Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 15, 2018 - Double Nesting Success

Both of our loon pairs have now hatched a single chick, and both sets of parents are attentive to the needs of their little one; there is lots of noise out on the lake as they fend off various threats from approaching loons to approaching boats. 
Shooing away "Solo" perhaps?   Photo by Amy Wilson.
But when they are left alone they are quiet and diligent in their fishing endeavors, finding tasty little morsels for the chicks - sometimes fish, sometimes insects or tiny crayfish.  The second chick, from the nest in Harris Cove, has been named "Justintime" by first-observer Ron Naso, and was photographed by Debby Crowley on the same day it first appeared.
Justintime, one day old, is invited onto a parent's back.   Photo by Debby Crowley.

After hatching Justin', one parent went back on the nest to tend to a second egg while the other returned to guard duty, but after another day went by, the loons had abandoned the nest and there was no second chick.  A later inspection found a second, intact egg still in the nest.  An earlier inspection of the Bryant Island nest after that family left also revealed a second egg, but this one was in the lake, several feet from shore.
Retrieved egg from the Bryant Island nest on its way to the freezer and eventual dissection and analysis.

Did the loons push it into the water after they decided it wasn't viable?  Both eggs were retrieved and frozen, and will be studied by the LPC, so more information may be forthcoming. 

Loon Preservation Committee biologist Henry Stevens saw bands on one of the parents from the Bryant Island nest, so I believe that Sam is the offspring of our long-term resident female.  As Sam grows, the family's world is expanding.
Mom and dad are now introducing Sam to more of the lake.

Sam's parents took an evening fishing expedition by our house on Friday, giving us a chance to observe them fishing, and teaching hungry little Sam how it's done. 
"You watch Sam while I show him how to fish"
"Look down deep in the clear water"
"Do you see one?"
"Go get it dad!"
"Get him, get him!"
"Nice job!"
Delivering the goods
"You're the best, dad."

Note that LPC biologist Henry Stevens will be the featured speaker at the Lake Wicwas Association Annual Meeting, which will take place in the Wicwas Grange on Saturday, August 4th at 9:30 am.  Harry is monitoring Lake Wicwas this year so he will have lots of interesting information to share about our loons and their behavior - all are welcome to attend.  (Plus, there is always great food and coffee!)  Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 13, 2018

July 13, 2018 - Loon Update

The second nest, the one located in Harris Cove, has produced a chick!  It was first reported by Ron Naso yesterday, July 12, and one parent is back on the nest anticipating a second egg to hatch.  More news to come on Sunday....

Chick from the Harris Cove Nest.  Photo by Debby Crowley

Friday, July 6, 2018

July 6, 2018 - Introducing Sam

(I'm posting early this week so people on the lake will know to be on the lookout for a new loon chick.)

Our first loon chick hatched on Independence Day, 2018!
Introducing Sam.  Photo by Amy Wilson
This, the nest on Bryant Island, produced only one chick;  an upcoming inspection of the nest by a Loon Preservation Committee biologist may determine if there was a second egg.  Russ Brummer first spotted the little chick and was given naming rights, and Amy Wilson was there to record the moment.  After much consideration, he named the chick "Sam".  Russ explained that it could be Samuel or Samantha, we will never know, but at any rate, it's Sam, and it can even be "Uncle Sam" considering the day of its arrival!
Closely guarded by its protective parents.  Photo by Amy Wilson
There are many threats that the parents will have to defend against for the next several months, including eagles, snapping turtles, large fish, and even other loons.  It does have the benefit of hiding under a parent's wing or riding on a parent's back for its first couple of weeks, but it's a pretty tiny and vulnerable target at this point.
Photo by Amy Wilson
And if the parents feel threatened by something they know they can't repel - a boat for example - they will dive, leaving the chick completely exposed to any attack, so it's important to give them lots of space. 

Within hours of hatching the parents were already having to fight off a lone loon that was approaching their territory - a successful defense, but only the first of many.  It will be a challenging and exhausting time for the new family.
The likely rogue, back in its cove restoring its strength for a future assault

One predator they will keep an eye on but probably won't be a threat is the osprey, as they consume almost exclusively fish.  The osprey's talons and diving technique are perfected for plunging into the water, feet first, to grab fish up to several feet below the surface.  On the same morning the loon hatched I saw an osprey observing the proceedings from a perch high on one of the islands.

At one point I thought it was rising up to take flight.

But it turned out it had other business to take care of.
An expulsion of processed fish

Over the next hour it took several sorties around the lake, including one where I was close enough to see it in action as it circled, swooped down, talons ready for the catch, but then must have lost its target, as it arced back up and circled off empty handed.
On the approach
Talons down and armed
Abort, abort!

Off to find another target

The white head of an osprey can look like a bald eagle, but the white body, lack of a white tail and the smaller size are key distinguishing features.

You won't have any trouble distinguishing a Great Blue Heron from just about anything.  Its slow wing flap, crooked neck, and long legs poking straight out behind are pretty distinctive.
A heron fly-over on the the Fourth of July

There are lots of birds around the lake at the moment, and likely more loon chicks to hatch this weekend, so please be aware if you are on the water on any of New Hampshire's lakes.
Photo by Amy Wilson



Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 1, 2018 - Lake Host Program

Who doesn't love getting out on the water on hot sunny days like we had this weekend!
Even the pets enjoy a day on the lake
The dog days of summer came early this year, and there's nothing more refreshing than a swim or a paddle on a beautiful clear lake.

As more and more people come to New Hampshire's lakes there is an ever increasing risk of losing the very thing we all come here to enjoy.  Already this year there have been cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Winnipsaukee, and E. coli alerts on several area beaches.  Increased recreation, warmer lake temperatures, and greater water runoff - along with its sediment, nutrients, and chemicals - all exacerbate these outbreaks.  Another well known concern, and one that can destroy the quality of a lake in just a couple of years, is invasive species.  There are many bad actors here, both plant and animal, but the biggest problem in this area is Eurasian milfoil.  This non-native species grows incredibly fast once in a lake and it can completely choke a clear bay in just a couple of years.
Milfoil in Lake Massaebsec.  Photo from NH DES

The NH Lakes organization is leading the way in slowing the spread of this weed through a program called Lake Host, where volunteers and paid hosts help inspect boats as they are launched and retrieved from lakes, removing any weeds before they can be transported to another water body.  Most of the lakes in New Hampshire participate in this program, including Lake Wicwas where I volunteer - and it's a pretty sweet way to spend a couple of hours while helping to protect the places we love.  I like the early morning time slot when the lakes are calm and peaceful, and I get to see sun rises and morning wildlife.
Sunrise over the Chemung State Forest
On one warm morning this week, the sun shinning through the morning mist was spectacular.

There is plenty of time between boat arrivals to walk down past the Chemung State Cemetery to see the morning sights.

As usual at this time of day there were plenty of birds singing and swimming around me.

And an annoyed red squirrel running around beside the boat ramp telling me to leave its territory.

Morning is also a good time to notice spider webs as the dew reflects the low rays of the sun.  This morning I saw two very different types of webs;  the first one is the story-book web of an orb-weaving spider. 
Capital punishment is swiftly applied for any insect parking here
These webs are almost free-standing with just a few support threads suspending them from trees, branches or sometimes dock posts.  A second web next to this one was suspended between the fence and a tree, and the support  thread leading to the tree was over two feet long.

A completely different kind of web was constructed close to the ground, probably to catch mosquitoes, flies, and other low flying insects.

Not a morning person?  You can volunteer whatever time of day works for you.  Whether your interest leans towards wildlife, beautiful lake views, or preserving the quality of New Hampshire's lakes (and an important aspect of our economy and property values) consider becoming a Lake Host - it's an easy and enjoyable way to help protect our lakes.  If you want to get involved at your favorite lake, just contact NH Lakes, or leave me note and I will point you in the right direction.
This is how we want our lakes to look

Loon update:  We expect the first egg to hatch this coming week, so if you are out on the lake, be extra careful watching out for loons.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

June 24, 2018 - Welcoming Party

Someone recently commented to me that they have seen a lot sheep laurel around the lake this year.
Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
Sheep laurel is a low-growing shrub with a delicate pink blossom that blooms over several weeks depending on light and water conditions;  you most often see it along shore lines and among blueberry bushes.
Sheep laurel is often seen along the shoreline
The flowers measure about a half an inch across

What I didn't know about this plant until Linda saw a post by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, is that sheep laurel has evolved an unusual defense mechanism to fight off both plants and animals that might like to attack it.  The most unusual trait is called "allelopathic", which means its roots give off chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, especially conifers.  [Ref:  New England Wildflower Society]  That seems like a pretty good way to keep away competitors for light and water.  It is also poisonous to livestock including sheep and cattle, thus the source of its common name of "lambkill", and another good survival trait.

Sheep laurel is a particular problem for blueberry fields, as it has stronger rhizomes and sprouts faster than blueberries; it has to be actively managed in commercial blueberry fields.  [Ref:  US Department of Agriculture]
Sheep laurel growing amidst blueberries

Early one morning this week I took a long walk along the lake and through the woods; it was a beautiful, peaceful morning with birds singing all the way, including a rose-breasted gross beak in a thicket beside a field, which I rarely see, and even then far too deep in the branches to get more than a glimpse of it.  I saw no other creatures on the whole long walk.  Until that is, I came right back to my own yard, where I found someone waiting to greet me.
Just lumbering along, looking for breakfast
Mr. Bear was wandering down the road, and I noticed him (I don't really know if it was a him or a her, but there were no cubs) far enough away to watch for a minute.  But as it approached the house I decided it was time for him to skedaddle.  All it took was for me to make a little noise, and it quickly took notice of me - bears have much better ears (and noses) than eyes.

Then just a little motion on my part, and he high-tailed it out of there!
On the retreat

But look at the size of those feet. 

And you certainly wouldn't want to tangle with those claws.
Large claws.  Big ears too.

Bears are omnivores and will wander all day, consuming anything they come across, from berries to bees to carrion.  Which brings me to turtle eggs, which they will also gladly consume.  Has anyone found holes dug in sand or soft soil near the water?  I saw that much of the bare ground on Smith Island was dug up and looking rather like a mine field. 
A reptilian moonscape


Here is the likely culprit, courtesy of the eye and camera of Amy Wilson:
A sunning snapping turtle.  Photo by Amy Wilson
A big mama, but she sure isn't digging any holes to lay eggs on that rock!


Finally, a loon update:  At last report, there are still two nests with an unknown number of eggs being incubated.