Monday, April 20, 2015

Ice Out - April 20, 2015

As predicted yesterday, ice-out on Lake Wicwas occurred this morning, April 20th.  At this time, Stress Free can make all of its ports of call, though it may have to make a small maneuver around one last finger of ice near the boat landing.
Lake Wicwas Boat Ramp

The past two weeks provided ideal conditions to melt away what had appeared to be an impenetrable layer of ice just two weeks ago  - almost two feet thick.  But sunny days and temperatures in the 60s worked their magic.  Here is a sequence of pictures showing the process over the past two weeks in one area of the lake.

April 8
April 9
April 10
April 11
April 12
April 13
April 14
April 15
April 16
April 17
April 18
April 18, 5:00pm
April 19
April 20

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19, 2015

The ice has been creeping out of Lake Wicwas slowly and steadily - yesterday's wind really helped move things along.  I think by tomorrow morning I will be able to declare ice-out, but we'll have to wait until dawn to know.  Here's how things looked from the boat landing this evening at 4:15pm.
Almost Ice Free

Right in sync with the ice leaving, many animals are emerging and returning to the lake.  Today I heard the wonderful sound of a hundred Wood Frogs singing in a vernal pool, calling to their mate as spring brings thoughts of love. 

I also saw my first amphibian of the year, a tiny leopard frog in a wet spot right beside the lake, having just emerged from the mud down below the frost line.  And there are lots of birds on the lake now, both permanent summer residents such as the black ducks, as well as the transients on their way farther north - Mergansers and Buffleheads.  Some of these arrived when there were only small gaps in the ice, plowing through the ice and slush like a maritime ice-breaking ship.

This pair of Common Mergansers found enough open water to get their dinner before grooming - and resting - on a nice, warm, comfy patch of ice.

Common Mergansers

Cold feet anyone?

The next day a female Hooded Merganser came swimming by - no sign of a mate for her yet.
Female Hooded Merganser
And I saw my first loon on the lake just today - only one;  I don't know if it is half of our nesting pair or not.

Various mammals are out and about more as well.  The first beaver of the year swam by as soon as there was a significant gap around the edge of the lake, and the next day a muskrat cruised by.  I wonder if it was the muskrat that enjoyed snacking on all these clams.
Sign of a good feast

I saw deer tracks in the mud, and caught a Gray Fox and a Raccoon out prowling for food.  The raccoon could also have been the consumer of the clams - they are excellent swimmers and love all types of seafood.
Raccoon on the Prowl
Just 90 minutes later, so is the fox

Raccoons are also pretty vicious - if these two met up, it might be a good fight.  But with all the food sources around (raccoons like wood frogs too) at this time of year they would probably leave each other alone and go after the easy pickin's. 

Here's another sign that summer is coming - buds are swelling and turning red, here on blueberry bushes.

The winter of 2015 is finally setting on Lake Wicwas.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12, 2015

Maple sugar season is nearing the end in the lakes region.  Both sugar houses around Lake Wicwas have been processing the delectable treat the past couple of weeks.
Chemung Gang Sugar Shack

We stopped by the Chemung Gang Sugar Shack (just up Chemung Road from Meredith Center Road) to get some local syrup, and Bill Taggett gave us an overview of their operation.
Custom-made Evaporator

Bill said it is a less-than-average year for sap production, but they will have some for sale.  If you want to have maple syrup with local Lake Wicwas flavor on your blueberry pancakes this summer, you'd better stop by one of these operations soon!

As if the arriving waterfowl weren't struggling enough with the lack of progress on the melting ice, we received some snow this week to fill in the few openings that had formed.

Snow in April
Last week I found a Heron fishing in one of those tiny openings in the lake;  this week I noticed this pair of ducks trying to eke out a living right beside the road where running water from a culvert under the road had carved out a small pool.
Waiting for Ice Out

And beside the dam, where running water has created another opening, I saw my first pair of Canada Geese.  While we were watching them, another pair of geese came flying in to the same spot, and we got to observe some territorial defense in action.  As soon as they touched down, the two that had staked their claim to perhaps the largest open section of water on Lake Wicwas decided it was not big enough to share and went after the intruders immediately.

A loud standoff and aggressive posturing took place, with the established pair chasing the new-comers onto the ice.  That wasn't sufficient, so they took to the air in pursuit.
 The unwanted guests flew off.

"And Stay Away!"
But they weren't ready to give up the fight;  they landed again just a bit a farther along the ice, so the residents went after them again.
There were several up close and personal encounters.

They continued to harass them, chasing them along the ice to make sure they got the point. 

Did you notice the little Hooded Merganser just sitting at the edge of the ice watching all the antics?

Eventually the initial residents reined supreme and successfully defended their homestead.  I put a video clip of the final chase across the ice on Youtube, as blogger doesn't upload video very well.

Warm weather today is helping open things up more now.  As the ice recedes there will eventually be enough lake to accommodate everyone.  The minute there is enough runway for loons to be able take flight off the water, I expect they will join the crowd now assembling for another summer on Lake Wicwas.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5, 2015

Opening day of fishing season came and went this week - I wonder why I haven't seen any bass boats on Lake Wicwas yet....
Lake Wicwas Boat Landing

Yesterday was my final excursion onto the lake.  Although there are still 21 inches of ice, including 6 inches of hard, black ice down there, the edges of the lake are getting soft, and it was a little dicey getting out to cut a hole.

There are shaded areas where one can still get onto the ice from shore, but I think I'm done.  I did take one more ski trip around the lake on April first, and I wasn't alone (I'm guessing HC and TG left their mark out there).  The sun fashioned a smooth, soft, yet very fast surface for us.  With my first ski trip of the winter logged back on November 28th, we had a long season for XC skiing around Lake Wicwas.

On my trip I was surprised to see a Great Blue Heron.  I didn't get a picture, but it was fishing in a tiny open spot along a sunny, south-facing shoreline.
Cracks in winter are starting to appear

Heron stay in the region all year, but move to areas where the water stays open throughout the winter.  Other birds are returning to Lake Wicwas as well.  I saw a turkey vulture soaring over the lake, and have also heard Canada Geese;  I expect to see them out walking on the ice soon.  And there was a duck at the inlet from Dolloff Brook.

Here's a grim (and totally erroneous) calculation:  Over the past two weeks the lake has lost 4 inches of ice.  At this rate we'll have ice out on June 13th!    Not to worry, it won't take that long.  Look - signs of spring are already pushing up!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29, 2015

Lake Wicwas was absolutely gorgeous today.  A low temperature of 17 degrees overnight froze everything up, and then the noon sun softened the surface nicely.  I saw ski tracks from people enjoying the smooth, soft conditions, as well as lots of animal tracks.  The light snow that fell yesterday, reworked by the melt-freeze-melt cycle, created a surface that left imprints of the most perfect coyote tracks I have seen.

This trail pattern is called a "side trot".  All of the front foot tracks are on the left, and the hind foot tracks are on the right.

Note that the front foot is larger than the rear, as it is on the fox as well.

Coyote on Lake Wicwas, January 2012

The Wicwas volcano that erupted last week grows.  As the lake level continues to be lowered (it's now 10" below full level) to reduce flooding from the spring freshets that will soon pour into Lake Wicwas, the ice slabs continue to be forced skywards.  Compare the change over just four days:
March 21st

March 25th
Usually at this time of year the ice is too treacherous to venture onto the lake, but drilling another hole I found it is still 23 inches thick.  But it is changing - the first four inches are now soft and porous after a couple of warmer days assaulted the surface.  And around the edges there are many openings and thin spots, so care is in order even with the thick layer in some places.

During a run on one of those warmer days I had a rare spring sighting - a wooly bear caterpillar.
Wooly Bear Caterpillar  (Pyrrharctia isabella)

I usually see these in the fall.  As usual, it was sunning itself on the warmth of pavement - on Chemung Road - having probably just crawled out from the neighboring stone wall.  Knowing it wouldn't make it to the next phase of its transformation in that spot, I scooped it up and put it on the shoulder of the road.   But instinct is hard to overcome, and it immediately motored directly back onto the road.  I placed it farther off the shoulder, and this time it rolled up into its protective crescent shape and played dead, so I went on my way, hoping for the best.

Unlike most caterpillars, the wooly bear overwinters as a caterpillar.  It curls up inside its wooly blanket deep in a stone wall or under forest debris, and will freeze solid over the winter.  In the spring it will thaw out and form its pupa, eventually becoming a moth that will mate and lay eggs for the next round of wooly bears.  The wooly bear is the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth - I will keep an eye out for one of these moths this summer.
From Wikipedia:

Last week I saw my first chipmunk of 2015, and this week I saw their offspring out and about, little tiny 'munks, chasing each other all over on top of the snow.  They are rather curious and not very wary of humans yet, staring at me from just a few feet away.  They will either learn quickly, or have the same fate the young grey squirrel met last week.

The fox diet seems to be changing, adding in more vegetation with the reduction in the snow pack - much to the relief of the local rodents. 

Fox Scat
This fox scat included a large, thick, cardboard-like substance that had not been digested, and that I was not able to identify.

The closest material I can compare it to would be an avocado peel;  did this fox perhaps get into someone's garbage?

Thinking about animals and their interaction with humans, there was an unfortunate case of twelve deer dying from being fed by well-intentioned people in the southern part of New Hampshire;  you can read about it here.  It is never a good idea to feed wild animals - well, except I guess the birds, but even there one must careful for the bears. 

With the warmer weather, New Hampshire's fifth season has begun:  mud season.  (The sixth is black fly season.)  This can be, visually, a rather ugly season, even though psychologically it's beautiful, knowing winter is melting away.  Even where the mud doesn't show through, the world is rather unsightly due to the ravages of a hard winter being exposed by the receding snow.

It's been a challenge to keep the forest clean this winter

Fortunately, that touch of snow yesterday freshened things up a bit. 

Now, isn't that better?

Once again, Lake Wicwas was absolutely gorgeous today.