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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11, 2016

This week I took a walk along the shores of Lake Wicwas with a couple of good friends, and it was remarkable how differently everyone sees the same world.  On a path I have traveled many times, they both noticed things I have passed right by.  An example:  this wonderfully intertwined tree:
Tree knitting, found by Rosie P.  Photo by P.C.

Somehow it managed to bend over sideways, then back around and wrap itself right through the branches of another tree.  And there it is, right along a trail I walk regularly, and I never saw it.

Here's another:
"Baby Bear"      Photo by Rosalie P.
A great rock formation that was aptly named "Baby Bear" by the person who discovered it.

Careful eyes (not mine) also caught a nice Wood Frog sitting well camouflaged in a small depression near the trail.
A wood frog enjoys some late summer warmth.   Photo by P.C.

And how many times have I looked at the common pickerel weed growing in the lake and forgotten to appreciate just how beautiful it is.
Pickerel Weed blooming on the shoreline.   Photo by P.C.

Dragon flies are a ubiquitous sight throughout the summer - we all see them everywhere around the lake.  But to capture the special feel of these delicate insects, intertwined in a different manner, and well assimilated with the late summer foliage is something special.
Dragonfly pair.  Photo by P.C.

Everyone is unique, everyone has their own eye to the world around us.  It is a joy to spend time with people and learn what they see, beauty that I might overlook.  Take a walk with someone you know and see what new things you find!  I look forward to future walks - or paddles - or snow shoe trips - with all of you! 
A new perspective on sun showers over Lake Wicwas.   Photo by P.C.

Post Script:  For those of you following the loons on Wicwas this summer, our long-term pair is still on the lake - I got a glimpse of the bands on the female this week.  Our single loon is still here as well, but I haven't seen the second pair lately.
One green and one red-and-white striped band on our female loon

Sunday, September 4, 2016

September 4, 2016

Sometimes you don't have to go anywhere to witness nature's wonder.  Sometimes it comes and knocks on your door.

This week a brilliant Black and Yellow Garden Spider paid a visit, choosing to set up home on the deck, using Linda's Begonia for a foundation.
Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia)

This is one of the largest and most recognizable of all the orb weaver spiders and is always stunning to see, especially in this haunt, high up with green trees and the blue lake in the background.
A nice spot for a summer day

She picked a nice spot to spend the summer.  I say "she" because females make these webs - males only occasionally make a web, when they are young and use it for protection.  There are several theories for the purpose of the wide vertical band in the web - called a stabilimentum - including strengthening and stabilizing the web, and providing defense and camouflage.

Perhaps you heard the NHPR "Something Wild" report on yellow jackets recently - they are particularly aggressive this time of year, as their ground nests, fully stocked with larvae, are prime targets of bears and skunks in search of protein.   And they sure can be annoying on a late summer picnic as they land on your potato salad or try to sip your iced tea.  But thanks to this pretty spider, there is one fewer to bother us now.  One afternoon I noticed Mrs. Arachnid was in her usual position, hanging upside down in the center of her web, but there was something else with her, and she had her fangs embedded inside it, sucking out all the juices.
Enjoying a healthy liquid diet

From this angle it was clear it was one of those pesky yellow jackets.
One less yellow jacket to deal with

When she was done with it she carefully unwound it from the tomb she had used to secure it.

She rolled it around, unwrapping and recycling the silk to be used again.

Her dexterity and deftness with her legs in handling her prey was amazing. 
The bee unwrapped
Fully desiccated and unwrapped, she released it from her web.
Most orb weavers consume their entire web every night, recovering their thread for a new web to built for the next day's trapping.

I thought I'd give her a little help with her food supply to ensure good egg production, so I caught a fly that had been buzzing around the house that afternoon and tossed it into her web.  I was amazed at how quickly she acted:  before I even realized what had happened, she had run over and secured that fly by wrapping it up in a new cocoon.  I could see six or more threads coming from her spinnerets that were still attached to the cocoon.  And those multiple spinnerets are used to produce at least seven different types of thread!  Some are formulated for strength, some for their sticky property, others designed for wrapping prey or forming an egg sac, and the spider somehow knows how to make the right mixture to use for each purpose. [Ref:  Encyclopaedia Britannica]
Electron microscope image of a spider's silk spigots.  Photo courtesy of MicroAngela

Another evolutionary wonder!

So next time a spider comes knocking on your door, feel free to show it the exit, but treat it kindly and it will repay the favor by catching its share of mosquitoes, flies, and maybe even a yellow jacket that will no longer be after your burger.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28, 2016

As the labor day holiday approaches, signs of the waning summer are becoming hard to ignore even though we continue to be treated to glorious summer weather.  Sunrises are later and have moved noticeably towards the south compared to their June horizon crossings.
Sunrises over Lake Wicwas are moving the south

At one of those sunrises I had my first good look this summer at a local osprey, its underside brightly illuminated by the sun as it flew overhead.
An osprey on its morning fishing route

Another tell tale sign of late summer is revealed on cool mornings when the warm lake dislodges  water molecules into the atmosphere which are immediately condensed into low hanging fog.  The sun shining through the layer fashions some of the most ephemeral scenes on a lake.
Mist rises to reveal the far shore

The fog has long cleared by noon time, providing clear skies with long views from the lake shores and hilltops.  Here is a view of the white mountains from the top of Arbutus Hill, just west of Lake Wicwas.
New Hampshire's White Mountains from Arbutus Hill

The summit of Arbutus HIll is accessible from the Hamlin trail head - follow the Yellow Trail to the Magenta Trail, through the Smyth Conservation Easement and up to the view point on Arbutus Hill.  It's just over a four mile hike and well worth the trip.  Here's a link to the trail map.  (This and other maps of hiking trails in Meredith are available at the Meredith Conservation Commission website.)

While you're hiking in any of the conservation areas in Meredith you are likely to come across something interesting, whether plant, animal or mineral.  And as fall approaches, both plants and animals will become more evident (the minerals don't change their behavior so quickly).  Listen for the chopping of a woodpecker - it will usually be a downy or a hairy woodpecker, but this week I heard the loud hack of a Pileated and was able to track it down using the sound as a beacon.
Pileated Woodpecker

He (note the red mustache) was kind enough to continue his work on the oak tree so I could get a video, complete with wood chips flying into the air.  The blog doesn't like video, so I posted it on youtube here.

I also saw a Great Blue Heron, though not in its usual venue in the water, instead stalking some small morsel right through the woods at the edge of the lake, probably a frog or a toad.
A Great Blue Heron stalks its prey

On the plant side, the Speckled Alder are starting to develop their seed cones.
Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa) catkins

The cones are actually the alder flower and are called catkins.  Alders are important trees for many animals;  moose, deer, and rabbits take advantage of their low and thick cover, and mammals such as beaver, muskrat, rabbits and moose browse on their bud, twigs and foliage.  Many birds eat their seeds and buds, including redpoll, grouse and woodcock.  It is also a favorite of beavers for use in their dams and lodges as it is quick to regenerate.  [Ref: USDA National Plant Reference Center]   Alder has medicinal applications and has even been used to improve water conditions in shrimp tanks!  [Ref: The Planted Tank]

Remember the pretty trillium back in May?  Well, by late summer those tiny plants have turned into giant leafy creatures, and their flowers have developed large seeds.
Painted Trillium in its late-summer foliage

How things change over the summer.

With a little bit of rain this week combined with shorter days and cooler temperatures at the end of August, mushrooms are starting to come on in force.  I believe this is the tiny Orange Mycena, less than an inch tall.
Orange Mycena (Mycena leaiana)

Look for many more varieties of fungi to sprout up during your forest walks as fall approaches.