Sunday, October 16, 2016

October 16, 2016 - Mushrooms

Mushrooms.  Or more accurately, fungi.  This is subject one can spend a career, even a lifetime studying.  And for mushroom lovers, at least those who forage and consume wild mushrooms, it's time well spent as there are mushrooms that really will kill you, and they are not always easy to identify.  Not being someone who savors this particular delicacy, I have not invested much time learning about them, but this summer on a guided walk on the Fogg Hill conservation area, I did learn a few lessons.  The most significant point being that the visible "mushroom" is actually the fruit of a much larger organism.

A fungus consist of an extensive underground network of threadlike strands called mycelium that grows slowly and may live for hundreds of years [REF:  Encylopedia Brittanica].  Now here's the really interesting part:  almost all plants rely on fungi for their survival;  without mushrooms there would be no trees and maybe no plants [REF:  mycologue publications] (this reference has a very short and concise description of this symbiotic relationship).  The fungus grow around and into the roots of plants, bringing nutrients to them, and in return, the trees provide the fungus with sugars that it produces via photosynthesis.  This explains why a mushroom can materialize and grow so large in just a few hours - it has stored tremendous energy in its vast underground system, and sends it to the fruit when triggered.

Even though this was a very dry summer, I saw many mushrooms growing all around Lake Wicwas.  The lightest mist or quick thundershower would trigger various fungi to send out their fruit, taking advantage of what little moisture the atmosphere would give it.  Here are just a few of the various fungi I found around the lake this summer.  I don't know what kind they all are, but the variety of size, shape, color and location is testament to its being everywhere, helping every plant thrive.

Big and yellow - this one's 6 inches across

Tiny and orange - only half an inch tall

Stuck right in a wound on a living tree
And forming a roof for a visitor
On a dead birch on the ground
Indian Pipe

Nature recycling - thousands decomposing a tree
A bid one on the Red Trail in Hamlin
I mean, really big.  This could feed a family!
Just poking up - it wasn't here yesterday
They'll take up residence just about anywhere

Maybe someday I'll come to find mushrooms tasty enough to invest the time to learn what's what.  Until then, I'll just appreciate them for their beauty, and for their essential role in life on earth!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

Fall color is building quickly around the Lakes Region but is not quite at peak yet as seen in the hills around Crockett's Ledge west of Lake Wicwas on this foggy morning.

Just a bit farther to the north the colors are peaking just in time for the Columbus' Day weekend visitors.  I took a hike on the Mount Welch-Dickey Loop on Friday and the color were outstanding. 

The Tripyramids from the Mount Welch ledges

So much for the predictions of poor color due to the lack of rainfall.  New Hampshire trees, like the animals and people, are resilient!

Even though many of the trees around the lake are still green, bright yellow and red maples are plentiful - especially along the shore lines - and the geese are standing up to get a good look.
Maple trees along the northeast shore of Lake Wicwas

Along Chemung Road near the boat ramp
And in Marion Cove

On my paddle I saw a small group of geese come soaring over head - probably from Oakland Cemetery - on their approach to a water landing on the lake.
Landing gear down

Final approach


The migratory birds have started making their way south, stopping in New Hampshire to rest for a day or two.
Male Wood duck

Black ducks, or maybe juvenile mallards?

It can be startling to be awoken half an hour before sunrise by the sound of shotguns taking aim at these handsome creatures, although Canada Geese are in season now, and we certainly can use a culling of the goose population.

On my way back from doing trail work in the Page Pond conservation area I saw this flock of gobblers in someone's yard.
Turkeys near Page Pond

Turkey season starts tomorrow (archery has been in progress since September 15).

Morning is usually the best time to see our wildlife;  if you're willing to rise early, cool misty mornings provide some of the best opportunities to witness the beauty that autumn in New Hampshire has to offer.
Just be sure to wear your own orange colors when walking in the woods!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2, 2016

The young deer I saw last week with its juvenile spots fading away isn't the only animal around the lake that is showing signs of change.  The loons are starting to molt, shedding their summer feathers and in the process losing their distinctive, sharp black and white summer attire.  Their heads seem to be the first to go, giving them a wise, gray-beard look.
Loons are starting to molt

By the time they head out to the Atlantic Ocean for the winter they will be drab gray all over - no need to impress the opposite sex if it's not mating season! 

I saw our resident pair out in the very middle of the lake grooming themselves;  it was a calm day and the lake was speckled with small feathers drifting gracefully along.  
The fine inner down that keeps them warm in cold waters was evident, and some of them left no doubt that they came from a loon.

 At one point I got a look at a foot in the air which showed two bands on it, one white and one silver. 

I thought it was not our resident pair, knowing the female has a green and a red-and-white band.  But John Cooley from the Loon Preservation Committee informed me that our loon has both legs banded, and this is in fact our female.  I had never seen her right leg before, but now we know:  green over red and white stripe on her left leg, and white over silver on her right.

There were a few other animals out on the lake enjoying the calm, warm summer day, including Canada Geese and this Painted Turtle relaxing on a rock in a sunny spot.
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Did you notice its shy friend poking its nose up from behind the rock?

The flora is much more flamboyant in displaying their autumnal changes than the animals - no need for them to be discreet.  Winterberry has matured into its bright red color which really stands out and will last well into winter - unless the birds eat them all first.
Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)

The fruit on the Mapleleaf Viburnum is not so bright, but just as distinctive.
Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

This fruit, like the winterberry, is not considered edible, but is a food source for many birds as well as mammals. 

The foliage around the Lakes Region is still in the early stages of their change as seen from this view from the White Mountain Ledge in the Hamlin Conservation Area.
Even to the north there is little color in the trees

But many of the loners are already rebelling against summer, proclaiming their autumnal independence from the laws of photosynthesis.
A lone maple makes a rebellious statement in the Chemung Forest with Ladd Mountain watching from afar

  Change is everywhere around Lake Wicwas.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September 25, 2016

Thursday it was 82 degrees and we were swimming in the lake.  Today the high temperature was 58;  it was 39 degrees in the morning with mist rising off the water as a few ducks swam by at sunrise.
The ducks are happy to have their feet in water that's warmer than the air

We humans have air conditioners and heaters to help us deal with the rapid changes; wild creatures aren't so fortunate.  Amphibians and reptiles manage fine as they have water to retreat to, or perhaps they will venture down into the first few inches of the earth - the ground is still warm, as is the water (the lake surface was still 72 degrees on Friday). 
This American Toad will find a warm spot under the leaf litter to spend the night

I saw this huge snapping turtle crossing Chemung Road early one morning, traveling from Lake Wicwas to the wetlands in the Chemung State Forest.  She's quite a specimen.
Momma Snapper

Can you see her sharp jaw, her claws, and the spikes on her tail?  She looks like something right out of the Jurassic period.  The large snappers are females;  here she is with the road in the background to provide some size perspective.

I hope you'll understand why I didn't put my foot down next to her to provide a scale!

Fox, chipmunks, and many other mammals can retreat to their dens to keep warm on these first cool nights, but they still have to get out in the cold morning to look for food, as this is critical time for building up winter stores.  Bears have no problem keeping warm overnight in a den, and they are now building up both a layer of fat and a thick fur coat to keep them warm all winter.  They need to store up a lot of fat during the summer and fall, as they lose 20 to 30 percent of their body weight over the winter.  I saw evidence of one of these large animals working on its winter store of fat.
Signs of a Black Bear digging in a tree stump

This black bear had ripped into a rotting tree trunk so it could feast on the insects or eggs or larvae that were inside.  A backpack provides some perspective on the size of this activity.

Chipmunks also will be warm in their underground dens.  They won't put on a lot of winter fat but rather will collect stores of food to consume throughout the winter.
An Eastern Chipmunk on the prowl

But what about squirrels and deer and other animals that spend the night above ground?  It has been so warm this fall - I wonder if their coats have started to thicken up yet. This young White Tail Deer is still wearing its spring coat, and is just now getting its first taste of cool weather.

The still lightly-spotted coat shows this is a 2016 fawn
It's going to be in for a quite a shock when it experiences its first New Hampshire winter - assuming it's a real winter that is, unlike last year. 

The dry, warm summer has perhaps slowed the foliage just a bit, but color is beginning to appear around the lakes, starting first in cool, low-lying wet areas.

Ferns are turning orange and red in the wetlands around the lakes

Perhaps the shock of cool weather will move things along quickly now. 

Summer to fall in three short days - just another typical week in New England.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September 18, 2016

It sure is dry all around the Lakes Region right now.  The drought isn't as severe here as farther south but still, everything is brown and parched, and the small streams feeding the lake have gone dry.
Dry stream beds are the norm

Lake Winnipesaukee is a foot and a half below full pool, and a fisherman told me Lake Massabesic in Manchester is four feet low and the boat ramps are closed.  Lake Wicwas has been very fortunate that - between good management of the dam and the assistance of the beavers - the lake has been high all summer, and as of yesterday is just one inch below full level.
The level at the dam is barely below full pool

The beaver have helped us in two ways.  First, all summer long they have been stuffing every manner of debris in the dam.  (Note all the vegetation they've added in the picture above.)

In addition to raising the water level until the town comes and removes the mess, they also plug up all the leaks that every dam has, further reducing the outflow from the lake (beavers are genetically programed to impede any running water they find).  The other contribution they've provided is a dam they created where Blake Brook enters Lake Wicwas (see August 21 post).  This has raised the water level behind the dam two or three feet, impounding a good reservoir of water that continues to feed the lake.  I expect we are also blessed with many springs that supply the lake as well, as it's hard to believe the small trickle of visible inflow would keep the lake full without other sources.

I was on duty for a morning session of Lake Hosting on Saturday and I went early to watch the sun rise from Crockett's Ledge.  It had the makings of a beautiful morning, with a full moon shining through a thin layer of fog to light the trail on the way up.  When I arrived the fog was low and the mountains were rising above.
Ladd and Leavitt Mountains rising above the fog

The double hump of Gunstock and Belknap mountains

But within minutes the fog thickened and rose

and soon obscured any view.
Lakes and mountains are out there somewhere

Still, it was calm and serene, with birds starting to sing, and there was a little early foliage to enjoy.

Back at the boat ramp the lake remained pretty much fog-bound.
Looking back up at Crockett's Ledge

But the sun to the east was working its magic.
Fog burning off over the Chemung Forest

By 7:30 it had cleared and unveiled a perfect, warm, sunny September day.
Fog lifts off the lake

In the afternoon the goldenrod was radiant in the rich autumn sun, calling to a wide array of pollen-collecting insects to amass their reserves of pollen.
Goldenrod in full bloom


And Bumblebees
Nice to see them all sharing the bounty of the fall flowers.

Finally, on a late-afternoon walk I spotted the elusive Hermit Thrush deep in the forest, and very skittish.

A Hermit Thrush in a rare stationary moment
This is a bird I hear often but rarely see, in keeping with it's name.  It is one of the last birds to migrate, but nonetheless, it will soon be off on its travels south, as autumn hints at its impending arrival to the lakes.
Red Maples are the first to change color, hinting at what's to come