Thursday, August 20, 2015

August 23, 2015

Oh, the dog days of August are here - and I love it!  Hot, hazy, humid days;  calm, quiet, still afternoons;  peaceful nights with the sounds of nature in the air - the past couple of weeks have endowed us with  classic late-summer New Hampshire weather.  Perhaps you saw some shooting stars during the Perseid meteor shower on one of those warm nights.

The heat and humidity may not be appreciated by all creatures, but one group, the fungi, thrive in this kind of weather, marking a time when it becomes interesting to take a look at your feet as you walk the pathways around the lake where various fungi emerge from the soil.  One of the most recognizable is the Indian Pipe, a skinny white fungus that grows tall and obvious in many places.

A very different fungus is one that is wide, flat, and shiny - one I think is a member of the family known by names like Shelf Fungi, Bracket Fungi, or Artist Shelf.

It certainly would be a useful platform for an artist to place her paints as she works in the forest.

I'm not one to pick mushrooms from the forest floor to eat, but I do enjoy the tremendous variety of size, shape and color they contribute to the walk.  And if you do like to forage for mushrooms and want to learn more from one of the most notable experts, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust is sponsoring a Mushroom Walk with Rick Van de Poll in September.  While you're on the LRCT web site you may notice they are also sponsoring a guided paddle excursion - right on Lake Wicwas no less.  It happens this Tuesday, August 25th, and the details on how to register for the trip are on the same page.  I will be there!

Here are a few more samples I found during this simmering stretch of fungi-favorable weather.

Black and White:

Red and orange:

Hard and shiny:

And just emerging from under the ground clutter:

Meanwhile high above my head, an Osprey flew through the thick atmosphere;  I caught a quick picture as it went overhead.  Only after later exploding the picture did I discovered that it had been on a successful fishing expedition at the lake.

Then later, I found this splat on the forest floor.

It is most certainly a raptor expulsion of uric acid.  Hawks, owls, and other raptors expel their solid waste via the familiar pellets one occasionally finds on the ground, but they must excrete their liquid waste and uric acid in liquid form.  I don't know for sure this is from an osprey, but based on its location just a few feet from shore, I expect it's from an osprey sitting on a branch at the water's edge looking for an unsuspecting fish to swim underneath it.  The osprey love these hot, still days where they have a clear view down under the surface of the lake.

Another benefit of this clime if you're a warm water lover:  the lake temperature this week was 83 degrees at the surface!  And even one more perk:  rainbows as the afternoon showers blow over the lake.
Looking west over Lake Wicwas - Photo courtesy of Bill Thorpe

I do love these dog days of summer! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 16, 2015

It is the time of great bounty in New England.  Whether you favor fresh corn, local tomatoes, or any of the other great produce you can get from Moulton Farm, Picnic Rock, or your own garden, hopefully you are enjoying nature's fruits.  All of these cultivated plants have their roots in wild plants indigenous to some location and an era long ago.   I recently heard a report on the history of blueberries, and learned that the cultivated blueberry has its origins right here in New Hampshire (You can read the story here).  In 1910, Frederick Coville had been doing research in New Hampshire on blueberries, and it caught the attention of Elizabeth Coleman White who offered to pay the USDA to do more research at her farm in New Jersey - and the offer was accepted.  She asked her friends and neighbors to collect the very best specimens they could find, and the research began.

Over the years they propagated various plants (named them after the people that brought them to her farm) developing the best of each plant.  It is these plants that were later brought to all corners of the world, further developed by others, and created an enormous new market - the blueberry market has tripled in the past decade alone.  All the blueberries we buy in the market, whether from New Jersey, California, or even Chile, they all trace their start to New Hampshire!  But none of them taste as good as our own wild blueberries that grow on the shores our lakes and the ledges of our mountains.

We love these delectable treats, though many others rely on them and other berries for their existence.  Birds come immediately to mind, but even animals as large as the black bear use them to build their winter fat stores.  Here's a large pile of bear scat left behind in blueberry patch beside the lake.

Black Bear Scat
Sadly, the blueberry season is just about over now, but many other fruit bearing plants are taking their place to sustain our wildlife, including huckleberry, bunchberry, winterberry, cherry.

Black Cherry
Hobblebush Viburnum
Did you happen to notice the fruit tree in Child's Park in Meredith Center?  It looks like a pear tree to me.
Pear Tree?  Meredith Center
For a completely different variety of red fruit you might see on the lake, keep your eye out for this vessel plying the waters of Lake Wicwas:

You might think you've been transported to Casco Bay, but no, you may see this right here on Lake Wicwas.   And it will provide a great service, helping with water testing, loon protection, and lake conservation.  We will miss the steamboat "Lake Wicwas" but this is a worthy replacement!  Be sure to wave if you see it go by - maybe you'll get a toot!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015

This was a sad week for loon watchers and nature lovers, as we lost one of our new loon chicks.  The details are still to be confirmed by the Loon Preservation Committee, but it appears that a rogue loon on the lake killed the chick.  Here is what we do know based on the observations of the wonderful loon watchers around Lake Wicwas:  There was a wild altercation on Thursday morning between the loon family and a third adult loon.  There was much activity, loud alarm vocalizations, wing rowing, and then the third loon flew off, and only the two adults and one chick were seen.  The family of three however did seem to be acting normally, and were fishing soon thereafter.

A few hours later... a dead chick washed up on the opposite side of the lake;  someone did the difficult job of collecting it and calling the loon committee who came to pick it up.  The initial exam indicated bruising on the upper neck, which is consistent with it being grabbed by an adult loon, but the definitve cause of death won't be known until a necropsy is performed, either at UNH or Tufts University.

This sad story - especially considering how hard so many people work to restore loon populations in New England - is just another reminder of how harsh nature is it.  The instinct to survive and to propagate ones own genes is formidable.  Loons will kill another family's chicks to favor the survival chances for their own offspring, even if they don't have any at the moment.

I think I've mentioned that we've had a third, lone loon on the lake for most of the summer, and it was here this week as well.  The morning after the attack it was right in front of our house, so I went down to speak with it.
Is this the culprit?

I told it to look me in the eye and tell me it wasn't the culprit, but it avoided eye contact, so I just don't know what to think.  I've decided that, unlike Roger Goodell, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it's innocent until proven otherwise.  I'd hate to think we have a killer on the lake!  (But either way, I can't hold it's natural instincts against it....)

So we will watch our one chick and know that its chances for survival are even better now that the parents can give it their undivided attention, but there are still risks aplenty, from eagles to lead fishing tackle to speeding boats.

On a much happier note, the 6th Annual Lake Wicwas Paddle Regatta was held this Saturday, generously hosted by the Caldwell family.
Part of the Wicwas fleet

It was another fabulous day, with perfect weather, delicious food, and great fun by all.

Our host and chef extraordinaire!

The paddle included a short trip to three locations to pick up secret cards with prizes for different combinations of cards.  The attendance was high and included a wide variety of paddle craft, including for the first time, a stand-up-paddle board!

But of course, the barbeque and visiting with friends and neighbors was the highlight of the event.

If you missed it, fear not, next year's event will be just as grand.

I can't end without showing at least one wildlife picture - I saw several of these tiny amphibians this week;  I think they are toads that have just emerged from their watery childhood as tadpoles.  I wonder how many of these little guys will make it past the hundreds of hungry predators on their way to adulthood.
Tiny Toad

Sunday, August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 - A Curious Fawn

On June 14 I noted that someone had seen a fawn on the edges of Lake Wicwas, and I have been hoping to find it ever since.  This morning, I would have to say, it found me. 

I was walking up a trail about 100 feet from the lake when I saw a brown form through the trees just around a bend in the trail.  I froze, and to my surprise, after a quick pause, a young deer began walking right towards me. 

It was clearly cautious, and uncertain as to what it was looking at, but it had not yet been habituated to turn and run at the sight of large foreign object.  (When it was a new born, it did know to lie perfectly motionless when it detected another animal.)  Instead, it walked slowly towards me until it was perhaps 40 feet away,

and then walked off the trail to take a detour around me, as it I was blocking its path.

Just prior to seeing the fawn I had heard a sound in the woods that I thought was a deer, but I couldn't see it - it was walking off deeper into the woods, so I continued on my way.  I expect that was the doe, and the fawn knew its mother was behind me and wanted to get to the safety of mother.  I have no doubt that mom was close by in the woods watching the whole scene unfold, and I wouldn't want to be in junior's hooves when it gets back to mom.  I expect Bambi will get a good scolding when they reunite.

Just as Bambi was right next to me, she (I have no idea whether it's a girl or a boy) decided she didn't want to go by after all, turned around, and headed back up the path in the direction from which she came.

She took several good long looks back over her shoulder at me before finally walking off in the woods.  I continued on my way, knowing that mom and fawn would soon be together. 

This video clip shows just how unconcerned she was.


The fawn at this point is six to seven weeks old and its spots are still clearly visible, but they are starting to fade. All told, the encounter lasted for six minutes - six minutes of total stress for mother deer I'm sure!

Many of the young animals around Lake Wicwas are starting to venture out farther from their parents, learning to forage or hunt for themselves, and like all adolescents, they are proficient at giving their parents gray hair.  If you were at the Lake Wicwas Association annual meeting this past Saturday, you heard Marge Thorpe recount a story about the loon chicks diving under the water when the parents were down fishing.  When the parents came up and saw their chicks gone, they gave the most awful sound Marge had ever heard a loon produce.  When the chicks popped back up on the surface, mom, though relieved, went and gave them quite the scolding - while dad just shook his head.

But soon, all the Wicwas parents - loons, deer, scarlet tangers, osprey - they will all watch their young grow up quickly and learn to fly off and fend for themselves.

If you missed the annual Lake Wicwas Association meeting, the presentation "The Loons of Wicwas" can be seen by clicking here, and the minutes of the meeting will be posted on the LWA website in a few days.  Until then, keep your eye out for Bambi !

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015

I didn't get to see the loon chicks this week, but Amy Wilson, an outstanding photographer and local resident sent me some fabulous pictures.  (You can see her work here).  Below are just a few of her photographs - if you want to see more, and hear more about the Loons of Wicwas, come to the annual Lake Wicwas Association this Saturday, August 1st, at 9:30 am in the Wicwas Grange in Meredith Center.  In addition to updates on the lake water quality and recent conservation efforts around the lake, there will be a short presentation on Lake Wicwas's loons, including this year's nesting activities.  I hope to see you there!   (All photos by Amy Wilson.)

Mom!  I'm hungry!

Dear, won't you please get Liberty something to eat?

C'mon dad - what am I going to do with that?

That's more like it!
Full bellies make a happy family
See you on Saturday (there will be food!)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 - Scarlet Tanager

We have had the most stunning bird loitering around our house for the past several weeks:  a Scarlet Tanager.  It is amazing how well a such brilliantly colored bird can melt into its surroundings. 

Scarlet Tanager
It spends its time up in the canopy of oaks and maples, sometimes in the blueberry bushes, picking succulent, protein laden worms and caterpillars off the leaves.  Only when it takes a short flight from tree to tree does it becomes visible for a moment.  As soon as lands, his bright red form most often just disappears in the mass of verdant leaves.

During its residence here for over three weeks I have only been able to get a couple of really good looks at it, and those were fleeting.

I was surprised it spent so much time in a small location, then Friday revealed more of the story.  I was picking a few blueberries near the shore when it winged right over my head, only a few feet away.  I then became aware of a lot of persistent calling from a tree very near me - it was quiet, yet continued without pause in a very insistent manner.  A small fluttering motion caught my eye, and right above me sat a tiny puffball of feathers, white and yellow, rather ragged looking, and the explanation for the resident tanager became clear:  it has a nest in the area and its young had just hatched out.
Newly Hatched Scarlet Tanager Chick

The adults were calling it quietly yet firmly and I watched the chick as it made a couple of feeble flights from one branch to another, each flight becoming a bit more confident and adept than the previous.  The male kept flying in with food for the chick, usually big worms pulled off the leaves, which it devoured happily. 

I never did see the female, which made me wonder if it was off nursing another chick, or perhaps still on the nest.  I doubt I will ever find the nest even though it must be close by;  they are small and built in well hidden locations.  That was only two days ago, but I haven't seem them since - now they are probably moving on around the lake.  Keep your eye out for a happy family of beautiful birds!

Of course, the tanager chick isn't the only new bird on the lake - the two loon chicks are both well and growing rapidly. 
Freedom and Liberty with Mom

Thirteen days old

The family is venturing far and wide around the lake now;  one evening they were all the way down at the far end of the lake, giving Freedom and Liberty a tour of Lake Wicwas during a peaceful sunset cruise. 
A Sunset Cruise

Later in the week we saw mom working diligently to catch fish for the chicks, who seemed to be sharing well - no fighting when she came up with a fish;  they seemed to know who's turn it was. 

We knew it was mom because we saw the band when she did a foot wag.
The aqua-colored band is barely visible on mom's leg

But there was no sign of dad anywhere - until we headed back to Marion Cove.  There has a been a single rogue loon spending a lot time in this cove all summer, and it appeared to me that Freedom and Liberty's dad was standing guard, making sure the rogue didn't leave the cove and threaten the kids.  He was keeping a close eye on it, watching under water whenever it dove.  Then on one dive, dad took off on a wild, fast, splashing, wing-swimming dash to the mouth of the cove. 
Stay away from my family!

It sprinted a couple of hundred yards, stopping at the narrowest part of the cove entrance.  My guess:  it went to blockade the cove to make sure the other loon didn't get out while mom was distracted with her fishing endeavors.  It was quite a show. 

Another unexpected moment gave me a second show, as well as a startle.  I picked my grill cover up where I had left it overnight to dry, and out flew a large creature - I jumped back, my first reaction was, what is a bird doing in there?  The next thought was no, it's shaped like a bat, as it fluttered slowly around me.  But then I settled down and took at good look at it, and saw it was Polyphemus Moth, a member of the Giant Silk Moth family.  It flitted around a bit, and then vanished into the shadows of a dense hemlock tree in search of a dark spot to resume its daytime slumber.  Like most moths, the polyphemus is a nocturnal animal, and it had selected my black grill cover as good spot to hide from the bright summer sun.  No chance for a photo, but here is picture taken by photographer Stephen Lody.
Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) - photo by Stephen Lody Photography
Adult polyphemus moths have wing spans of six inches, and the caterpillar grows to be three to four inches long and as big around as your finger - that would be a feast for the Scarlet Tanager that would feed the chicks for a week!  But alas, all the parents around Lake Wicwas must work tirelessly in the upbringing of their young.  It's nice to think they also take some time to relax now and then, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings in which they live.