Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19, 2014

Heavy rain and strong winds have taken their toll on the trees around Lake Wicwas;  there are still a few pretty sights left, predominantly in the deeper yellows of the oaks.  Most of the maple leaves are now lying on the ground, getting ready to provide nourishment for next spring's wild flowers.

On a walk along Chemung Road one morning, while appreciating an unusually hued maple,

I noticed birds flitting out of the branches, and landing on the ground right at the edge of the pavement. 
Did you see the Chick-a-dee?

They had found a good supply of seeds that they were feasting on, fattening up for the coming winter. 


I think it likely they were white pine seeds that had been liberated from their cones by cars driving over them on the side of the road.

On the opposite side of the road were the tracks of several deer that must have passed by that morning.
White Deer Tracks

I have put out the trail camera a few nights recently, and though I haven't captured any deer, I do continue to see the gray fox most nights, passing in both directions on its hunting trips.

The very same morning I saw (and smelled!) a fluffy little skunk waddling along the side of the road. 

Autumn is good time to see nature!  I resisted the urge to get a closer picture....

The fog hanging over the lake was thick that morning, but now and again it would lift enough to see part way across, revealing a solitary creature out getting its breakfast as well.

This looked like an immature loon, perhaps our chick, but in the middle of the storm on Saturday I saw two loons out fishing in the rain.  One looks like an adult, but with the gray sky and rain in the air I can't be sure  - they both look rather mottled and gray.

The Wood Ducks must also have started their migration, I have seen several on the lake.

With more wind and cold temperatures tonight, maybe even a hard freeze, this may the last of the colorful offerings of 2014's fall season.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 12, 2014

It's Columbus Day weekend and the fall colors are peaking right on schedule around Lake Wicwas.  The maples are deep red and orange, and the beech are starting to turn bright yellow.  The small deciduous trees right along the shore provide a brilliant contrast to the dark green of the pines behind them.

A couple of rare Black Gum trees add to the variety of hues.

Black Gum (Tupelo)
I have heard the loud report of shot guns just before dawn this past week, as duck season is now open.  The hunters are on shore and on boats, getting positioned before day-break to get the first shot of the day.  I know they've been on land when they leave an unfortunate calling card.

It's too bad one careless hunter can hurt the reputation of what are usually careful users of property.

But they haven't found all the birds, as I often flush out a group of ducks when I walk along the shore, and I caught this group out for a fall foliage tour.

The water is getting cold, but it is still warm enough to put off mist on a cold morning.

One day there were unusually tall, thin columns of mist reaching up to the sky.

The cause of this phenomenon is unknown to me.

In what is yet another warm fall, Lake Wicwas had its first frost just last night, and then only in open areas with no trees overhead where radiational cooling allowed the temperature to drop just below freezing.  Only the smallest of leaves raised just enough off the warm ground showed any frost.

There has been an abundance of acorns this year, with large, heavy nuts covering the ground under the oak trees. 
Acorns from Red Oak

I heard a science report explaining why two or three years of low acorn production is followed by a heavy crop (called a mast year).  If the oaks generated the same number of acorns every year, the animals that eat them - squirrels, mice, deer, turkey - would reach equilibrium with the crop, where there would be just enough animals to eat all the nuts.  But this would mean very few seeds survive to germinate.  So the trees have evolved to limit acorn production for a few years to reduce the population of the consumers.  Then they produce a bumper crop, with far more nuts than the population can possibly consume, leaving plenty to survive into spring.  Of course, the high food year produces lots of offspring for those animals the following year, which is then followed by an increase in the next level of animals in the food chain: owls, hawks, fox, fisher, and other predators.  But all these acorns should provide sustenance for healthy deer and turkey populations this winter.

But let's not rush winter.  The fall colors should last another week, so next weekend should provide one more opportunity for leaf peeping.  At least one loon is still on the lake, enjoying the beauty of autumn at Lake Wicwas.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October 5, 2014

The beavers have been very active lately - they have even been trying to stop the water flowing over the dam by piling up branches and packing reeds and mud on the dam.  Even though the town water control person has been removing the debris several times a week, they were able to raise the water level a couple of inches above the dam setting.  It appears they are building a second structure just a short way downstream from the dam.  I understand the town has hired a trapper to try to reduce the beaver population on the lake.

One morning I watched a beaver searching the shoreline for saplings to cut down and take away for winter food.  At one point it stopped to take a break and give itself a bath. 
Beaver on the Prowl

It climbed up on rock just below the waterline and spent several minutes scrubbing its fur all over, head to toe.  I took a couple of videos, but the resolution after uploading to the blog is so low you can't see what it is doing very well.



After its morning ablutions it swam around the shore again, reconnoitering for future logging trips.

Back on August 31 I posted pictures of hundreds of tiny double-decker spider webs;  this week I saw a spider in one of them and was able to identify it:  a Bowl and Doily Weaver Spider.
Bowl and Doily Weaver Spider

This spider is less than a quarter of an inch long.  In its two-layer web, the top web is the bowl, while the lower web is the doily. 

The spider hangs out on the doily waiting for a customer to come along and land in the upper web which is not sticky.  The spider then walks on threads strung above the doily and reaches up from below to grab the unsuspecting guest, and, lunch-time!  The two webs also provide protection from predators (and photographers).

The team of people working to continue to protect Lake Wicwas have been very busy this fall as well, including working with very generous land owners and the state to conserve three more tracks of land.  The Lake Wicwas Assocation, working with the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, applied for a grant from the state Aquatic Resource Mitigation (ARM) fund to ensure there will be no cost to the landowners in the process.  On Monday the ARM committee toured on-land and from the water to assess the properties. 
Aquatic Resource Management Committee Assessing the Properties Planned for Conservation

I am optimistic they will see the value of these important wetland properties. 
One of the Properties to be Conserved

The leaves around Lake Wicwas are approaching their peak color;  they will probably reach it by Columbus day, so it will be a great week to do some leaf-peeping. 

Red Maple

Although not nearly as obvious, even the White Pine trees drop leaves this time of year.
Photo Credit:  Nick Molloy

And the forest-floor plants are producing fall bounty too.

Fruit on an Indian Cucumber-root

The rain and wind on Saturday brought down some of the early-turning leaves, which are now painting the trails and the lake with red and orange.

Beware:  If you have any pretty maples along your shore line, you may want to protect them from this guy!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28, 2014

Walking along a trail's edge this week I noticed some bright white fungus (I thought) growing on the underside of several branches of an alder tree.

I zoomed in to get a close picture too help identify what kind of fungus it was.  It is quite interesting with blossom-like forms and curly filaments. 

When I started my research into fungus I quickly got the message that it's not fungus at all, but rather an insect!  Not ready to believe it, I went back to the tree to investigate further.  Scraping a bit off the tree and onto my hand (quite easily - it came right off) I realized that in fact, that's what it is.  It is a colony of Woolly Alder Aphids.  There were large adult aphids
Wooly Alder Aphids (Paraprociphilus tesselatus)

and much smaller aphids that must have just recently been born.
Young aphids, one already growing its fuzz

I learned a lot about aphids in the process, and these are not all that different from the aphids that live on our house plants, except for their defense mechanism.  This aphid grows a waxy substance on its back that discourages predators from eating it, as predators don't like the fluffy stuff on them. 
Waxy Growth for Protection from Predators

In the summer when food is plentiful - consisting almost exclusively of the sap of alder trees - they bear many, many live young asexually.  Only as winter approaches do the females need a male to lay eggs to winter over.  As they mature, some will grow wings so they can fly.  In the spring they feed on maples which have more nutritious sap early in the year, later flying to alders with their protective white cottonballs attached.  I believe this time of year they will be flying back to maple trees to lay their eggs.  I'm going to keep my eye open for that sight!  Here's another interesting item:  these aphids are also protected by ants (sure enough, there were ants crawling all up and down the tree) and in return, the aphid will release a drop of tree sap when an ant strokes the aphid with its antenna.  You just can't make this stuff up!  You can read about this and more on a good short summary of Woolly Alder Aphids I found on the Brevard College website:  (Click Here)

Enjoying the early colors of fall one morning at the edge of the lake I was suddenly startled with a large splash as a loon popped up out of the water right in front of me.

He was as startled as I was, as it saw me, and swam away calling with alarm.  I soon found out why, when the young chip popped up too.

Dad called him over and they calmly swam away from the intrusion into their quite morning.

Remember the tiny snake from last week?  This week I came across what I expect is one of its siblings.  In the same general area another Brown Snake was slithering around - odds are it wasn't the exact same one, but there probably weren't two litters born that close together.  At any rate, it had grown a lot in just a week;  plenty for snakes to eat this time of year as well.
Brown Snake
A late addendum - on Sunday, in the middle of the unusually warm, 75 degree sunny afternoon, we saw a Great Blue Heron standing in a most unusual pose in the middle of a west-facing clearing about 20 yards from shore.  It had its wings spread out in a v-shape, and looked like a rocket on a launch pad ready for take off.  It reminded me of the way the cormorants sit on the rocks and spread their wings out.  The best theories I found is that heron do this to dry their wings, not for temperature regulation.  I did not get picture, but I found one on the web that shows exactly what our bird was doing - you can see it HERE.  (And you really should see it!)

I hope wherever you were you were able to get out and enjoy the fabulous weather this weekend - our new loon did!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21, 2014

Fair warning to those of you who are not enamored with insects - this week I had a double feature.  I saw two insects - a spider and a grub - interacting with each other, although one was doing a lot more interacting than the other.  If you follow this blog, you know that spiders (which are actually arachnids, not insects) are carnivorous predators, so you have probably guessed that the spider had the upper hand in the relationship.  In fact, the spider, a medium sized dock spider, was in the process of consuming the grub.

The grub was still alive, squirming in a futile effort to escape. 

Later the same day a large flock of warblers flew through the area;  they were picking similar larvae off the leaves of trees as they went.  The whole flock was present for only a minute or two, flying on after clearing out the immediate area.

I saw another tiny creature that must have hatched out just recently - a Brown Snake. 
Immature Brown Snake, or DeKay's Snake (storeria dekayi)

Although very small, it was rather quick, but it settled down in my hand to pose for a picture to show the size of it.

This species of snake bears its young live;  this one may have only been a few days old.  I found it creeping in the vicinity of the late-blooming Nodding Ladies' Tresses which I always enjoy finding this time of year.
Nodding Ladies' Tresses

The lake was very quite on Sunday when I went for a kayak;  I saw more ducks than humans, although there were people out on the islands enjoying the warm day before the showers came through.

I also more signs of the leaves starting to turn.
Maple Trees in Wicwas Wetlands

And as the sun arcs lower in the sky and sets farther south, the evening light shines its orange colors on different shores around the lake, now painting houses on the north shore a beautiful color at sunset.

The equinox occurs tomorrow (Monday) at 10:29pm.  Welcome fall.