I've seen several female painted turtles doing their thing in the sand this week; this pretty girl was near the east shore of Marion Cove.
Keep your eye out for little turtles around August 20th
And this one I plucked out of the middle of Chemung Road to save her from becoming road kill on her search for the perfect nesting location.
When rescuing a turtle, always move them to the side of the road in which they are heading

Neil Crimins often sees the much larger Snapping Turtle laying eggs in the sand in front of their house;  he saw this mom this week.
Mother snapper in the sand.  Neil Crimins photo

Reading about snapping turtles I learned some fascinating facts related to snapping turtle eggs  [REF: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection].  First, eggs at a temperature of 68 degrees produce only female turtles, while eggs at 73-75 degrees produce only male turtles!  In between, both males and females will result.  While they incubate in the sand the eggs are prime targets for a wide range of predators including raccoons, skunks, and crows.  Neil reports that most years that's what happens to the nests they watch, finding them dug up and egg shells left behind, but sometimes a few of the 20 to 40 eggs manage to survive and make it to the water.
A baby snapper crawls out of the sand.  Neil Crimins photo

Nearing the comparative safety of the lake.  Neil Crimins photo

At this point their shells are soft and they are vulnerable to a new set of predators such as eagles, foxes, and snakes.  Neil once saw a heron fly in and watch the little turtles crawling to the water but it didn't take any.  And even in the lake they still aren't safe until their shells harden, so they are subject to the appetites of fish and even other snappers.  Thank you Neil for the great pictures!

Once their shells harden they are pretty much impervious to any attack short of a car tire when they emerge to start the process all over again.
Snapping turtles in NH can grow to 40 pounds - here a big momma crosses Chemung Rd

Their eggs hatch in 80 to 90 days, so we won't be looking for new snappers until early September.  Hopefully we'll be seeing new loons long before then!

Of course the dads have a part in all this, so Happy Father's Day to all!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11, 2017 - Green is the Word

What a fabulous weekend!  Kayakers, fishermen, waters skiers, hikers, motorcyclists - everyone was out enjoying all that the lakes and mountains of the Lakes Region have to offer.
Verdant hills and aqua blue water
Lake fun on a hot summer day

There was only one really wet day this week, but it was a doozey and the lake level went right back up again, so no loon nesting yet.  A few lake tours this week determined there are three loons on the lake and one of them is the long-term resident female, proven by a good look at her bands when she was preening.
The banded female loon on a house-hunting tour
Two bands on her left leg

They sure are limber birds, able to reach every inch of their bodies with their beak to pluck old feathers and spread oil to keep themselves waterproof.
The contortionist

Lots of rain followed by sun and heat means lots of green as vegetation grows fast and lush.  Ferns love this weather.
Cinnamon Fern

The pale green leaves of the alder are contrasted against chocolate brown cones.
Alder tree with female catkins

These cones are the female catkins of the alder, the male catkins are long, soft, and light.

Plants don't don't have a monopoly on the greens - check out this iridescent Six Spotted Green Tiger Beetle:
Six Spotted Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

That one has a pretty easy name to remember, although all six spots can be hard to see.  The tiger beetle is harmless, unless you're a caterpillar, ant, spider, or some similar small insect on which they feed - not a bad neighbor to have.

Here's another green bug, also with a catchy name.
Assassin Bug (Zelus luridus)
This beetle looked somewhat familiar;  when I checked pictures from other sightings I found why it looked different:  it must have just emerged from its nymph phase as it had little tiny wings still developing.  Compare it to the mature insect.

I wrote about this interesting bug a few years ago, how it injects its prey with a poisonous enzyme that liquefies the insides of its victim so it can suck out the nutrients with its proboscis.

On that pleasant note, lets look at a non-green species, but one in a family that also thrives in wet conditions - mushrooms.
Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria)

This fungi has hallucinogenic properties - it contains the psychoactive compound muscimol - but it's also considered poisonous, so let's not try it out.  There will be many more mushrooms emerging in the coming weeks.

Now that spring has moved aside and summer is finally here it's time to enjoy the green that is all around us.
Even the hummingbirds are wearing green