Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ice Out

Ice out in Lake Wicwas was declared at 2:55 pm today, April 18th.  The last of the ice from the lake had blown into the boat ramp and was still there at 11:00 this morning but was gone by 2:55 in the afternoon.
Last of the ice at 11:00 am

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!
Easter Morning at Lake Wicwas
Yes, with warm weather this week, real signs of spring are visible around the lake.  The ice on Wicwas still has a ways to go, but it is opening up good size gaps around the shore now and the surface is getting that translucent blue appearance indicating the end is near.
Saturday at the boat ramp

That's what a couple of days in the 80s will do for us - in addition to a good attitude adjustment!

When that warm humid air descended on the frozen lake it formed wisps of fog that blew across the ice.

Then as the wind shifted to the north in the late afternoon, blowing in colder air to attack the moist air from both sides, the fog turned dense.

By evening the fog was dissipating just enough to provide an eerie sky and an orange sunset.
Mysterious Evening.  Photo credit: Sue DeMund Mangers

We lost a good foot of snow pack in two days, revealing the first signs of color in a long time.
Partridge Berries revealed in time for Easter
Though there is still snow to be found in cool, shaded areas.
Plenty of snow around on Saturday
On any walk now the air is filled with the song of birds praising the spring warmth - and attracting mates.  The pretty call of the Song Sparrow can be heard everywhere;  you can listen to it here.

They aren't as well camouflaged when they sit on the snow.

We also had the first beaver sighting of the year.  We saw ripples in the skinny channel of open water far away along the shore, and were pretty sure what was making them, as the time was about quarter-past-beaver in the evening.  It took a while, but eventually it made its way along the shore to our vantage point, at which point it hopped up out of the water and onto the ice.

It snuffled around in the water where we had cut some branches on the ice this past winter.

It somehow detected there was food there and found a few scraps left behind to nibble on.

It turned to wave goodbye to us before slipping back into the ice cold water to go on its way.

What's one of the best, brightest, and surest signs that spring is here?  Male goldfinches shedding their drab winter feathers for their spring, get-a-girl plumage.
Still a few gray feathers left, but almost dressed and ready to go out for a date
It is spring, and love is in the air.

Late breaking update:  The Thorpes saw a pair of Bald Eagles on the lake, and Sue Mangers just reported the first loon has arrived!
More animals waiting for the ice to melt!  Photo by Dave Thorpe
Photo by Dave Thorpe
The first loons!  Photo by Anne Crane

Sunday, April 9, 2017

March 9, 2017

Spring sure it taking its own sweet time to arrive in New England this year.  Right now there are still 20 inches of ice out there - no joke, I checked.  The ice was clearly sound enough to support me, so I took the auger and cut a hole about 30 feet from shore.  Even subtracting the top 4 inches which, though strong enough to support my weight, was soft enough that I could remove it with a sharp shovel, still left 16 inches of good solid ice.  Progress towards ice-out has been hindered by the recent snow falls, including another light storm on April 5th.
Yet another April snow
Last week I saw the first geese and ducks, and this week more have  arrived, as well as the first of the great blue herons.  I didn't get any pictures but on a run down Chemung Road I did flush out a heron that was fishing in a tiny spot of open water where Lake Wicwas comes close to Chemung Road.
Just enough open water for the heron to hunt for food
And the geese - I always think this is a ridiculous sight:
Canada geese taking a stroll on the ice
It seems like they are looking around at each other asking, "why are we here when it's still warm in South Carolina?"

We have had enough warm days to get the sap flowing, and buckets are hung on sugar maples all around the Lakes Region.  This is the scene beside the Lakeland School.
Syrup being collected beside Lakeland School
Plastic tubing and buckets appeared at the school for the first time time this year;  last year they still used the system of spiles (metal taps put into the holes drilled in the trees) and metal pails hung on the spiles.
Metal pails (and no snow), March, 2016
You may have seen the high-tech system used in a large sugar bush - a stand of sugar maples - where long plastic tubes wind from tree to tree, running down hill to terminate at a large collection vessel at the bottom of the hill.
Sap collecting system at Prescott Farm in Laconia (January, 2016)
I do miss the nostalgia of the old galvanized steel pails, though I'm sure this high-tech system keeps out a lot more of the rain, pollen, bugs, and assorted debris that made its way into those those classic pails.  I suppose the old timers felt the same way a hundred years ago when those modern, unsightly metal pails replaced the classic wooden bucket.
Classic sap bucket complete with hook to hang it on a tree
Another sign that spring is coming was the first evidence of a skunk, a set of tracks showing it was rummaging near the house, probably attracted by dropped bird seed on the ground.
The hap-hazard trail typical of a skunk

Like bears, skunks don't truly hibernate, though they will spend most of the winter sleeping away in their dens, only coming out during a warm spell to poke around for any available food.  Their presence means they are hungry, wanting the snow to melt as well.

I took a hike up to a remote pond the day the snow fell to see what other animals were active;  it was still misty and gray after the storm, but beautiful in its own way.
Wachipauka Pond, Warren, NH

There were lots of animal tracks along the way:  Deer, coyote, snowshoe hare, bobcat, even a fisher - but no bear or moose tracks to be seen.  I was amazed at the size of some of the hare tracks;  I have nothing to show scale in this picture, but each track from front to hind foot is about two and half feet long.
Snowshoe Hare tracks

The larger prints are from the rear feet, and show how the foot spreads out to distribute the animals weight on the snow, lending it the name "snowshoe" hare.  A snowshoe hare weighs almost twice that of a cotton tail rabbit.

Along the way I was happy to see a few signs of spring pushing through mother nature's stubborn hold on winter.
This Hobblebush Viburnum, tired of waiting for spring, is pushing its buds out
The forecast has warm weather for the coming week - maybe there will be more sightings of the elusive 2017 spring soon.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017

Mother nature had a nice April Fool's surprise for us yesterday:  12" of new snow.
Red at morn, sailors be warned - the morning before the storm.
April 1st, no joke
And that was on top of 5" we received on Monday, just when we were starting to see some bare ground appear again, although there is still ice aplenty on the lake.
March 30, bare ground on the shore and puddles on the lake
Tuesday's snow left a perfect cover for some skiing around the lake, and while I was out I went to investigate where Linda had seen an otter bounding across the ice earlier in the morning.  It was easy to find their tracks in the new snow, and it turned out there was a pair of them enjoying the soft snow and spring weather.

Tracks from the otter Linda watched run across Lake Wicwas

Looks like a pair frolicking on the snow
Their tracks led straight from their den, from which I kept a wide buffer as the ice is thinning near the warming shoreline.

Did you know an otter den is called a "couch"?  Or a "holt?"
Sliding in and out of openings along the shore
Soft snow provided some nice examples of otter tracks.
No slides here
The migrating water fowl are also ready for spring;  I heard geese one evening and the next day there were a few congregating down by the dam.  There have been a few pairs of ducks in the open water there as well.  However, I'm guessing the snow birds - both feathered and human - will be delaying their return until their houses are un-buried from the snow.

2017 - it's turning into the winter that just keeps giving.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017

A nice little surprise arrived in the Lakes Region on Friday:  a sudden drop of five inches of dry snow instead of the forecasted rain with a little wet snow.  
Replenishing the snow supply
Even though it was followed by a bit of freezing drizzle it freshened things up nicely and allowed at least a few more rounds of mid-winter ski conditions.
Nordic by the lake

Alpine at Ragged with clouds clearing to the north on the morning after the storm
Our little furry and feathered friends didn't seem to mind as they came out to play in the snow, the squirrels tunneling under the fresh snow in search of seeds and then popping up, snow-covered, to eat their buried treasure, with the snow on their coats proving what we all know:  fur coats are warm.
We know fur coats are good insulators

Their airborne comrades dropped plenty more down for them, the snow collecting on their heads showing that feathers are also good insulators.
Snow on its head shows that feathers also have good insulating properties

Still, a small bird like a chick-a-dee can lose up to 10% of its body weight just keeping itself warm through a cold winter night.

Earlier in the week the ground dwellers took advantage of the corn cob, stripping the kernels from the cob onto the ground, then sitting there happily munching down on them.

Chipmunks have been out and about, and one theory says that when the chipmunks are out, so are the bears, so the birds better enjoy it while it lasts, as soon the feeders will be back safely hidden away from the bears. 
A Hairy Woodpecker takes advantage of the easy food

Unless, of course, mother nature continues to extend our winter!