Sunday, April 24, 2016

April 24, 2016 - Definitely Not Wicwas

We were away for a couple of weeks, on a trip down the east coast to get a little jump on summer.  For the first stops on the trip, Shenandoah National Park and the mountains of South Carolina - both part of the Appalachian Mountain range - many of the plants and animals are similar to those we have here in the northern section of that mountain range, though the plants were much farther along.  Various shades of green were evident at the lower elevations, but at 4000' there were no signs of even budding.
Appalachian Trail near Hawksbill Mountain (4049')

Some of the animals at the top of the range, 3500' to 4000', were the same we have at lake Wicwas, including a bobcat we saw stalking a gray squirrel on an early morning hike up Hawksbill Mountain.
Turkey Vulture
Barred Owl
White Tail Deer
Bobcat
Farther along in South Carolina we found ourselves, as always, attracted to the lakes.
Lake Jocasee

This was Lake Jocasee in the very northwest corner of South Carolina, and we even saw a loon that hadn't yet moved on to its summer breeding grounds.

In winter, Lake Jocasee has about 250 loons;  they think most of them come from the mid west and the Great Lakes, so probably not our Wicwas loons.  In this area we saw Mountain Laurel blooming, similar to our Sheep Laurel.
Mountain Laurel

Also two types of trillium, which in NH won't bloom until mid or late May (or maybe earlier this year).
Trillium Discolor

By the time we arrived in Savannah Georgia, both flora and fauna had changed dramatically.  We were now into the land of seabirds and warm weather reptiles.

We don't see this in New England!

Some of the animals of Savannah are similar to ours, like this relative of our Great Blue Heron.
Tricolor Heron

It would dash in to catch a fish, then rush back to shore before a 'gator could grab it

Other species are nothing like our inhabitants.
Pelican

White Ibis (Immature)



Our final stop was back in South Carolina at Congaree National Park.  It was formerly called Congaree Swamp, but the name was changed to make it sound more enticing.

Congaree National Park
It was a startling difference from our northern forests which have very few old growth trees.  Congaree has the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood trees in North Americal, with trees over 165' tall and more than four feet in diameter.

Water Tupelo
Because you have to stay on the trail in the swamp, you can't get a picture with any sense of scale, but these are truly impressive trees.
Loblolly Pine
We saw quite a few animals here, including egret, lizards, snakes (big snakes!) and butterflies - but no mammals (ok, one squirrel).  There was one animal we were happy not to see:  the wild pig, which is an invasive species causing serious problems in the south.  They can be found in 35 states now - will they get as far north as New England?  It gives us renewed energy in our fight against invasive species.

Broadheaded Skink
Great Egret
Palamedes Swallowtail

It was a great trip, perfect to whet my appetite for spring.  We're now back in New Hampshire, hopefully just in time to watch spring break out all over again!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17, 2016

Next time you drive down Chemung road past the boat ramp, take a look at the new addition to the Laconia State School Cemetery.

A new white cross has been placed at the rear of cemetery where a statute had been located.  The original statue is still on the property, but it has been damaged.

I don't know, but I'm guessing it has been damaged for quite some time, and that's why it was replaced.  The loss of the right arm appears new however, probably a result of it being taken down.

Does anyone know:  would this be a statue of Saint Antony, the patron saint of graveyards?

There are a surprising number of small graveyards located all around Lake Wicwas, many that are now overgrown by forest and hidden from sight, forgotten by perhaps all.  This one, which I discovered just this spring, is located only a few feet off Chemung road; you would drive by it every day and never know it's there.
The grave of John L. Lawrence of New Hampshire's 12th Infantry

There is no date on it, but the inscription of the 12th New Hampshire Infantry places it in the Civil War era. I'll see if I can find any more information about John Lawrence.  The town of Meredith has an inventory of graveyards, and Harold Wyatt's book "Way out There" describes several cemeteries in the Chemung area, but not this one.

I didn't get out around the lake much this week, but I did see a couple of things worth noting, including what appears to be another sign of the neighborhood bobcat.
Bobcat scat?

And our local beaver has been cruising the cove most every night, even hopping up onto the shore to look around for any of its favorites trees.

Fortunately, it doesn't seem to see anything it likes near our house.

Here's a poem for John Lawrence, of the NH 12th Infantry.

Forgotten Tombstone - Poem by Smoky Hoss

Planted long ago, a single old birch
barely stands behind a little country church,
there, once to show the grave
of one who passed so brave,
a fallen soldier from 1863
died to save the union and make men free,
his remembrance long lost
as is the recollection of the cost,
the price he paid
the life he gave,
for there's no one left alive
him to remember, to long for and to cry,
only a broken marker now remains
just a date, without a name,
here under this old birch tree
planted once, in grateful and fond memory.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

April 10, 2016

I don't know how the word got out to the avian community, but Lake Wicwas has become the hot hook-up spot for ducks this spring.  This week there was a flock of 32 Ring-necked ducks cruising the lake like teenagers in their hot rods looking for dates. 

We counted six females in the group being courted by the males, a discouraging five to one ratio. 

The flock tended to separate into smaller groups, each one focused on a single female.  If a drake felt it wasn't making progress with the female in its platoon it moved on to another to try its luck with someone else. 
Quite the handsome escort

At one point I thought a whole group flew off, but then I saw that two ducks had remained. 
The two love-birds are on the left

Did the female finally make its selection, so the others left for more fertile ground?
Now they have the cove to themselves

We were treated to a touch of snow on this first week of April, just enough to leave a perfect canvas for animal tracks.  And as if to say thank you for stopping the proposed hunting and trapping, a bobcat walked right past the house that night, leaving a beautiful set of tracks in the snow.




The print below exhibits all the discriminating features of the bobcat paw print:
A faint circle around the print left was made by the cats fur

It is 2" long, almost perfectly round, and doesn't show claws (unlike canines, cats can retract their claws and usually do so when they walk).
Note the double lobes on the foot pad and graceful, round toes

A canine would surely show claw marks in this snow.  Also, note the boomerang shape in the foot pad behind the toes.  A fox would show a pyramid shape here.  Finally, the double-lobe pattern at the front of the pad print is another trait unique to the bobcat. 

I have only once taken a picture of a bobcat.
Photo from November 2010, taken in the same location as today's tracks
I followed the tracks for over mile, thinking as I walked how sad it would be to follow a bobcat trail only to come across one of these beautiful animals killed or suffering in a trap.

Another unusual find in the late snow was a set of beaver tracks, this where a beaver crossed from the mill brook below the dam on Lake Wicwas into the lake.

A dangerous crossing for a beaver
On the west side of the road was a perfect print of its feet, and a large flattened mark where its broad, smooth tail smacked down onto the ground. 

This is probably one of the critters that drive the town workers crazy by stuffing all manner of branches and grass into the dam trying to stop the flow!


The dusting of spring snow had the added benefit of bringing a bounty of gorgeous sights to the lake.
A white pine seedling collected its share of the snowfall

April morning after a snow

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April 3, 2016

The New England roller coaster of weather continues unabated.  April first fooled us with a beautiful 70 degree day, only to have the temperature drop by 40 degrees (Apr 4 update:  make that 55 degrees - it was 16 overnight on Sunday) and usher in 40 mph winds and snow squalls today.  But when it was warm, the sights and sounds of spring were all around.

A few bulbs were blooming in the warmer spots.


Tiny lichen were starting to come to life among the greening moss,
"British Soldiers" lichen (Cladonia cristatella) are only about half an inch high
and mussel shells are appearing on the shore line, left by raccoons, or perhaps muskrats.
Crustacean shells left over from a fresh seafood dinner

And on Friday, the first amphibians made their presence known as the Wood Frogs emerged from their winter slumber to call for mates in the thawed vernal pools.  Every year I am fooled (it was April first after all) by their call - I still think there are ducks ahead as I approach.  But each year I realize a little more quickly, that no, these are the frogs!
video

Other sounds of spring were unmistakable, for one the raspy call of the first phoebe of the summer - always the first of the insect-catching birds to return, but also a warning that the bugs are close behind.

Yesterday I saw my first pair of Great Blue Heron, landing awkwardly in the top of a towering white pine on a small island in the lake.  And earlier in the week I saw a large flock of Turkey Vultures - at least 20 of them - flying right over downtown Laconia just past Opechee Bay.  The next day there were three of them circling over Lake Wicwas.
A couple of Turkey Vultures circle overhead


Just when I though the migratory birds had moved past, another flock of ring-necked ducks stopped by, this time a pair as well as two males accompanying a female, hoping to win her favor.
Male ringed-neck ducks wooing a prospective mate
Hmmm,  how do I choose....

There was also a pair of Buffleheads - which I don't see very often - napping on the lake.
Buffleheads getting some needed rest on their voyage north

And one more sign of spring, summer even:  our first thunderstorm.  It was followed by a beautiful calm evening with mist flowing over the lake and then, the summer's first rainbow.   April-fools or not, summer is getting closer.
The summer's first rainbow

Sunday, March 27, 2016

March 27, 2016

Last week I noted our Wood Duck pair had returned to establish its nest near the lake.  This week we watched as they had to fend off a small flock of would-be home-seekers that thought Wicwas looked like a nice place to raise a family. 
An intruding group of Wood Ducks exploring Lake Wicwas
But our local pair came down to defend their turf.
Our ducks standing their ground
There was a stand off, but after a bit of non-verbal communication (see the male pecking at the water) they were able to convince the visitors that this cove had been claimed.  Click here to watch video.  (I had to upload the videos to youtube to keep the resolution from being really bad - even there it's not great.)

The intruders did make a couple more approaches with the same result;  they ultimately gave up.
On the retreat

Earlier we had the unusual sight of a duck walking around in tree branches.
A duck in a tree?

It was Mrs. Woody, waiting patiently while Mr. Woody prepared the nest, probably working on enlarging a cavity in a rotten tree.  Wood ducks have claws on their feet - unusual for ducks - that let them climb around in the trees.  Mrs. Woody sat and watched patiently from her perch on the branch.
Waiting for her home to be ready

Hopefully we'll have little woodies in a few weeks;  these are truly stunning birds.
Female Wood Duck


This wasn't the only display of duck mating behavior this week - perhaps the earlier ice-out means we are seeing more mating activity than usual.  We witnessed a group of male Hooded Mergansers trying to win over a sole female by impressing them with their beauty and strength.

It began with some preening and head-bobbing while the female watched from under a hemlock tree - you'll see her dive and then swim back out to watch the antics.  Click here to watch video.

Then they went on to chasing each other and circling around the none-too amused female.  Click here to watch video. And a second.

As time went on the behavior escalated in more aggressive tactics.  Click to watch.

Until finally she decided she'd had enough and flew off with the whole bunch in hot pursuit.  Click to watch.

It must be frustrating when there aren't enough mates for all, but just like the deer and many other species, it ensures propagation of a strong gene pool.

The last of the bird feeders have now been taken in to ensure the bears don't learn to associate with humans.  It took the downy woodpecker's long beak to extract the final few seeds that the chickadees and nuthatches couldn't reach.
A downy woodpecker cleans out the last of the seeds


Soon enough, humming birds will swap places with the winter flocks, as they coax the sweet nectar from the bounty of Linda's summer flowers that will supplant the seed-feeders on the posts! 

Finally, we had a rare but special visitor to Lake Wicwas this week: a pair of the aptly-named Goldeneye.  These fabulous birds were stopping here for a short rest and a meal on their way to breeding grounds in northern New England or Canada.

Female Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
Male Common Goldeneye

A week like this with so much activity causes me to reflect on the amazing range of animals that this precious habitat attracts and supports.  And to remember the many generous people over the years who have worked so hard to protect this unspoiled spot in our ever-developing world.