Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017

The February full moon is known as the Snow Moon, and this month it is being true to its name.  We seem to have escaped the ugly pattern of freezing rain after every storm, and have been getting storms with light, dry snow, ending with cold and windy weather. 
The Snow Moon rises over Lake Wicwas

One of the perks of a good winter is being able to explore areas that are simply out-of-bounds in the summer.  You may recall that the 2016 Lake Wicwas Paddle Regatta brought us to the beaver dam on Blake Brook, one of the two main tributaries that replenish Lake Wicwas. 
Blake Brook and the beaver dam in a slightly warmer season

Well, the cold temperatures have frozen Blake Brook sufficiently to brave traveling up the brook to the beaver dam, though I still kept away from the higher-current areas as water does flow out from the dam all winter.  But once at the dam I was able to climb up over the dam and explore the beaver pond impounded behind it, and found that I wasn't the only one enjoying the fresh snow:  there were otter tracks running all over the pond.
River Otter tracks on the Blake Brook beaver dam

The otters had run up and down the pathways between the rushes, bounding a step or two, then sliding along on their bellies.

These have to be the most playful, fun-loving creatures on the lake.  Did you happen to see the Smithsonian article about the prehistoric ancestors of our river otters?  They weren't quite as cute as our current version.

The squirrels also appear to be playing in the snow, but in reality they are searching diligently for food buried under the latest covering of snow.

Even though they tunnel under the snow in search of sustenance, they come up often to look out for danger.  And they better, as the bobcat was back again yesterday, lurking along beside the house, ready to ambush the squirrels at the bird feeder.  But this time it got spooked it before it nabbed its breakfast - and before I got a picture.

Of course a bobcat would be happy to catch a careless bird on the ground, or maybe this nice fat woodpecker on a feeder. 
A downy woodpecker with its feathers ruffled (by the wind)

I'm pretty sure a bobcat would have no trouble leaping up to a low feeder if a distracted bird didn't see it coming.

The humans were out enjoying the snow and the frozen lake too.  One group had quite a party down near the boat ramp last weekend, complete with music, bonfires, skating, and ATV-pulled sled rides for the kids.

And another family has built a pretty impressive fortress on the ice, including a sentry to watch guard over it while they are away.

Finally, I know I'm in a special place when I'm looking skywards (because I'm raking snow off the roof!) and a bald eagle flies through my line of sight, soaring majestically right over the house, it's white head and tail glowing golden yellow in the late afternoon sun, contrasted against an azure blue sky.  I bring a camera on most adventures, but not to shovel the roof, so you'll have to paint that picture in your mind.  It was one of those moments when I stop what I'm doing and just reflect on the world we've been given.

More snow is in the air today, perhaps the biggest storm yet this winter.  The Snow Moon is working it magic!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 5, 2017

There is so much do in the Lakes Region in the winter, I don't even know where to begin.  Let's start with the headline New Hampshire winter activity, downhill skiing.  There are two great ski areas right here, Gunstock and Ragged;  we had a perfect day at Ragged with great snow and beautiful views of the Presidential and Franconia ranges all day long.
Upper Ridge at Ragged

That night a couple of inches of new snow fell, just enough to freshen up the lake and provide smooth, effortless cross country skiing.  The clouds were clearing and the lake was beautiful.
Classic New England

Sheep and Bryant Islands decorated for winter

Crockett's Ledge is more exposed in winter

More Classic New England

The snow had just stopped falling so there were no animal tracks to be seen, but I did find this strange groove in the snow. 
Animal track or ice crack?

I can't tell if it's an old animal path or just a wiggly crack in the ice - any ideas?

The next day, it was back west to Cardigan Mountain State Park to hike Mt. Cardigan.  At 3516 feet it's not particularly tall, but its lone exposure and bald summit lend an air of a much higher peak.  All was calm hiking up the east side of the mountain, but once on the ridge, the west wind made itself known, and it was definitely winter. 

Mt. Cardigan, near the summit

A little frosty at the summit
Looking back at Ragged Ski Area from Cardigan
Cardigan is a great way to experience the high mountains with a reasonable hike of five miles.

The following day it was off to the seacoast and Rye Harbor State Park with friends to look for the snowy owl.  We didn't find it.  But we did see a loon diving in the harbor. 
Could this be our loon plying the waters of Rye Harbor?  (Photo by PC Chao)

It's fun to think that this could be one of our loons, spending its winter vacation here on the New Hampshire coast.

On the way back we stopped to watch the planes landing on the country's only FAA approved ice runway on Alton Bay.
The Alton Runway on Winnipesaukee

Saturday was busy with the New England Pond Hockey Classic on Meredith Bay and the Tamworth Ice Harvest and Winter Festival at the Remick Museum in Tamworth. 
Hockey on Meredith Bay

Harvesting ice in Tamworth

The Model T snowmobile club provided free rides under the supervision of Mt. Chocorua
You can see more from Tamworth here.

Skiing, skating, hiking, wildlife, State Parks, and up next... the fishing derby.  Don't let anyone tell you there's nothing to do in winter!

P.S.  You may have seen that the Lake Wicwas Association is sponsoring a guided snowshoe tour in the Hamlin Conservation Area on February 25th.  If you didn't get the notice, send an email to and they will send you the details and put you on the email distribution for future notifications.

Go Pats!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017 - Community Forest

This week I took a visit to Meredith's Community Forest, one of four properties for which the Meredith Conservation Commission publishes trail maps (see them all here). 

The  area has a wide variety of habitat including beaver ponds, streams, rocky outcroppings and stone walls;  the trails are well marked - but do pick up a trail map, as there are a lot of trails and intersections.
Community Forest trails are well marked
The stream below the waterfall
The waterfall is shown on the map though there isn't much water falling at the moment

One of several beaver ponds on the property

A stone wall leads right up to this granite outcropping

Many of the streams were open but there are bridges over most of them so crossings are not a problem.
Warm weather and moving water means open streams - but bridges facilitate crossings

I'm always surprised at how much wildlife is present here, being so close to the village, but it shows that even a medium-size conserved area of 186 acres will support a wide range of life.  I saw signs of many of the mammals present in New Hampshire, including some I rarely see, such as rabbit (or hare).
Rabbit tracks

Near the beaver dam animals had taken advantage of the openings to access water, including this mink which slid down the icy bank just below the dam.
Several animals visited this watering hole below the beaver dam

It's good to know that I'm not the only one that slips on the ice.  Look how this fox slid all over the crusty surface!
Even four wheel drive and spikes can't prevent skids
The woodpeckers were busy on this stand of hemlocks.

In one wound we can see the tracks the insects made in the outer layer of wood just under the bark.
Insect tracks revealed by woodpeckers in search of the culprits

I don't know what beetle does this, but the woodpeckers are doing their part to get rid of them.

I'll close with a couple of pictures back at Lake Wicwas which show the contrasting scenes that can appear on a winter day.  First, looking south.
South towards Ladd Mountain

And then, looking north.
Northwest, towards the Dolloff Brook inlet

To borrow a phrase from John Denver, sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017

This was a week for winter adventure as New England gave us the opportunity to enjoy just about every possible outdoor winter activity.  Early in the week the ice brought lots of skaters onto the lake, including some creative types taking advantage of smooth ice and warm winds.

Solid ice also means winter fishing, and there were lots of anglers out trying their luck.
Ice fishing on Lake Wicwas

This group had caught several perch and a couple of good size bass.

Then came the snow, which not only brought out the skiers, but also draped the lake in winter splendor again.

Mercier Rd after a storm

The morning of the snowfall I skied around the lake, and once again was flummoxed by what I saw out there.  Out in the middle, well, maybe 30 yards from shore, as I skied along, a spot on the snow caught my eye.  A thought flashed through my mind, and I had to go back to look again.  Sure enough:
I don't make this stuff up.

There was a spider crawling along the surface of the new snow.  I don't even know where to begin to think this guy came from.

The day after the snow fell I took a long ski in a conservation area I hadn't visited before, Chapman Sanctuary in Sandwich.  Nestled at the base of Mt. Israel and Sandwich Mountain, the sanctuary includes 10 miles of trails through woods, fields, and along old logging roads. 

Sandwich Mountain from Chapman Sanctuary
They do groom the trails, though they haven't needed to yet this year, and I got to break some 12 km of fresh tracks. 
First tracks the whole day

If you go there to ski, just be aware there are frequent stream crossings, all of which were open on this warm winter day. 

One trail leads down to, and along, the Cold River.
The aptly named Cold River

The caretakers do much to protect and encourage wildlife on the property - I will visit again in the summer to walk the trails and look for birds and other wildlife. 

Earlier in the week I took a hike up Mt. Roberts in the Ossipee Mountains on a gorgeous, sunny and calm day.
A colbalt blue sky above the ridge on Mount Roberts

This summit rewards hikers with views of the White Mountains, including Mount Washington.
A snow-capped Mt. Washington

The moose must also appreciate the view, as I found their calling cards right at the very summit.
Moose droppings on the summit
Also scat of fisher a ways down the trail.
Fisher scat in the middle of the trail at about 2500' elevation

Back in Meredith, activity is picking up on the Big Lake as the ice works it way across Meredith Bay.
This is living a little too close to the edge for me

They are starting to prepare for the Pond Hockey Classic on Feb 3rd-5th, clearing the ice for the rinks.
Removing the snow for the Pond Hockey tournament

I hope the warm weather forecast for the coming week doesn't affect the events on Winnipesaukee;  open spots have starting forming around the edges of Lake Wicwas.

Holes in the ice shouldn't be this large in January

The warm weather might not be great for future winter activities, but it was nice to see people taking advantage of it at the moment.  And it was wasn't just people - here a chick-a-dee was enjoying the good weather and the feeder, having its own winter adventures this week.
A chick-a-dee escapes with a sunflower seed

I'm hoping old man winter returns with enough force to keep our winter activities going for at least one more month!