Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018: Bucks are Getting Active

Most of the smaller animals have their mating season in late winter or spring with their offspring being born or hatched several weeks later.  But the larger animals including moose and deer have much longer gestation periods, so they mate in the fall, again to give birth in the spring when food is plentiful.  (One interesting exception to this is the black bear which mates in June, but then employs something called "delayed implantation" so gestation starts around November with birth occurring in January, though the young won't leave the den until two or three months later, relying completely on the mother's milk during that period.)

The white-tail deer has a gestation period of just over 200 days, geared toward birth in late May or early June, so their mating period is right about now, and the bucks are busy marking their territory and rounding up their does.  The most visible signs of this are large scrapes bucks make in the forest floor where they scrape up leaves and soil and then mark the area with their scent using urine and the glands on their hind legs.
A large deer scrape in the middle of a trail

They tend to build these sites underneath branches - typically  hemlock in our area - and they will also scent these overhanging branches with the glands on their forehead.
This scrape has a common triangular shape where the buck was facing to the right

Also, if you look at the very top of the photograph below you will see where the buck has used its antlers to rub scent on the trunks of small hemlocks, scraping off the bark, adding further scent to the site.
Note the stripped bark on the skinny hemlocks at the top of the photo

I can imagine scented trees facilitating the buck's scent drifting through the forest with the wind, and the scented liquid absorbed by the soil lingering for days.  This behavior will alert both male and females that a buck has claimed this territory and the does within it as their own.  You might see these right on a trail as deer often take advantage of easy travel along these cleared paths through the woods.

The cooling weather has started to drive the birds migrating from Canada our way;  this week I saw two groups of hooded mergansers on Lake Wicwas, including one pair, and one group of two males courting a single female.
Male Hooded Merganser
And the female

Two males escorting a single female on the journey south

We haven't had any winter weather here in the Lakes Region yet, but 30 miles farther north it's starting to look frosty.  I took a hike up Mount Moosilauke last week, and there were sure signs of winter up at the 4800 foot summit.
North Kinsman from the south peak

Rime ice at the north summit

It was just a taste of what's to come.
Snow started at 3800' elevation

Finally, on this Veterans Day, a thank you to all those who served our country - especially you dad!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

November 4, 2018: Signs of change visible through the fog

There's only one word to describe this week:  wet.

Well, maybe fog, rain, mist, or drizzle would work too.

And gray would be pretty fitting as well, for that was the predominant "color" of the week.

But it sure was calm - until yesterday when the winds howled.  The one decent day was Wednesday and I was fortunate enough to have a trip planned with a couple of good friends for that day; we got in a mostly-dry walk up to Crockett's Ledge in the Hamlin Conservation Area.
Watching mist rise below Crockett's Ledge, with Leavitt Mountain in the distance

On the way we stopped in at the old cellar hole, the Stanton Cemetery, and took in the view of the White Mountains, where through the fog, we could see an early sign of winter:  Waterville ski area has started making snow on their trails.
A tiny arc of snow is just visible on Mount Tecumseh

Despite the rain I got outside enough during the week to appreciate the beauty of nature, even when the colors are yellow-nearing-brown with a patina of brushed pewter.
Beech leaves stand out against a damp November day in the Hamlin Conservation Area

The brightest colors I saw all week were bittersweet berries I found last Sunday when it was almost sunny.  I had always thought that bittersweet had both red and yellow berries, but looking carefully at these I realized that's not the case.  It appears that all the berries start out with a yellow sheath over them, which when it peels off, reveals the red berry that lies inside.

These provide beautiful contrast with the drab of November, which perhaps explains why they are so prevalent in New England, but it's still hard to look past the destructive power this invasive plant has on native trees as it grows around and up them, strangling them to death, and choking out competing plants down below.
Oriental bittersweet climbs high up a tree which will eventually be strangled by the vine

Signs of wildlife were few and far between this week.  I saw a few mallards on the lake and one pair of migrating ducks far out on the lake that I think were buffleheads.  The coming weeks are prime time to see migrating birds on our lakes as they migrate south from Canada.  I also found fresh deer signs around.
Fresh deer scat on the trail

Note that muzzle-loading season for deer started yesterday, and hunting for all firearms starts on November 14th, running through December 9th.  Wear your orange in the woods - you'll need it to been seen through the November soup.

Old Stanton Road on a misty day

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 28, 2018: Maybe snow will stop the beavers

Last week there was ice on the lake, this week, snow.

Not much, and it didn't last, but there was enough to paint the first winter picture of the season.  Maybe the beavers will take this as a hint to close up shop for the year.

Beavers are awfully busy right now as they insulate their lodges, collect food for the winter, and strengthen their dams to hold against the spring freshets.
Just two of the many  beaver lodges on Lake Wicwas
This started as a scent pile, but looks like it may become a new home for the kids
They will use their collected food supply - safely stored under water - to sustain them throughout their long winter under the ice.  But before they bed down they are active in their preparations, including building scent piles to stake out their territory, and marking potential future lodge sites.
Beavers build scent piles to mark their real estate

They're cutting down lots of trees, leaving naked sticks in the lake and on shore after they eat the bark off the branches they don't drag away to their lodge.
These young maples had their lives cut short
Interesting that these branches sink without their bark - the inner wood must be dense

These rodents are very precise in all their work - look at how meticulously they remove every bit of bark and the nutritious cambium that lies underneath.
Careful work on every stick

The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, and the second largest in the world (the largest, the capybara, lives in South America).  The beaver population seems to have grown this year just as smaller rodents such as gray squirrels, chipmunks and mice had a population explosion.  Those beavers can be frustrating as they cut down trees and blueberry bushes, but I try to remember that they were here long before I arrived.
(Used without permission!)

I've mentioned before that I use chicken wire to protect the most vulnerable trees - it's a pretty simple and easy defense that seems to work very well.
A very simple approach to stop beaver pilferage

When the lake freezes over the beavers will retreat to their lodges and leave our trees alone - perhaps this morning's snow will encourage them to call it a day and get to bed.
Early snow on the blueberry bushes

Now to a few pretty fall scenes around the lake.  There is still a little color in the trees, accentuated by the morning sun.

Though, sadly, most of the leaves are now on the ground.
Color on the ground will soon provide nutrients for new life
It will be a little bleak around here until we get a lasting dose of white gold.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

October 21, 2018: October Ice

First ice of the season
Yes, that is ice on Lake Wicwas.  Only in one protected cove, but nonetheless, on October 19th, it's the earliest I remember seeing ice on the lake.  The prior earliest date in my records was on October 28th, back in 2011, and that occurred where I usually see first ice, in a marsh beside Sheep Island.  This year it formed on a night when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees and there was a light frost with a few ice crystals forming on low-growing leaves.

There should be more opportunities to see these form over the next few weeks.

We took a trip to Colorado last week and there was a lot more ice and snow out there, at least at elevations above 10,000 feet.
Colorado's Front Range

Not to be outdone, New Hampshire's Mount Washington, almost 4000 feet lower in elevation, also had some snow last week, but they weren't skiing there like they were at 12,000 foot high Loveland Pass in Colorado.
Ski tracks in Loveland Pass

At lower elevation we found a New England Thanksgiving favorite.
Two of a large flock of turkeys at Castlewood Canyon State Park

It seems turkeys are just a plentiful in Colorado as they have become here over the last 20 years.

On a couple of hikes in Steamboat Springs I found larger wildlife up at snow level, and signs of  even larger wildlife down below the snow line.
Mule deer on Mount Werner
Bear scat on Emerald Mountain
That's one large pile of bear scat - larger than those I find in the Lakes Region.

It was nice to find some good color in the trees when we returned, though the peak color is moving south now.
Still color as of today (from the boat ramp)

I was out on the lake yesterday; it was pretty, but rather windy so I didn't see any bird action, but I did hear a loon on the lake earlier in the week.

If you drove up to the lakes from the south this weekend you probably had a beautiful trip.  I'm still planning on another hike or two to take advantage of the fall weather and the increased viewing through bare branches on the trees.  Maybe a few more paddles on the lake too - we'll see what the weather brings us. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

October 14, 2018: Calling all Colors

The last summer breaths of New Hampshire's flowers and trees are being heard this week as they drain energy from their solar collectors and transfer it to their roots and seeds to power next year's life.
A colorful, calm fall day on Lake Wicwas
A pair of red maples against a backdrop of green

As photosynthesis ceases, hidden colors are revealed in both leaves and berries.  These Indian Cucumber-root berries are some of the largest I've seen.
Indian Cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana)
It must have been a good growing season for them as plants put a lot of energy into growing seeds.

On the opposite end of the gray scale from the Indian cucumber-root berry is the fruit of the White Baneberry plant.
White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)

This stunning and unusual white berry ripens in late summer or early fall, and though it is native to the area, this is the first time I recall seeing it.  Though pretty, it is highly poisonous, with both digestive and heart risks including cardiac arrest.

Nature is giving us interesting, colorful berries this time of year, but still, the leaves take the gold for the sights of the season.
Mist clearing in the morning
It's worth appreciating every bit of color right now, as it won't be long before November-drab dominates the landscape.
Floating leaves dot the surface of Lake Wicwas as it reflects a deep blue autumn sky

Enjoy it now:  Mount Washington reported their first snow of the season!