Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 10, 2017 - First Snow

The first real snow of the season fell yesterday, and it immediately transformed the world into a winter wonder land.

It's nice to have winter arrive, but why does the snow always seem to come just as the ice is almost ready for skating?  The calm weather this week had allowed the lake to spread a perfect layer of smooth ice just before the snow fell.
The Full Cold Moon reflects off newly formed ice on December fourth
Ice working its way slowly across Lake Wicwas under the setting moon
But we'll take the snow (is there a choice?) and it sure does make everything look pristine.
Hemlocks are still holding onto their cones

Snow-covered pines on Sheep Island
A tunnel of snow

With the snow the bird feeders came out, both because the birds can use it with much of their food supply covered up, and because we'll be able to see if the bear is still active.  It didn't take long....
A goldfinch scratches its chin
A Tufted Titmouse waits its turn on a snowy branch

I can't wait to get out after the first snow to see what's been out and about in the world, and sure enough, even coming home from the concert last night there was already the trail of a fox trotting down the road in the still-falling snow.  This morning there were mouse prints in the snow by the stone wall where it has its nest.
Mouse prints, with the tail imprint barely visible
And right next to them, the landing mark of an ermine where it dropped down looking for a meal, but there was no sign of a capture, at least at that location.
Ermine landing mark above the mouse trail - about 4 inches long

I found the track of a coyote as well.
Coyote tracks this morning

And saw where it ventured to a small stream for a drink.

So, we may have missed the skating window again this year, but I'm looking forward to the season of observing animal tracks, and at least we should be able to get out on the skis soon!
Some trails will be ski-able with one more good storm

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3, 2017 - My, what big teeth you have

December first is the start of meteorological winter (versus astronomical winter) and reflects what is happening around northern New England right now.  We are still almost three weeks away from the winter solstice but the plants, animals, lakes, and sky have taken on their winter manifestations.
A winter glow over Lake Wicwas just before sunrise 

Nighttime temperatures falling below freezing allow more and more of the lake to grow a layer of ice, some of which survives through the day, and this morning ice had developed in the center of the lake for the first time.

Ice out here in the middle indicates the fall turnover has occurred, so the lake will freeze over given a few days of cold weather without too much wind.

The lake level is dropping fast enough right now that stress lines are visible at the edges of the lake where the ice tied fast to the shore and had to follow the lake down as it froze.

Beaver lodges which were built up over the summer appear even larger as the receding water exposes more of their upper stories.
A beaver lodge off Sheep Island

But their entrance holes are far enough down that they won't freeze, allowing access to their food stores down under the water all winter long.

While I was looking at that particular lodge a couple of chickadees flew across the short stretch of water to say good morning, alighting on the branches of a blueberry bush right in front of me - I couldn't resist snapping a portrait for the journal.

Flocks of mallards continue to dominate lake activity, even as their morning landing strip shrinks each day.

Soon they will have to move on.

Hiking in the Lakes Region is still snow-free and providing great visibility;  it looks like this will last for the foreseeable future with no snow in the forecast.  If you're interested in a moderate hike, try a trip up to Arbutus Hill Pond in the Hamlin/Eames Conservation area.  The beavers were very busy there this fall harvesting trees for their winter food supply, as well as for housing and dam materials.  Take the short spur trail to the view point on the south side of the pond and you'll find an array of cut trees, from small saplings to some pretty large ones.
Cut clean and dragged away
Forgot to come back for one!
This guys eyes were bigger than his teeth
Think this one will survive a winter blow?
We need to train them to clear all the trails up there - look how nice the trail looks where they have dragged branches along the trail down to the pond.
The trail down to the pond

Compare that to the crossing-trail they don't use, covered with leaves.
The trail they don't use is straight ahead
If you get up there, let me know if the beavers came back to finish the trees they left half-cut.  I'm guessing that's not going to happen as that pond appears pretty well frozen, and lacking a warm spell they are probably bedded down for the winter.

One more sign that the winter season is upon us:  both of the Lakes Region's major ski areas opened for the season on December first.
First turns of the season at Ragged Mountain
There's not a lot of terrain open, but it's great to get some early runs in before the vacation crowds arrive!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

November 26, 2017 - Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving with family and friends and lots of turkey.  I kept my eye out for un-cooked turkeys this week, but none were to be found, so here's a picture from November several years ago.

What was plentiful this week were mergansers, right after I noted last week that I hadn't seen but one pair of mergansers all fall.  Now there are hooded and common mergansers, travelling in groups as well as pairs.
Common Mergansers looking a bit like loons in their fall plumage
Mr. and Mrs. Hooded Merganser
and Dad

On one crisp morning I saw a flock of juncos flitting about the small saplings looking for seeds.
Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)
It was my first greeting from these friendly birds this fall.  Many live in New Hampshire year-round as the Lakes Region is in their sweet-spot, but they don't seem to be visible much in the summer, perhaps because they are hidden by the foliage as they forage on the forest floor for seeds.  Many juncos spend their summers in Canada and come farther south for the winter;  it's not clear whether the birds we see in winter are year-round residents, or whether ours move south and are replaced by those from Canada moving here.  Regardless, all of them are more exposed with the leaves off the trees and soon they will be as common as chickadees under the feeders.

On those calm, cold mornings, ever-larger coves on the lakes are covered with a skim of ice, and some of them are keeping a little ice even as the day warms, though most of Lake Wicwas is still a bright November-blue. 
Bright water, drab trees

November offers clear hiking weather, with nice sight lines absent all the leaves, and one of my friends (thanks CM!) inspired me to hike up Fogg Hill in Center Harbor.  This is always a nice walk (you can find a map for the 2-mile round trip walk here) with many signs of moose also using the trail (those wide antlers make it hard to fight through the forest) as shown by so many trees stripped of bark, sometimes up to 12 feet high - those are some big animals!
Bark stripped off trees along the sides of the Fogg Hill Trail

The beaver pond along the trail was completely frozen over.
Beaver pond beside the Fogg Hill trail

I read in an article shared by NHLakes that beavers will break through thin ice-skims to prolong their activity a bit longer, but soon they will be restricted to living under a barricade of ice until spring liberates them once again.
Photo by Kay and Peter Shumway

How many more sunrises will we get with light reflecting off liquid water before the lakes are sealed off from all of us?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 19, 2017 - Chickadees a-flocking

A November dusting
Well, it's definitely November.  And at least some of the wild creatures have figured it out.  There have been many more mallards stopping by on their way south than most years.

Mallards, like many ducks, pair up in the fall and will remain as a pair through the winter, and I have seen plenty of courting behavior.  
A female displays "nod-swimming" while the others watch
A male does a "head-shake"
Then a female shows off her stuff

It seems like Lake Wicwas is a good pick-up spot.

In contrast to the mallards (considered "dabblers"), I have seen almost no diving ducks.  I saw one hooded merganser back in late October, no more since then, and no common mergansers, golden-eyes, or ring-necked ducks, and I don't know why.  The geese are still hanging around, though I don't know if they are the summer residents or birds working their way south from points north.  

And there has been a possible sighting of loons on Lake Wicwas this week, which isn't unexpected.  Loons are still in the area, including the female nesting loon on Pleasant Lake, thanks to Kittie Wilson's observations.  
Pleasant Lake female in her winter colors;  Photo by Kittie Wilson
I wonder if she will join her mate over the winter, or spend the season apart and reunite on the lake in spring.

We don't need to be concerned about loons being here until the lake is almost completely frozen over.

I was given clear notice by a flock of chickadees one afternoon that I was trespassing in their territory - lots of loud calling and complaining.
Black capped Chickadee
Chickadees have formed their winter flocks now, after spending the summer with their individual family groups.  In breeding season mating pairs separate from the flock and spend the summer in a smaller territory with their immediate family.  When winter approaches they gather again into larger flocks that together defend a larger territory, visiting their feeding locations on a daily basis.

If they encounter another flock in their territory they will attempt to drive it away, yet they often allow other species to join their flock, which is why we see mixed flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and titmice at feeders.
No, the feeders aren't out yet - this is from last year
It's thought that these birds follow along with the chickadees to take advantage of the chickadees knowledge of prime feeding sites.  [Ref:  "A Guide to Bird Behavior" Vol I, Donald W. Stokes, Little, Brown and Company]

It may just the start of a long winter for birds and humans, but there are reminders that all seasons are fleeting:  buds that will bloom next spring have already been formed, just waiting for their time in the sun.
New buds ready for next year's Hobblebush Viburnum
But for now, it's November.

Correction:  Last week I said the first frost occurred on October 9th - that should have said November 9th.