Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 14, 2017 - Coyote

The New England roller-coaster continues:  Zero degrees one day, 45 degrees and raining the next, then back to single digits again.  It hasn't done much for the skiing, but the lake did freeze up well enough to provide some decent skating conditions.  It's pretty good for mid-winter:  some really smooth areas interconnected with rougher patches that are easily navigated.  

There have been good hiking conditions when the roller coaster climbs up into the 40s and the snow softens up.  We had a gorgeous spring-like hike up to the White Mountain Ledge on one of those warm sunny days, and were treated to nice views of the whites.
Hiking up to the White Mountain Ledge

A snow-capped Lafayette on the left, Tecumseh and Osceola on the right

When the 'coaster hit a low point on one of the coldest mornings after a light dusting of snow fell, I went for a walk on the lake to see who's been out on the ice.  I've heard lots of night time coyote howling this year, and have seen tracks all over the lake.
A great example of a coyote side-trot in the light snow

I sometimes question whether I'm looking at fox or coyote tracks, but when the two animals cross paths it gives a definite reminder of how small fox prints are compared to those of a coyote.
Coyote from left to right, fox top to bottom

There was something out on the lake that attracted a lot of attention;  maybe that was the cause of all the howling one night.

Looking around, all I found were a few left over bones.

I can't tell what they came from - maybe a turkey?

Coyotes are true survivors, having won the war that humans have waged on them for over a hundred years, adapting along the way some unique survival techniques.  New Hampshire Public Radio's "Exchange" show produced a great program on their story ("The Wolf in Our Backyards") from Native American time to today;  you can listen to it here.
Coyote with a warm fur coat on Wicwas in January 2012
This week their tracks led me to one of the many beaver lodges on the lake.

This coyote had climbed right up on top and sniffed around, following the scent coming from the chimney in the top.
Paw prints at the top of the lodge

I always like thinking about the beavers down there in winter, safe from predators and enjoying a nice temperature-controlled environment - if you call 32 to 39 degrees "nice".

The warm, moist air molecules coming up through the chimney in the top of the lodge crystallize into brilliant miniature ice sculptures in near-zero temperatures.

Curious about other lodges, I took a look at a few more (there are at least nine active or recently-active lodges in Lake Wicwas) as I wandered my way around the lake, including checking on the largest lodge on the lake which is down toward the dam.

It's clearly still active, as indicated by all the fresh branches sticking up out of the ice.

This is their winter food source, having been carefully stored under the water during the fall for later consumption.

I also found a set of bobcat tracks that, like the coyote, went right up on top of the lodge.  The thin snow on the ice left perfect impressions.
A bobcat print no larger than a thumb in a warm mitten

Just like the twists and turns in an animal track, one never knows what surprises the roller coaster will bring us next.  Maybe a frozen tundra, maybe a foot of snow, maybe a sea of mush.  Whatever it brings, I know it will be worth the ride.
Lake Wicwas before the latest freeze

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 8, 2017 - The past year in review

I was going to do a recap of 2016 last week, but the bobcats came along and kind of stole the show.  So here it is, one week late:  my favorite moments from 2016.

The winter of 2016 started slowly and never really got into gear.  We had the latest ice-in date I've seen as well as the shortest period of ice coverage.  But there was enough time for fishing, skating, and trekking on the lake to enjoy the winter season.

 One of my favorite visitors I only saw in winter, and only at night:  Flying Squirrels.

The red and gray squirrels were of course reliable daytime entertainment.

Spring migration always brings lots of commuters to the Lakes Region, including this Hooded Merganser in March.

No matter how mild the winter may have been, signs of spring are always welcome.

Service Berry (Shadbush)

I didn't see any fawns in 2016, but I saw their parents, and other people did see fawns around the lake.

May brings peak season for wildflowers in New Hampshire - always a high point of the year.
Lady's Slipper

The summer birds arrived as soon as the insects emerged.  This Baltimore Oriole was working hard to rid the white pines of insects.

And speaking of insects, does anything dare to eat the Pine Sawyer Beetle?
If you have too many yellow jackets around next summer, see if you can get a Black and Yellow Garden Spider to rent some space at your house.

The Pileated Woodpeckers also did their part in insect control;  this one gave a great show last summer.

This bird I had never seen before on a New Hampshire lake:  A Great Egret.

A similar bird, equally majestic, is a common sight on New Hampshire's lakes.
Great Blue Heron

And at the other end of the flying spectrum:

We had many loons on Lake Wicwas this summer, maybe too many - for the first time in quite a few years we did not have a nesting on the lake as competing pairs kept each other from settling down to home building.

Come fall, this was all they left on the lake for us.

As autumn matured the late bloomers attracted our eyes as well as the pollen collectors

I had a fun playing hide and seek with a chipmunk one fall morning.

One of the best moments this year was watching a mink hunting along the shoreline.

And of course, to cap the year off, the arrival of the bobcats.

It was a great year to watch the diversity of nature that a healthy ecosystem will support.  It's encouraging to know that every year more of the Lakes Region is added to the list of protected habitat.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January 1, 2017 - Bobcats!

Happy New Year!  We ended 2016 on a good note, with a nice dump of snow to bring us into winter 2017.

But the highlight at the lake this week were visits from the local bobcat family.  After mentioning last week how the squirrels are hunted by a wide range of predators, we got to experience it live and up close.  One morning at about 7:30 Linda noticed motion on the edge of the lake, and looked in time to see a gorgeous bobcat walking away along the ice with nice fat gray squirrel - which it had just secured from the yard - dangling from its teeth.  Our assumption is that it was bringing it back to its den, or at least a secluded spot to feast on it.  No pictures of it though....   But then about 30 minutes later, along comes another - presumably its mate - and a yearling kit.  This time, I got the picture, as they were more relaxed in their travel.
A stately pose and a watchful eye

Here's my guess as to the events:  The first one was dad, out hunting early and alone to make sure it would get breakfast for the family without the risk of an impatient young-un giving away its stalking of its prey.  Then mom came along with junior, showing him/her the ropes of hunting.

They were interested enough in the area that I expect they smelled the action from dad - there were blood stains in the snow in several places.
The point of the kill?

Although rather grown up, the smaller animal still shows signs of a kitten. 
Mom looks like the real thing
While junior doesn't have the muscular appearance of an adult, still looking like a fluffy kitten

Did you notice how, like the fox, they take advantage of the ski tracks?

Then, two days later, I saw a shadow moving along the lake and we got to witness the action:  one of the bobcats was creeping along the shoreline, stalking the by-now suspicious squirrels eating under the feeders.  The cat remained motionless, watching its prey until they were heads-down scrounging for seeds, and then it quickly took a couple of steps, then froze again.  Finally, when it was at the edge of the cover of blueberry bushes and would have to expose itself, it made its move.

It started for the closest squirrel, but that one was near some bushes and made a move in that direction.  With no hesitation and without missing a beat, the bobcat changed course and sprinted toward the squirrel more in the open.  This squirrel made a dash to the nearest tree;  the cat, triangulating the trajectory rather than going straight at the squirrel, also set a direct course for the tree.  The squirrel got their first and was already 15 feet up when the bobcat hit the tree.  The squirrel was climbing;  the cat was bounding - its first jump took it up about six feet.  A few more leaps and it caught the squirrel maybe 30 feet above the ground, and that was it - curtains for that squirrel.

From the moment the bobcat made its move until the kill was complete took not even two seconds, maybe only one.  Seeing how that cat could leap up a tree was amazing.  And the next day?  Not a squirrel to be seen.  There were as many as seven earlier in the week, but they get hungry and by today we were back up to four.  They best not get complacent as those felines know they have found fertile hunting grounds - this morning there were fresh cat tracks in the new snow.  At this rate the population is dwindling fast, but there will be more food coming, as the survivors will make more squirrels soon enough: they have a litter in late winter as well as one in late summer.  In the mean time, we'll continue to keep them well fed.

As we start a new year I'm curious to see what wonders 2017 will bring to Lake Wicwas.  Can it exceed the action from 2016?  We'll just have to wait and watch.
And we won't be the only ones who will be watching!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Lake Wicwas!  It certainly has looked like Christmas Town around the lakes this week.
It's a white Christmas at Lake Wicwas

That's a picture from the Hamlin Conservation Area taken on the Blue trail around the beaver ponds three days before Christmas.  It was still snowing lightly, so there were no animal tracks to be seen but it was a beautiful, peaceful time to be out.
The Blue Trail provides good skiing right after a fresh snow

On a later trip along Lake Wicwas I did see tracks, and saw that with the ice growing thicker, the fox have started taking shortcuts across the lake to get from one hunting ground to another.
Fox tracks stretching across the lake

With only a little snow on the lake it must make for fast and efficient travel.  They were rather busy, hunting around the shore, the islands, even the beaver lodges, in search of food.

Fox tracks run over a beaver lodge in a marsh beside Sheep Island
I say "they" because there were two of them.  It often looks like one set of tracks, but one fox will follow exactly in its mate's tracks for long distances.  Since fox "double register" it means there are four footsteps in each print.

Here's one of their favorite entrees, fattening up on Linda's bird feeders.

Of course, the fox have to compete with the fishers, coyotes, hawks, owls, bobcats, and a host other predators that feed on the squirrels.  Nice to know Linda is doing her part to support the entire food chain so everyone will have a nice Christmas feast.

Up on higher ground away from the lake I found a spot where a fox had made a bed in a bright sunny spot, curling up in the snow for winter's nap.
A fox bed in the snow

We had a just a touch of rain on Christmas eve, but with the current weather pattern I'm optimistic more of the fluffy stuff will soon fall.  If you are visiting the lake over the holidays I hope you can get out to enjoy the beauty of the season.  And remember, with the winter solstice behind us, the sun is rising higher in the sky - the days are already getting longer!