Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28, 2015

Good news on loon nesting in New Hampshire so far this summer:  Lake Sunapee had a successful nesting for the first time in decades, as reported by NHLakes in their most recent newsletter.  And a local loon watcher sent me some fabulous pictures taken by photographer Kittie Wilson of two loon chicks on Pleasant Lake in New London. 
Loon Family on Pleasant Lake (photo by Kittie Wilson)
Furthermore, the loons that were the subject of the "Loon Cam" one the Loon Preservation Committee's web site also fledged at least on chick - a good start for the season.

The nesting loons on Lake Wicwas are several weeks behind these early birds, but with care from us humans and some help from nature, we can hope to have our own loon chicks in a couple more weeks.  The rain the past week raised the lake level a bit but not a enough to be a problem.  Let's hope all the rain today doesn't flood the lake any more.  There are a couple of boards in the dam right now which can be removed to help maintain the level.  Our local loon watchers will be attentive to this;  the town of Meredith has been most cooperative in maintaining a favorable lake level.

A few weeks ago I blogged about an encounter with a raccoon.  Well, Bruce Bouley had a similar encounter, but his was in broad daylight, rather unusual for a raccoon.  Bruce said the animal didn't appear to be sick, but he was able to get a great picture which he offered for the blog.
Raccoon in mid-day  (Photo by Bruce Bouley)

Rabies decimated the raccoon population several years ago, and is something to be aware of when animals exhibit unusual behavior;  I haven't heard of any such problems recently.

There is starting to be a lot of color on the water now - on a kayak trip along the edges of the lake I noticed that the Rose Pagonia are blooming in the marshes.
Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)

And of course, the water lilies are coming out, first the Yellow Pond Lilies.

The Sweet White Lilies will follow shortly.  These water plants are plentiful, and thankfully are native species.  In addition to the good news about loons, the most recent NHLakes newsletter also provided some bad news regarding invasive species:  milfoil has infested another New Hampshire lake, this time Turee Pond in Bow.  Turee Pond doesn't have either a Lake Host program or a Weed Watcher program, so by the time the invasion was discovered it was well established and probably can't be eradicated.  (Read the NH DES report here.)  Fortunately Lake Wicwas has dedicated volunteers who support both these programs, and everyone who uses the lake can help.  If you ever see any weed growth that looks unusual or in any way of concern, please report it - to a Lake Host, to a Lake Wicwas Association board member, or to Amy Smagula at the NH Department of Environmental Services.  They would much rather have a false alarm than miss an early detection opportunity.

Variable Milfoil - Report it if you see this in any NH lake


As for the animals, they were a little shy this week - except for the chipmunks which seem to be having a population explosion.  Where are all those hawks and foxes!  But I did find this Gray Catbird foraging in the undergrowth beside the lake one morning. 
Gray Catbird

The catbird is member of the Family Mimidae - as is the mockingbird - and it has the ability to mimic other birds, and even frogs and toads.  But its call (versus its song) is eerily similar to that of a cat.  So if you ever hear a cat calling from deep in the forest underbrush around the lake, look carefully and you may find a bird instead.  And while you're looking in the next few weeks, keep an eye out for milfoil - and baby loons!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 21, 2015

The sights and sounds of the Lakes Region this week were those of chrome and the thrum of the V-twin as the annual migration of motorbikes passed through the area.

Meredith, and the Harley-Davidson dealer is a key attraction for the herd.

The Laconia motorcycle rally is the third largest in the country, behind Sturgis and Daytona, though it's older than both of them, dating from 1924.  It attracts riders from all parts of the country and a wide variety of mechanical machines.  I had to drive to Center Harbor on Saturday, so I stopped to catch a few sights. 


Back home away from the highways it was much more peaceful;  the gentle brush of a butterfly is somehow a bit more relaxing.  I noted a couple of weeks ago that the summer wildflowers were blooming, and this has drawn the butterflies to their summer homes.

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)

This White Admiral butterfly started with the daisies;  I was surprised when it set down on a hemlock tree.


I thought it was just resting for a moment, but then it unfurled its proboscis and started to suck some sort of tree nectar from the where the needles attach to the branches.
Rolling out its proboscis

It sat in one spot and reached here and there with its feeding tube to tap into whatever tiny drops of sustenance it could find.


A few of the wetland flowers around Lake Wicwas are still blooming as well;  these may be visited by bees, but I haven't noticed butterflies on them.
Larger Blue Flag

Sheep Laurel
If you take a trip around the shores of the local lake you are bound to see these two flowers (the Blue Flag grows mostly in marshy areas).

On a run through the Hamlin-Eames-Smyth conservation easement I met up with the Meredith Conservation Commission "Tuesday Trail Crew" maintaining the trails again.  This time they were cutting back the eager young trees - mostly maple and witch hazel - that continually push new branches out into the trail in search of sunlight.  They were also doing bridge maintenance, and addressing any other items in need of attention.
Jim Gregoire and Don MacFarlane of the Meredith Conservation Commission "Tuesday Trail Crew"

We can't thank these great volunteers enough for all they do to protect this valuable resource and make it accessible to all of us.  They are always looking for more volunteers to help out;  you can contact them at Conservation@Meredithnh.org if you would like to help.  Here is just one of the hundreds of creatures you will find if you visit these trails.
Eastern Newt (Red Eft phase)

On Saturday evening if you were outside with a view to the west you were treated to neat coalescence of three astronomical bodies:  Jupiter, Venus, and the moon.

Jupiter is upper-most of the three.  I savored the cosmic display while being serenaded by the tender drone of the V-twin Harley.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 14, 2015

Early summer is a time of new life around Lake Wicwas.  Many of our local inhabitants are either already raising their young or preparing for their imminent arrival - I just learned that someone on the lake saw a tiny, spindly-legged fawn, probably only a day or two old.  I hope I'll get to see it too (this picture is from two years ago). 
Fawn, June 19, 2013

The loons have selected a nesting site for the year - you won't be able to miss it if you are out on the lake as it's on an island right in the middle of the lake and the Loon Preservation Committee has marked it clearly with signs and a buoy line. 

Like any house, it's all about location, and there's always a tradeoff.  This site far from the main land is well protected from predators, but is more susceptible to boat wakes and human activity.  The lake level has been quite stable this spring, which is good news for loon nesting - if we are careful with our lake activities we should have new loon chicks in late June or early July.

Other water fowl have an earlier schedule.  I have seen both duck chicks and Canada Goose chicks on the lake.  The later are already quite good size.

Canada Goose chicks are growing rapidly
Look at those tiny wings!
Have you ever seen bare green stalks sticking up out of the water?  Pickerel-weed that have had their arrowheads removed?  Well, here's evidence of one of the culprits.
Pruning the lake foliage

Smaller birds are also actively caring for their young.  I have seen the chick-a-dees plucking nice juicy green worms off the leaves and bringing them into the bird house, and the phoebes are doing the same with insects. 
Phoebee

I heard loud raucous baby birds high up in a tree on one walk, and within seconds mother or father downy woodpecker was right there above me making a tremendous racket to distract me and draw me away from the nest. 

I looked for a moment to see if I could find the nest, but it was high up in the trees, well hidden, and mom or dad was so upset I went quickly on my way.

I also continue to see lots of beaver activity all around the lake, including two recently enlarged lodges. 
Expanded beaver lodge near Chemung Rd

Beaver birth their kits this time of year, so they have been preparing for a larger family.  Up to a dozen beaver may live in one lodge, though when a family approaches this size they usually build a second home.   Beavers have tight-knit families, with offspring less than two years old helping the parents feed the new kits as well as maintain the lodge, though soon after that age they are sent off to live on their own.  I've never seen a tiny beaver, so perhaps they stay in the the lodge until they are rather large.  Being so active I've had great opportunities to see them up close this spring.
Bringing in another branch for the lodge

The population of Lake Wicwas is on the upswing - let's hope a new loon will be added to the neighborhood!


Sunday, June 7, 2015

June 7, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was playing hide-and-seek with a white-tailed deer;  this time there was a different creature playing peek-a-boo with me.  On a quiet morning in the woods I heard crackling of claws on dry bark, similar to the sound a red squirrel makes when running up and down a tree trying to be conspicuous to drive an intruder from its territory.  But this sounded too loud to be made by such a small critter based on the distance over which it seemed to be traveling.  Converting my radar from acquisition to search-and-track, I tried to geo-locate the source. (ok, so I worked in the world of radar and ECM for too long...)  The noise continued, climbing, slowly, higher up into the trees.  Eventually I was able to discern the target - a medium sized black ball clinging to the side of a white pine.   
A black silhouette in the morning

In the dim light of early morning, all I could make out was a silhouette, but the immediate thought was, uh-oh, a bear cub.  As it moved around the tree, I was looking around for mother and considering the best path to retreat, while still keeping an eye on the little guy.  At one point as it moved from one side of the pine to another, I saw a flash of long, busy tail....  Some data point in the threat-identification file didn't compute.

A clue - a long tail
Doesn't a bear have short, stubby tail?  A quick threat assessment determined this is not something to fear;  the most dangerous beast it might be is a fisher-cat, dangerous to a squirrel or a house cat, but not to me.  With the threat level returned to green it was time to gather some more intelligence to try to identify the target.  Watching closely I could see that once again a wild animal had the curiosity to want to figure out what I was as well.  It started playing peek-a-boo with me, looking out from one side of the tree, then climbing around the back of the tree and peeking from the other side.

Peek-a-boo




I had enough data now to make a positive ID;  the goggle-face was the definitive proof -  it was a raccoon.

Raccoons are some of the most intelligent and wily of our local forest inhabitants - you've probably heard stories of how they can use their dexterous hands to open doors and food containers and raid people's kitchens.  They also have an extremely varied diet, eating almost anything they can secure, including insects, worms, eggs, birds, fish, small mammals, and, especially in the late summer and fall, nuts, fruit, corn - almost anything they find or search out.  (Raccoons may have been the source of the large quantity of clam shells I found back on April 19.)  'Coons are strong swimmers and as seen here, excellent climbers. I went on my way so the nocturnal creature could find a spot to snooze away a warm summer day.

As if the red squirrel knew I was thinking about it when I heard claws on the tree, one decided to join into the game of hide-and-seek.

This one was most annoyed by my presence in its territory, sure I was going to raid its stash of nuts and seeds.


It doesn't need to worry about me, nor the raccoon, but this mother turtle certainly needs to (the raccoon that is, not me).

She was out laying her eggs in the ground a good 50 yards from the lake, hoping to be off the raccoon's lake-side trail, as a raccoon finding a bounty of turtle eggs will enjoy a real treat.


Although there are still a few spring wildflowers around, they are starting to pass the baton over to the summer flowers now.  The humming birds, butterflies, and bees don't mind - like a raccoon, they'll enjoy whatever nectar or pollen is available.

A bumblebee enjoying the beauty of Lupines
The natural beauty will be around for the 'coons, the squirrels - and us! - to enjoy for a long time now.
A Larger Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) adorns the shore of Lake Wicwas

Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015

Oh, the first hot summer nights of the year!  Those nights when the windows stay open and the music of the night fills the house.  Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Sarah Brightman portray it well:

Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender 
(Click to listen)    

Add the scent of summer rain wafting in the open windows from an evening thunderstorm and the light of a half-moon shining through open blinds, and it is enchanting.


The performance begins well before sunset when the Tree Frog sings the prelude;  one soloist starts, and within seconds, dozens (maybe hundreds) of frog calls are resonating across the lake.

By the time darkness sets in the full complement of voices has joined the fray.  The long, loud call of the American Toad is distinctive as it carries over great distances.  Later at night the Bull Frog adds its resounding bass line.  (Hint - each of the above are links to their respective call - if you click them all at once you'll get an idea of what it sounds like on a hot summer night!)

On top of all this amphibious racket, the hollow call of the loon can be heard lofting from unknown stations on the lake.  I wonder if they have established a nest at this point.  Sometimes the Barred Owl joins into the chorus, but it was absent this week;  perhaps is it on tour, serenading another audience around the lake.

When the sun rose the next morning and sent the nocturnal animals to bed, plenty of daytime life became apparent around the lake, including a couple of large birds.  A female merganser has been on the lake much later than usual;  one day it decided our dock was the perfect resting place.

 After a nap and a yawn,

it was on its way.

On a warm summer afternoon, looking for a cooler spot, I took a run along the Red Trail that passes behind Crockett's Ledge west of Lake Wicwas, and saw that the Meredith Conservation Committee has been working to ensure the trails are kept in good condition, and that soil erosion will be controlled - they had installed several water-bars along the trail.
Erosion control on the Red Trail

These were made on-site using Cedar trees harvested right in the area;  they help prevent water from rushing straight down the trail, washing the path out and sending soil and silt into the lake.  A great thank-you to all those who work so hard so that we can enjoy the wonderful natural areas they protect, resplendent with natural beauty:

Lady Slippers along the trail approaching the White Mountain Ledge

As of today, the summer weather has taken a vacation, but it will return soon enough, bringing more nocturnal entertainment.  Maybe next time I'll hear the howl of coyotes in the night.
The coyotes are losing their warm winter coats






Listen to the music of the night

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 2015

Who's hiding in the woods beside the the lake?

Is anyone there?
Camouflage is a wonder of evolution.  Whether it's the bark-colored skin of the gray tree frog, or the mottled plumage on a wood thrush, camouflage has enabled countless species to flourish, often right in the presence of their most feared predators. The white tailed deer in the picture above is a great example.  I would never have seen this large animal - even though I knew it was in the area, having earlier seen it drinking from the lake - if it had not bounded off in a display of crunching hooves and waving white flag.  Let's zoom in a bit.
There it is

I was enjoying my last serene morning walk before the mosquitoes alter the experience - the first few were out.  So I was walking slowly and quietly, certain to make it a long, peaceful walk.  I'm sure the deer was watching me long before it revealed itself.
Who's watching whom?

Deer, although cautious and quick to flee, are also very curious animals.  When they detect motion that is not clearly threatening, they will wait and observe for a long time to determine what the source is, friend or foe.

I didn't know it was there until it bounded off a few strides, and then stopped to watch me again through the trees - that's when I was able to get a look at it, and vice versa.  It moved around a bit, stomping its front hoof a few times, trying to elicit a reaction from me.
Hoof Stomping


Eventually it decided I was not another deer, and it went on its way, gracefully, silently, simply disappearing into the forest.

More of our summer birds are returning to the lake now, including the Red-eyed Vireo, returning from the Amazon basin.

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
You will hear this bird singing endlessly on warm summer days:  "cherup, cheroop, here I am, there I go".  And picking caterpillars from the trees.

It is a beautiful time to be in New Hampshire (even with the mosquitoes).
Lilacs along Camp Waldron Road