Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22, 2017 - Wood Ducks

The gorgeous, warm weather just keeps coming our way, and people are taking every advantage of it while it lasts.
Fishermen in the mornings

Boaters enjoying their last few outings before the boats come out for the winter

Here it is in late October and we haven't even had a hard frost yet around lake, though on the coldest morning (Tuesday) there was a touch of frost in areas most exposed to radiational cooling, evident on the smallest leaves suspended above the warm earth.
First hint of frost for the year

Even with warm nights, they have been cool enough for mist to form over the still-warm water on most mornings.

And nothing can stop what must happen;  even though the foliage is still beautiful, leaves are starting to pile up on the forest floor, still bedecked in  their autumn finery.

As someone said this week, "we're going to pay for this!"

I noted last week the increased animal activity as they prepare for winter, and this week I had a couple of fun and exciting moments.  The first was seeing a mink running along the shoreline in the morning, poking in every nook and cranny in the bank looking for breakfast.  It was too quick to catch a picture, but here's one from last fall.

The second was a little more alarming.  I was running in the woods on a trail with soft pine needles under foot, making little noise as soon became apparent.  Suddenly, right over me was a huge object, flapping silently as it flew from behind me, right over my head, and down the trail in front of me.  I've never ducked so fast.  It was a huge barred owl that must have been sitting on a branch over the trail looking away from me as I approached.  As I ran underneath, it was startled and took flight right over my head.  It only flew a short way down the trail and perched in a tree just off the path so I had a great look at this magnificent bird.  But it didn't stay long and took off again on its silent flight into the forest.  Quite a heart stopping moment.  Here's a picture of a barred owl taken in the same area last year.
It's likely the same bird, as barred owls are very much home-bodies.  Barred owls have been banded, and one has never been found more than six miles from where it was banded.

We continue to have lots of Wood Ducks coming by Lake Wicwas this fall; every day there are flocks ranging from two or three up to well over a dozen.

Someone asked where they are coming from and where they are going, so I looked up wood ducks and here's what I found, most of it from Stokes' "A Guide to Bird Behavior" (Volume III, by Donald and Lillian Stokes, Little, Brown and Company, 1989).

Wood ducks are the only perching duck in the northeast, having well-developed claws for perching on branches and nesting in tree cavities.
This picture is from 2016
Much like the beaver, they were nearly exterminated in the early 1800s as the European settlers cleared away their nesting habitat and hunted them extensively.  Conservation efforts started to bring them back, but then the hurricane of 1938 brought another blow (no pun intended) by destroying many of the large trees needed for nesting.  The Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord Massachusetts started a program of constructing nesting boxes for them, which was successful and soon copied in other areas, and there is now a healthy population of these pretty birds.

Hunting of them is once again permitted, which accounts for the shotgun blasts heard around the lake at exactly 30 minutes before sunrise this time of year.  Early morning and late evening is when they are most visible, which unfortunately means poor lighting for pictures, but every now and then one stops by in the sunshine.
Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck

Stokes reports that New England wood ducks (and I presume birds from Canada as well) migrate down to the Maryland area and then spread out along the mid-Atlantic coast, so I expect New Hampshire's lakes are a good stopping point to rest and stretch their wings along their way.

Finally, perhaps traveling through Meredith Center this week you saw that the church is having its steeple renovated, the tall white spire contrasting sharply against the autumn sky.

Not a job for acrophobiacs

It is one of the most beautiful times of year in New England, and I'll take this weather for as long as mother nature can fend off old man winter.
Crockett's ledge, shortly after sunrise

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017 - Indian Summer

Yet again we had beautiful fall weather this week, perfect for a hike or a paddle, so I did both - with great company.  First we took a drive up to Rollins State Park and walked to the summit of Mt. Kearsarge.  It was cool and windy on the summit, with clouds rolling just above us which kept the colors subdued. 
The Rollins trail at Rollins State Park

But the valleys were bright except where the low fog was still hanging over Lake Winnipesaukee and the Merrimack River.
Morning fog over Lake Winnipesaukee and the Merrimack River, with the Belknap mountains in the distance
Panoramic view from Kearsarge.  Photo by PC Chao

Then yesterday I had a warm, peaceful paddle on Wicwas with a long-time friend and colleague, enjoying the bright foliage reflecting off calm blue water.
Photo by David Meharry

Photo by David Meharry

We met a few other paddlers also out enjoying the day.
Paddlers on an autumn day.  Photo by David Meharry.
We were all attracted to a loud racket coming from the east shore of the lake, along Loon Point Rd.  As we approached it was clear the source of the noise was a massive flock of birds up in the trees - hundreds of them.  Those on shore (thanks CB) said they had been there for quite a while.  After a consult with the Cornell Ornithology mobile app, I determined they were Common Grackles.  You can hear the ruckus they make here; listen to the "Calls of flock" recording.

We also found a pair of loons on the lake, their plumage starting to change from their sharp, black and white breeding colors to their gray winter appearance.

One was preening for us, and when it rolled over to pay attention to its belly we were able to see that it was our banded female - no surprise there!
Faint white and silver bands are just visible on her right leg

As cooler weather arrives, decreasing human activity around the Lakes Region is replaced with a rise in animal activity.  Migrating birds are starting to come through New Hampshire on their travels south for the winter, and the animals that live here year-round are busy building up their winter energy sources, either through caching food or increasing their stores of fat.  These hardy year-rounders are also winterizing their homes, preparing for a New Hampshire winter just like we are.
Insulation from a gray squirrel nest is bulging out the seams
It's amazing how much noise a small animal can make rummaging around in the dry leaves this time of year.  I'm sure there's a bear, or a least a good size deer tramping through the woods near me, but when I stop to look for it, I find it's just a gray squirrel, or maybe even a chipmunk making all that ruckus.

I would be remiss if I didn't share some of nature's beauty now on display;  I think the Maples this year are some of the best I have seen.

If you haven't done your New Hampshire foliage viewing yet, there's still time, but it's getting short.
Maples are at peak in the Lakes Region; the Oaks just starting.  Photo by David Meharry

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8, 2017 - Beaver Invasion

Did you see the rare October Harvest Moon this week?
The Harvest Moon rising over Meredith Bay
One definition of the Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, which usually is the September full moon. This was the first October Harvest Moon since 2009.

The glorious weather this week hasn't been able to stave off the foliage progression, as waning sunlight continues to deplete chlorophyll levels in the leaves regardless of the temperature.

Even the lilly pads are getting in on the action.
Pond lilies also have an inherent color that is hidden by the process of photosynthesis

The beaver population throughout New Hampshire continues to expand, at least as far as I can tell.  We now have one or two beavers swimming past every night, just before nightfall.  They are coming on shore everywhere, cutting small openings along the bank where there are are none, and building large scent piles to mark their territory.
Scent piles say "No Trespassing - these are my trees!"
If I go outside they pick up the slightest motion and jump in the lake. They'll swim around a bit and give some loud tail slaps - one night I was treated to four of these.
This picture was taken in the spring - right now they are coming out after dark.

Beaver are genetically programmed to stop any flowing water, bringing much agony to people who manage dams.  This fall they have been persistent at stuffing the Lake Wicwas dam with all kinds of debris.
The Wicwas dam seen from the lake side
We can't thank the town employees enough for dealing with this disgusting mess - downstream are the remains of prior clear-out work.
Old beaver debris on the other side of the dam
It's quite a success story for these, our largest rodents, after having been completely eliminated by trapping in the 1800's.  Between 1926 and 1930 six beavers were released in New Hampshire - has this entire population grown from those six animals?

The Indian summer has confused the blueberry bushes, as I saw some bewildered plants that are setting new blossoms.
Blueberry blossoms in October?
But no, I don't think we'll get a second blueberry crop this year.

It's still early, but the peak foliage will be coming to the Lakes Region soon; hopefully you'll be able to get out and enjoy it - either on land or on water.
Enjoying some water-borne leaf peeping

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 1, 2017: Canadian Maritimes

We just returned from a trip to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton Island (the far northern tip of Nova Scotia) - it was a great melding of nature and history.  I learned about the indigenous people of Canada, the immigration of the Scots, the history of Canada and its gaining independence from the British.  The later was much less violent than our transition to independence, both sides having learned much from New England's struggle with freedom.  Visits to the Louisbourg Fortress, the Iona Highlands Village, and the Halifax Citadel provided excellent immersion experiences.
The existing fort is the fourth built on the site of the Citadel in Halifax
The Highlands Village in Iona tells the story of the Scottish immigration and settling in Nova Scotia

Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island is the largest reconstruction project in North America

The Fortress of Louisbourg

When visiting new areas I always look to see what aspects of nature are similar and different to those in New Hampshire.  In the Maritimes I found some of both, though more similarities than significant differences.  Even though almost 250 miles farther north than the Lakes Region, the proximity to the ocean on all sides tempers the climate considerably.  Some of the more interesting animals we saw were eagles, silver foxes, and whales.

Bald Eagle at Bay St. Lawrence, Cape Breton Island
A pod of whales, possibly Pilot Whales, seen from the Skyline Trail near Cheticamp, Cape Breton
At the Whale Interpretation Center in Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, I learned the differentiation between whales, dolphins, and porpoises - which are all cetaceans - is based on their size, though dolphins also have different shaped teeth than whales.

There are also bear, moose, and deer, though we didn't see these.  And always present, wherever we went, were chick-a-dees, red squirrels, and chipmunks.  The squirrels are much bolder than ours; at one of our lunch stops they were running right around our feet as we ate our lunch.

We found great hiking and biking trails all over the Maritimes, providing gorgeous hikes in the mountains and along the coastlines, all with beautiful vistas.  The most dramatic differences from New Hampshire were the coastlines, even though New Hampshire does have its own rocky coasts and whales.
The Cabot Trail seen from "The Buttereau" near Cheticamp
View south from the Skyline Trail
North Rustico, Prince Edward Island

The Gulf of St. Lawrence from Le Bloc, Cheticamp
Of course, we had to experience the 30 foot tidal swing in the Bay of Fundy.
High Tide at Alma, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy
Six hours later

The weather was excellent the past few weeks, but we still managed to get a couple of days that made it clear why the Scots called Nova Scotia "New Scotland" and were so comfortable settling here.
Farms in the fog at Prince Edward Island
New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island
It was interesting to learn that the Scots considered the forest "evil" and couldn't wait to cut it all down and make the country look like their native land.  In the higher elevations where the forests has regrown, the leaves were turning, but they didn't have the brilliant colors of a New England fall. Upon returning to New Hampshire we found that foliage season, which was showing early signs of progress when we left, had been retarded by the warm weather.  I thought we might miss it, but it looks like we'll get to enjoy all the beauty of this season after all.
As of today the leaves show only a touch of color on the hills behind the morning mist