Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lake Wicwas Paddle Regatta 2016

The weather was perfect yesterday for the premier event in the entire Lakes Region:  The Seventh Annual Lake Wicwas Paddle Regatta.
Part of the fleet makes it way down the western shore of Lake Wicwas

The event was coordinated and graciously hosted by Lavon and Wayne Blake, who organized a great paddle that brought us to some of the more intriguing and little known areas of the lake. 
Exploring the remote corners of Wicwas
Picking up treasure from a marked site along the way

Are we still in New Hampshire?  (Photograph by Dean Cascadden)

In the pursuit of marked treasures along the path the paddlers explored both the wide open lake and remote corners with winding paths, beaver lodges and beaver dams. 

At one point were sitting two or three feet below the water level of a dammed pond just beyond our shoulders. 
Floating three feet  below  the neighboring pond.  (Photograph by Dean Cascadden)

Safety was assured by the escorting committee boat.

They were also there to enforce the rules of the regatta, which is not an easy assignment considering there aren't any!

And it wouldn't be a day on Wicwas without some wildlife, so a great blue heron made an appearance to make the event complete. 
A heron watches the fleet pass by

Of course, the highlight of the day was visiting with friends from around the lake.  (And maybe sharing some great food, from awesome burgers and pulled pork to homemade key lime pie.)

All in all it was a perfect day for a paddle on the lake, a few games on land, and visiting in the sun or shade. 

A tremendous thank you goes out to our hosts!  And if you didn't make it this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year - everyone is welcome whether you come by land or by sea!

Great food means the boats would be riding a bit lower in the water on the way home....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14, 2016

The blueberries are gone now, but a new color has taken over to brighten up the forest on our mid-summer walks around Lake Wicwas.
Red fruit on the Bunchberry

And on the Viburnum

The summer wildflowers also add to nature's rainbow to brighten the day.

Sometimes the palest of colors make a delicate scene on the calm lake.
The oils on bird's feathers keep them from absorbing water

I'm no expert on feathers, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is the soft down from the inner feathers of a loon left behind from preening itself in middle of the lake, as ducks and geese usually do their grooming close to shore. 

On the topic of loons, there are still five on Lake Wicwas, two pairs and one rogue, trying to work things out among themselves.  For years I have always seen these beautiful birds as such quiet and peaceful animals, but the last two years have taught me that they are just as fierce as many other creatures when it comes to protecting their territory and ensuring the propagation of their genes.  The first lesson came last year when another loon killed the chicks of our long-term nesting pair.  And throughout this summer we have watched the behavior of the loons fighting over the lake, preventing either pair from nesting.

They keep a close eye on each other;  one game they play is swimming around in a circle in close formation, staring each other down.  I call it ring-around-the-rosy, but I don't think it's a happy game for them.
Ring around the rosy

Maybe it's the loon equivalent of a staring contest. 

There was another behavior I saw for the first time this week.  When a single loon or a pair are by themselves on the lake I have always seen them just floating calmly or swimming along slowly and sedately.   But one morning, I saw a V-shaped wake far down the cove.  It was moving straight as an arrow with a speed and purpose that made me think it was a beaver - beaver always swim with a mission.  But as it came closer I saw it was a pair of loons.  They steamed straight down the middle of the cove, all the way to very end, where they did an about face and steamed right back out again at the same clip.  I expect they were on a mission to find the other loon pair to reassert their ownership of the lake. 

Loons as well as humans were treated to some beautiful sunsets this week. 

Perhaps you saw on WMUR-TV the unique sunset that appeared over Meredith on Friday.  It was visible from Lake Wicwas as well, looking towards the west;  a thunderhead building with the late-day sun striking it, splaying a dark shadow up a across the sky. 

It's no wonder the loons are fighting over Lake Wicwas. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 7, 2016

It is a quiet time of year, these hot, humid, lazy days of summer when even the animals take a break from their active schedules.  Food is plentiful and the rearing of the young is at a point where parents can relax a bit, although it doesn't mean you still won't run across a moose in a swamp or a bear in the woods:  a friend who is an avid hiker and mountain biker came across a bear on a mid-day ride.  The bear, which I'm guessing was a mother with cubs, stood her ground in the middle of trail, forcing him to backtrack and find a different route.  Better off not to mess with momma bear....
You're not coming down my trail!  (Photo by Doug J.)

I didn't see any large animals this week, but lots of smaller ones were enjoying the warm weather.  On one morning kayak I came across a mixed flock of birds moving along the trees on the shore of the lake picking off insects of all forms for their breakfast.  There were chickadees and yellow warblers plucking caterpillars off  leaves, woodpeckers grabbing ants and eggs from trunks, and kingbirds and phoebes snatching adults right out of the air.  These flycatchers are the most fun to watch as they launch from a bare branch, perform a few acrobatics over the lake to catch their prey, then alight back on the branch to watch for another victim.  It's a precarious life, that of an insect. 
Black-capped Chickadee

And sometimes it's pretty easy for birds to get a good meal.  I noticed this lovely swarm of caterpillars munching away on the bottom of some leaves, doing a pretty good job of decimating the tree.
Dogwood Sawfly Larvae (Macremphytus tarsatus)

I didn't know what they were, and it took some work to figure it out, mostly because, as I found out, they aren't technically caterpillars.  I learned that "caterpillar" applies specifically to the larvae of butterflies and moths, and these are the larvae of a wasp - the Dogwood Sawfly wasp.  Although it is in the wasp order of insects, it does not sting.  I'll keep an eye out for adults next week.  (In case you were wondering, yes, that is a dogwood they were feeding on.)

And it must be the season for longhorn beetles.  Two weeks ago I saw the tremendous Pine Sawyer, and this week I saw its little brother, the Black and Yellow Longhorn beetle drinking nectar from the Meadowsweet flowers.
Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle (Typocerus sparsus)

I saw one other really neat insect this week while doing work on the Fogg Hill conservation property just north of Lake Waukewan - one of the strangest bugs you'll find, and one that isn't often seen:  the Northern Walkingstick. 
Nothern Walkingstick (diapheromera femerata)

The reason I rarely see them is their great camouflage - they look like sticks!  I only saw this one because it came to me - it ended up right on my backpack, probably when I brushed by it.  This one was almost three inches long.  The male walkingstick is brown, so this is a female.

The one large animal I did see this week was pretty easy to find.
A Great Blue Heron in a rather conspicuous spot

This handsome heron spent at least half an hour in the early morning just perfectly balanced on one leg watching the sun rise.  It wasn't fishing or frogging, but just standing there watching the day unfold.
Amazing balance

On occasion it would do a little preening, and as it ruffled up its feathers it looked an awful lot like the patriarch of Lake Wicwas, wise and grey, with its long flowing beard giving testament to its stature on the lake.

Birds and insects - the most active creatures during this hot summer week.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 31, 2016

2016 has been a great year for blueberries in the Lakes Region.  The hot sunny weather really helped and they haven't seemed to suffer from the lack of rain - especially those along the shoreline where their roots can siphon water straight from the lake.  It's not over quite yet, but if you haven't had your fresh lake-fed blueberry pancakes yet, you need to do it soon!
Still lots of berries as of Saturday

One fruit season that is over is the cherries.  Remember the abundant crop of black cherry growing back on July 17th?
July 17

This is all that was left just four days later!
Just bare stems on July 21

One season I don't mind seeing come to an end is deer fly season.  There are still a few around, but they are waning.  And the dry weather seems to have reduced the mosquito and tic population as well;  it's a welcome early-start to the bug-free hiking season.  We'll see what some rain does to the insect population this coming week.

Deer flies are really nasty critters, just waiting in a sunny spot in the trail, hovering, like a drone in reconnaissance mode, ready to ambush whatever comes along, whether deer or human.
Deer fly loitering for its next target

They even look evil.
This could have been the inspiration for Darth Vader

In contrast, here is a much nicer hovercraft frequently seen around New Hampshire:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

We took a trip to up the coast of Maine this week where we saw many osprey, which made me note that they haven't been around Lake Wicwas much this summer. 
Osprey at Wiscasset, Maine

I have heard them on occasion so I know they are here, but I haven't seen any yet.  Last winter one of their favorite fishing trees - right on an island point with water all around - toppled over.
Their favorite fishing tree is gone

I used to have great views of them sitting on this tree, scouting for fish in the lake.
Wicwas Osprey on its prior favorite look-out

If you have seen where they are hanging out now that this perch is gone, please let know where they are!

To close out this hot summer month of July (hottest on record, I've heard) how about a fiery summer sunset?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 2016

The loons seem to be settling down and tolerating each other better these days.  The night time altercations have become less frequent and shorter in duration;  it's still common to hear a ruckus between 9:00 and 11:00 at night, but it's usually over in just a minute.  There are still two pairs and a bachelor(?) on Wicwas, though the lone bird was AWOL during the loon census last weekend, so Lake Wicwas contributed only four birds to the statewide count.  Hopefully another lake counted our fifth.

Without young to care for, the adults are enjoying this beautiful summer on the lake:  sunning, preening, fishing.  Lots of grooming to make themselves attractive to the other birds, rolling over to show their bellies, oiling their feathers and generally splashing about.

One evening we saw one loon come up with a tremendous fish and spend the next five minutes playing with it. 

It whipped the fish back and forth in its beak and would then drop in the water only to catch it again;  sometimes the fish would almost get away and the bird would make a quick dive to grab it and bring it back up.

Eventually it decided it was ready for dinner and it raised its head in the air and swallowed the tired fish down head first.

Only to have it get stuck in its neck on the way down.

My guess:  It wanted to weaken it first because it didn't want a fish that large flapping around inside its gullet! 

The gorgeous hot weather the past two weeks (it hit 95 on Friday) has inspired the wildlife to perform their summer musical concert, making hot afternoons a chorus of buzzing, chirping, and singing, from the clear flute of the wood thrush, to the song of the never-tiring red-eyed vireo, to the classic summer buzz of the cicada.  One interesting animal that doesn't join the band, but could be the conductor with those two long batons, is the Pine Sawyer.
Pine Sawyer

This member of the longhorn beetle family bores large, long tunnels in pine wood and can cause tremendous damage to felled trees as seen by these holes in a fallen white pine beside the lake. 
Holes bored into the wood ruin its value as timber

Remember the logs that were intentionaly sunk in Lake Wicwas after the hurricane of '38? (See  6 March 2016 post.)  These are the primary insect from which they were protecting that wood, as pine Sawyers can greatly reduce the value of timber in just a few weeks.

Here's another summer insect which I always enjoy seeing, the mayfly.

Perhaps scary looking, but completely harmless, and a great source of sustenance to fish and other animals.  But look quickly, as their adult life lasts, at most, two days.

And one last harmless creature you may see out on a hot summer afternoon:  a garter snake. 
Garter Snake

If you're walking in the woods and hear a gentle rustle in the leaves rising up to join the summer opera, take a look down, and you may find one.