Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 24, 2014

No matter how much I want it be summer for many more weeks, I just can't ignore the signs that it is late August and the season is starting to change around Lake Wicwas.  Some of the weak and wet-footed trees are already showing signs of fall, and the occasional colored leaf has parted from its tree and found its way onto the ground.  The Black Gum trees have quite a few bright red leaves on them as do some of the blueberry bushes along the shore.
Blueberry Bush Starting to Turn
Black Gum (Tupelo)

Another indication is the heavy load of pine cones, hanging off the upper branches of the White Pines like bananas.
Cones on a White Pine Tree

Take a look with a pair of binoculars up at the top of almost any tall, mature pine and you will probably see their fruit.  The Red Squirrels are already chattering at me as I walk near their personal trees loaded with their precious winter food supply.

On a morning kayak I saw three of our large birds:  the Great Blue Heron, the Osprey, and the Loons.  One of these birds, or perhaps a duck or a goose, had been preening itself as there were a few dozen fresh white feathers drifting in the morning sun on the surface of the lake. 

The osprey have been a more frequent visitor the past couple of weeks.  This evening we noticed there were a lot of fish rising to take insects from the surface of the lake, as it was very calm and smooth.  Soon we saw an osprey fly over and take multiple passes over the water, diving in several times, at least once coming out with a fish.  As the bird flew up out of the lake there was a flood of water running off it, leaving a trail on the lake surface as it flew away.  I took these pictures this morning as an Osprey sat in a pine tree waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim under it.


The Osprey fattening up for their long voyage to their winter home in South America is just one more unmistakable hint of coming changes at Lake Wicwas.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 17, 2014

No sightings of eagles around Lake Wicwas this week, but far on the other end of the avian spectrum I found a tiny new bird:  a Winter Wren.  I have often heard the loud chattering of an unrecognized bird deep in a thicket as I walked by various areas of undergrowth (such as the Black Cherry patch) but could never see the source through the dense foliage.  This particular morning I stopped to look because they were cavorting about an area where an old pine tree had fallen down, crushing a lot of the small trees and thus opening up some sight lines.

I saw four or five tiny, nondescript brown birds hopping around the branches, probably picking small insects - ants, caterpillars, spiders - off the leaves and trunks.  They made frequent short chirps.  I watched motionless for several minutes, and eventually one or two flew close enough to take a fuzzy picture in the dim light, but sufficient to to take home to look up in the nature book.  One photo was good enough to see small white dots lining the edge of the wings, which identified it as a Winter Wren.

Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says Winter Wrens are ground feeders, often found in low shrubs and on fallen logs and trees, further confirming their identity.  I believe these are quite common, but based on their chosen habitat, I had not observed them previously.

Another one of our small birds, the Goldfinch, will likely be visiting soon, as we have a wild Bull Thistle blooming.

Bull Thislte (Cirsium vulgare)
Before long the goldfinch, and possibly the chick-a-dees, will be tearing into these flowers to rip out the tiny seeds.

Maturing Thistle Seeds - a Favorite of Goldfinch


No other animal is likely to touch them due to the incredibly sharp thorns on the branches, leaves, and even blossoms. This plant is also aptly known as a Spear Thistle.
 The blossoms are an excellent source of nectar, frequented by butterflies and bees.  It is also the national flower of Scotland!

The thistle is an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character, for contact with a thistle will yield certain punishment.  Here is a legend of how it became the symbol of Scotland, according to
John A. Duncan's "Scottish History Online":

The prickly purple thistle was adopted as the Emblem of Scotland during the rein of Alexander III (1249 -1286). Legend has it that an Army of King Haakon of Norway, intent on conquering the Scots landed at the Coast of Largs at night to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear.

As they drew near to the Scots it wasn't the only thing hiding under the cover of darkness. For one of  Haakon's men unfortunately stood on one of these spiny little defenders and shrieked out in pain, alerting the Clansmen of the advancing Norsemen. Needless to say the Scots who won the day.

Enjoy your quest for birds around Lake Wicwas, large or small, with care - and sturdy shoes!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10, 2014: Bald Eagle!

Our son with good eyes spotted an extremely large bird fly into a white pine along the shore line, and after some searching with binoculars we were able to find it, but it was too well hidden behind branches to be able to identify it;  we assumed it was an opsrey, or perhaps an eagle.  But when it took flight across the cove to another pine there was no doubt - this was a Bald Eagle. It perched in the absolute tallest tree along the cove - the cove some call The Emerald Cove, and others call Eagle Cove!  The lighting was difficult, with a bright sky and the sun behind it, but I managed to get a few pictures from pretty far away.

Bald Eagle

I'm no expert, but this bird seemed to be very large, and perhaps somewhat old, as it appeared a little ragged.

But what an impressive bird!

This was the best look I have gotten of an eagle on Lake Wicwas, and it just sat there enjoying its dominion for a long time - enough time to show a few other people where it was.  And there were no loons anywhere to be seen!

There were a couple of other interesting sights around Lake Wicwas, but they pale in comparison to this, and will just have to wait.  I hope you got to see the super moon tonight.  This picture was taken by JB during a moonlight ride on Lake Wicwas on Saturday night after the great Paddle Regatta!
Almost-full Moon on August 9th

Thursday, August 7, 2014

August 7, 2014 - Black Cherry

This year I followed the progression of a stand of small Black Cherry trees along one of my favorite routes.  These trees are five to seven feet fall and produce a good crop of cherries almost every year.  The fruit changes quickly, on almost a daily basis except for a month-long period of growth of the green fruit, making it a good study on plant progression.

This stand is growing in an old field, very common for black cherry trees - they need sun and are often found at the edges of fields and along roadsides.  They produce fruit after growing for about 10 years, becoming heavy only after 30 years of growth.  They can live up to 250 years, but usually stop producing fruit after 100 years. 

Their seeds have evolved to benefit from being consumed by animals; not only does this scatter seeds widely, but germination is actually improved by passing through the digestive tract of an animal, a process knows as scarification. One can clearly see cherry pits in bear scat at this time of year.

As with other pit-fruit trees, the Black Cherry has also evolved defense mechanisms.  The leaves, pits, and fruit all contain compounds that break down into cyanide.  The pits also contain enzymes that when ground (or say, chewed) do break down the compounds into cyanide.  The leaves similarly will produce cyanide if eaten by animals.  However, the fruit does not contain these enzymes!  Thus animals let the leaves grow, eat the fruit without chewing the pits, and spread the enhanced pits throughout the countryside to spread the species. 

In a bit of reversal, the Black Cherry has been introduced to Europe, where it is now considered an invasive species!  In New England there are caterpillars that can consume the leaves and perhaps keep the plant in control, where Europe may be missing this factor.

May 23

May 25

June 6

June 15

July 20

July 24
July 26

July 31

Once they get close to ripe it only takes a few days for the local fauna to completely clean them out.  In past years I have seen signs of bears eating the fruit, but this year they were consumed by birds and squirrels before the berries could even fully mature and attain the dark color that gives them their name.  Here is a picture from a prior year showing their dark purple-black color when fully ripe.

I have tried eating them, but they are almost all pit, and they don't really taste all that good.  A bear must have to eat an awful lot of them to get a full belly!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

August 3, 2014

The new loon chick continues to thrive on the abundant waters of Lake Wicwas - I send many thanks to the loon watchers who continue to send me such great pictures.  These photos were taken by Marge and Dave Thorpe, who just yesterday were recognized at the Lake Wicwas Association annual meeting for receiving the John F. Morten Award in recognition of their exemplary stewardship of the lake by the New Hampshire Lakes Association!  (There was also a great presentation on Osprey and their migration from New Hampshire to South America by Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. If you missed it you can read about the osprey journeys here: )

 5 Week Old Chick with Mom
Mom was proudly showing off her leg band again with a foot wag,

and the young protege had to show that he/she could do it too!

Another observer watched one the parents providing the chick some fishing lessons.  It came up with a small minnow, brought it over to the eager chick, who was then very dismayed to not have the fish popped in its beak, but rather to see mom drop it in the water for the chick to catch.  The chick watched in confusion as the minnow swam away, then dunked its head under the water a few times to look for it, and learned an important lesson:  if one wants to eat, one better work for it!

Although getting to be good size now,

 it is still a fuzzy, downy, young bird.

I saw another pair of water birds, Black Ducks, on the lake, but if this pair had ducklings, they were nowhere to be seen.  The drake was up on a rock, visibly preening itself, while the duck and any ducklings were hidden away in the reeds and bushes close by.

One other bird, a visitor from the ocean, was on the lake playing sentry:

Seagulls like to hang out on the buoys, watching for small fish to rise near the surface, and then grab them for lunch.  They are safe out there from competing with the Opsrey which tend to fish from trees overhanging the shoreline.

Along the shoreline I saw a small stand of Skullcaps blooming.
Common Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata)

These are called Common Skullcap, Hooded Skullcap, and Marsh Skullcap, as their preffered habitat is marshes and wetlands.  It is considered an herb, and was used by Native Americans as a medicinal sedative, though its medical properties have not been formally documented.

Other summer flowers in bloom are the Meadowsweet, also a perennial herb, though not indigenous to America, and the Hedge Bindweed, a member of the Morning Glory family.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

A bit farther inland, I found this large Sulphur Shelf mushroom growing on a oak stump - it is well over a foot across.
Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)

It is also called a Chicken Mushroom, as it is edible and is supposed to have a taste and texture like chicken, though I'm not about to try it - I'll stick with the blueberries!   Blueberries are still out there, though the Black Cherries have been totally cleaned out now.
Bare Stems of Black Cherries
Later this week I will post a review of the Black Cherries, as I followed their progression from flower to consumed fruit this year, so keep your eye out for a mid-week post.
Goodbye for now....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014

Blueberry season is in full swing now, with ripe berries dripping off the high-bush blueberry bushes all around the edges of Lake Wicwas. 

If you want to enjoy this delectable fruit of New Hampshire you should hurry, as they will only last a couple of weeks.  Just beware you may have to fight over them with the bears - someone saw a black bear on Sheep Island gorging himself on blueberries!  I have been watching the Black Cherries for signs of bear activity, but haven't seen any there yet.  Only the birds and squirrels have been consuming them, as seen by the bare stems. 

Black Cherry

Bears are much less deft in their dining, leaving torn and broken branches in their wake.

While I was a-berrying near the water's edge I discovered some old scat that revealed the recent diet of this otter:  Crayfish.
River Otter Scat

There is always a lot of fish scales in otter scat, but this clearly shows crustacean shells as well;  they look like tiny lobster shells, even having turned red after baking in the sun.

My morning paddle around the lake revealed several interesting sights, including a Great Blue Heron enjoying the sunrise.
Great Blue Heron

Here's another picture of a heron, taken by Brian Matteson (thank you!) as it stood right on his dock at 8:30 in the morning of July 9th.

Farther along I came across two groups of loons out for a morning sail - probably the same five I saw last week, but split up into two teams.  First, a group of three,

and later a group of two that were far more interested in each other than they were in me.

They swam right past my kayak as I floated in the middle of the lake, even posing for a portrait.

These two played their usual head dunking game, with one dunking the instant the other put its head in the water.  I didn't see any foot wagging, so I don't know if any of these are the banded loon, but I'm guessing that one of this pair is just that, keeping an eye on the other loon to keep it away from the chick.  This guess is based on the information I received from Janelle Ostroski at the Loon Preservation Committeeon on what I observed last week.  She says the loon with the green and red-and-white striped bands - put on in early July - is the female of the nesting pair that had the chick this year.  Janelle says it's possible that she is hanging out with the other loons to make sure they stay away from her chick.  (With only one chick, a single parent will have no problem providing for it.)  I just read the article in the LPC Summer, 2014 Newsletter about how territorial loons can be when they are establishing a new presence on a lake, even killing other bird's chicks, so she is being a good mother. 

There is a single loon that appears to have taken up residence in a cove at the far end of the lake.  It just floats in the middle of the cove all day long, sometimes cruising the shore line for food and reconnaissance purposes.  When another loon comes into the cove, it meets it, confronts it, and I assume sends it away again (I can't tell them apart, so I can't be positive which one actually leaves).  Every now and then it puts on quite a dramatic show:  it almost takes off, flapping its wings harshly on the water as it skims along the surface at near flight-speed.  It will curve all along the cove, travelling well over 500 feet in this mode.  My theory is that this bird has staked its claim on the cove, and is protecting its territory, waiting for a mate to come along.  Maybe next year?

Back home, as I approached the deck, I startled a chipmunk that ran off the step and hid under a plant right beside my foot.  I also noticed a large black scarab beetle upside down on the step with its legs flailing uselessly.  So I flipped it over, but something didn't look right.  Closer inspection revealed its head was missing!  Mr. Chipmunk must have been munching on the beetle, starting with the head.  Much to Rosie's relief, by the time I grabbed my camera, the chipmunk had returned, and when I approached he ran away again, this time taking his breakfast with him!  There is one good side of chipmunks in your garden!

Those of you with insect issues weren't so fortunate with this next subject, so you may want to fast forward a bit.  With the abundant insect life around the lake, the spiders are growing by leaps and bounds.  This cute little guy (over 3 inches long, leg to leg) has taken up residence on our dock - thus the common name of "dock spider."
Dock Spider (Dolomedes )

Like most spiders, these Dolomedes have eight eyes, but unlike most spiders, they have quite an interesting feeding method that uses the hairs on their legs more than their eyes.  But that story will have to wait for another day or this post will get way too long.

At sunset we observed one enjoyable aspect of the wild fires taking place in Canada.  After the fine soot drifted the 2400 miles to New England, making its way into the upper levels of the atmosphere, it attenuates much of the shorter wavelengths of sunlight, providing stunning red colors, deepening in hue as the sun sets lower and lower.
Sunset colored by smoke from fires in Canada

The blueberries might only last a couple of weeks around the lake, but that's a lot longer than they last once they get in the house and Linda does her magic - then their life span is measured in seconds!