Sunday, April 21, 2019

April 21, 2019: Happy Lowcountry Easter!

We were away this past week enjoying some warm southern hospitality in South Carolina, so I don't have much to report about the status of life in New Hampshire this week, but the ice is starting to break up on Lake Wicwas, and the latest prediction from Emerson Aviation is for ice-out on Winnipesaukee within the next few days.  When we left New Hampshire it was snowing,
but when we arrived in South Carolina, it was a completely different world.
No ice, green grass
Ducklings and goslings had already hatched out.
It's amazing what a difference 800 miles can make.

I always try to visit habitats in climates that are completely different from New England, and a great contrast is the swampland of the Lowcountry.
Knees of cypress trees grow upwards from their roots in the swamp;  their purpose is still unknown

It is so flat here that you can walk for five miles and not gain six feet of elevation.  Tens of thousands of square miles of South Carolina swamps were converted to rice fields in the 1700s and 1800s but as that crop ended in the early 20th century the rice fields were either developed or left to return to natural vegetation - very similar to New Hampshire's sheep pastures that have returned to forest.
Irrigation canals built to flood and drain the rice fields can still be found.
The raised dike on the left separates salt water marsh from the impounded rice fields
 It's hard to imagine when touring the cities and suburbs around Charleston or any other Lowcountry city that the land was previously wild swamp with towering cedar and tupelo trees.

Because this land was forested these trees are less than 150 years old, so not nearly as large as the  virgin bottomland forest found at Congaree National Park.

We saw quite a few local birds, some that we don't have in in New England, some that we do.
The wood stork probes deep in the muck with its long, sensitive beak for fish and other wetland animals
Red-bellied Woodpecker next to the opening to its nest
Tricolored heron, a bit smaller than the Great Blue
Those birds were all in the swamps at the Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina, but this next one is an ocean bird.
Brown Pelican at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, SC

We were also treated to an unexpected sight - we got to see a green anole change its color.  We first saw it climbing on the trunk of a tree, wearing its bright green jacket in honor of the Masters golf tournament.

But when it scooted down to the ground and onto the dead leaves it almost immediately changed its color to a dark brown.

I was amazed at how quickly it could completely transform itself, and I assumed it changed color to blend in.  But a little reading revealed that these reptiles do not change color to blend in to their surroundings as commonly believed (which makes sense since on the brown tree trunk it was bright green.)  Scientists are not sure, but current research suggests they change their color based on stress, mood, or for social reasons - e.g. aggression and territory defense.  Did I stress this little guy out by taking its picture without asking permission?

On a different note, the post a few weeks back about a spalted hemlock tree brought to light another wood working artisan with a connection to Lake Wicwas.  A member of one of our Wicwas families collects spalted wood (as well as other types of wood) and turns them into beautiful works of art.  He sent a few pictures of his creations, including this bowl made from spalted maple.

If the tree I found near Lake Wicwas has any useful properties I will be sure to get a section of it to him as well.  Thank you for sharing!

I wonder if there is any spalted wood down in the Lowcountry.
A raised path carves through the Lowcountry forest

Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 14, 2019: The Caravan has Arrived

The first wave of migrants has hit New Hampshire.  The initial sign was the geese, but this week many others started to arrive in droves.  The unmistakable call of the phoebee from the tops of the trees was heard first, and that was soon followed by flocks of dark-eyed Juncos travelling back to the north county.
Dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis)
I find it's one of the hardest birds to photograph, especially on a dreary day

It was unusual for me not to see any of these little "snow birds" around this winter;  they must have traveled to other climes which had better food sources for them.  The first flock arrived on a cold snowy morning, followed shortly by mixed flocks of sparrows and finches making their appearance.
 A house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) in its pretty spring colors

Even without the bird feeders in place and after raking as much of the seed from the ground as possible these specialist in small seeds found plenty to keep them busy.
A redpoll and a house finch share the leftovers

The nuthatches are far too demanding of their large seeds and nuts to bother with little millet seeds down on the ground.  And it was sad to see the wood peckers come by looking for their usual feeding stations, circling around trees and posts wondering what happened to the easy pickings.  One of the less common birds I see, the common redpoll (an oxymoron there?) was in the flock.
Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)
A distinguishing feature of the redpoll is its black face

Just because I don't see them often doesn't mean they aren't numerous.  Estimates of the redpoll population is in the tens of millions, all located in the far northern latitudes.  Though not a finch, they are in the same family as finches and share many of the same characteristics including the preference for tiny seeds as fits their small beak.  Studies have shown that during the winter their diet consists of almost entirely birch seeds.  [REF:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

Other members of the flock include the very common Song Sparrow, which in a few weeks will be serenading us with its melodious song on warm spring mornings.
The song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) lives up to its name

We did suffer a set back on those elusive summer mornings this week when a coastal storm brought in some cold weather and an inch or two of wet, soggy snow.
April showers, New England style

But it won't last long, and we're already back to opening up larger bits of lake to attract more migrants to our lake, including, soon, we hope, our loons!
More open water will attract beavers and ducks soon, and the loons won't be far behind.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

April 7, 2019: Otters and Fox Still Trust the Ice

The gaps in the ice at the shoreline have grown into long skinny channels along the edge of Lake Wicwas.  It's now too soft to get out onto the lake;  the last time I was able to go out for a measurement was on April 3rd, at which point there was still 20" of ice, though the top four inches was soft and porous.  Under that was 6" of pretty good white ice, followed by a ten inch layer of hard solid black ice, so it's going to be a while before we see ice out.  I took a run up to the Hamlin Conservation Area trailhead to see the condition of the trails, and there is still a serious layer of ice and snow there.
Hamlin Conservation Area Trailhead
Icicles hang from logs over the stream at the entrance

Be sure to bring some kind of traction devices if you go for a walk - which you should do.  It's beautiful, peaceful and quiet, and on a warm day when the snow is soft, a good time to look for animal tracks.  Speaking of animals, I saw my first red squirrel in many weeks;  perhaps they finally had to vacate the safety of the subnivean world.

The treacherous ice hasn't stopped the animals from taking shortcuts across the lake.  Just yesterday morning I saw a healthy looking red fox trotting calmly across the lake, coming right towards me.
Mr. Fox taking a shortcut across the lake to his favorite breakfast bistro

It would be interesting if he came across that flock of turkeys on the ice.  Of course, this could be Mrs. Fox who at this point would be either very pregnant or out in search of food for her brood of perhaps six kits.  Either way, the nice thick winter coat makes me think this fox found plenty to eat this winter.  You can find a nice write up about red fox (and some great photographs) by Charles H. Willey  published in the NH Fish & Game "Wildlife Journal" on their website here.

Earlier in the week Linda's sharp eye caught a large animal bounding far out on the lake from one shore to the other.

I had just enough time to click a fast shot before it zoomed in behind the tree line, and blowing it up, we could see it was an otter.
A river otter scoots back to the safety of the shoreline

I've seen otter tracks on that line several times this spring but that's the first time I (or Linda rather) saw one in action.  But out in the middle of the lake, he wasn't playing around, he was on a mission to get back under cover.  Would a bald eagle go after something that large?  It wouldn't surprise me.  He might have been travelling back from a fishing trip at the outlet of Lake Wicwas which for the first time this year has started to open up.
Open water starting to appear

On the other side of the dam the stream leading to Lake Winnisquam is swollen with water backed up by beaver dams between the two lakes.
Snow melt making its way to Winnisquam, the Merrimack River, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean

One of the surest signs of the progressing season is the sun setting farther to the north and bright summer-like sunsets glowing across the northern stretch of the lake.
Earlier, with the lake just starting to thaw

Another early spring sighting:  The first pussy willow.
Pussy willow flower buds on April 2nd along a sunny stretch of Chemung Road

All of this means it's time to bring in the bear, ooops, I mean bird feeders.  Bears will be out soon, though I haven't seen any signs of them yet.  Let me know when you see or hear of their appearance from their winter slumbers.  Certainly the pileated woodpeckers are out and finding insects to dine on.
A well probed hemlock tree

This week the Meredith Historical Society started their monthly presentations.  The first presenter was Kevin Gardner who gave a great talk on the construction, history, and significance of New England's quarter-million miles of hand-layed stone walls.  He pointed out that's enough stone wall to reach from the Lakes Region to the moon.  That's a lot of effort put in by our early settlers, and he explained why they did all that back-breaking work.  While he was talking he built a stone wall for us, right there in the room.

These presentations take place the first Tuesday of each month at the Meredith Community Center.  You can find the schedule of presentations here.  By the time the next one occurs, we should for sure be into summer sunset season!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

March 31, 2019: Cracks in the Ice

Signs of spring continue to emerge, albeit slowly.  A few warm days and some brilliant sunshine teamed up to melt a bit of that snow pack and open up a few small gaps in the ice around the shore of Lake Wicwas.
The first signs of water are appearing
The largest gap on the lake drew me in by the sound of running water cascading over a small waterfall into the lake.
Running snow melt opened up this large hole on the shoreline

Last measured on Thursday, we had only lost about an inch of ice away from shore as the fresh, pristine snow is efficient at reflecting the sun's energy back from whence it came, and the warm days were thwarted by cold nights.
There's still 24-25 inches of ice out there.

The snow on the lake was good for skiing early in the week, but by Friday the surface was pretty coarse and wet.  In the woods, under the trees there's still plenty of base, one to two feet worth, but the harsh winter storms have left too much debris on the trails to make it enjoyable for me.
Trails in the woods are pretty ugly now

So without a freshening, my backcountry skiing is over, but snowshoeing will be in the cards for some time and the ski areas will be open well into April.  On a snowshoe trip on one of those warm and sunny afternoons I came across a family of three deer out in a clearing.  They saw me first and were already moving along a well-worn trail back into the woods, stopping occasionally to look back at me as they went.
A well worn deer trail from the power lines back into the forest

Lots of animals were out enjoying the nice weather:  I also saw a broad-winged hawk soaring on the currents, and a turkey vulture up at the top of the ridge doing the same.  (Sorry no pics of any, my camera was in the backpack on this bushwhack trip.)  It's a great time to explore new areas due to deep, firm snow which makes off-trail travel easy and low impact on the environment.  Farther along the trip I came across another well traveled deer trail, this one up high on the ridge, and the amount of tracks and droppings indicate there's a very healthy deer population in this well isolated area of New Hampton.
Well traveled trails, as well as a large stand of hemlock were littered with deer scat

My brother sent me a picture of an interesting heron nest out on a beaver pond near his house.
Would you build your home here?

The level nest shows the herons built this after the tree had tipped over;  it seems like a pretty precarious place for one to choose to raise a family!

The beaver lodges this time of year provide a great example of the impact the angle of the sun has on snow melt.
Still a lot of snow on the north side of this lodge

It makes it pretty clear why ski areas are on the north facing side of the mountain.

But eventually the snow will disappear from the dark side of the lodge, and as soon as those pockets of open water expand into long skinny channels following the shore line the homeowners will emerge and be out looking for fresh green signs of spring to savor after a long, dark winter.  And we'll all be doing the same, looking for our own bright signs of spring.
Snowdrops in bloom
Getting brighter

Sunday, March 24, 2019

March 24, 2019: Fungi Build Walls Too

More signs of spring are appearing around the lakes:  this week I saw the first gaggle of geese flying north in tight formation.  So when I saw a bunch of large birds out on the lake I thought it was geese.

14 Gobblers out for a morning walk
But closer inspection revealed they were turkeys!  I have never seen turkeys out walking around in the middle of a lake before.  They came across the cove and strutted right up the shore and into the woods, pecking at various tiny seeds along the way.
The army approaches
This one shows a small beard, some had ones much larger

I'm not sure why they came across the lake, but it's probably safer than than crossing the road.  There is a great video of a flock of turkeys crossing a road in Litchfield, NH, under the careful supervision of a member of the flock (the patriarch?).  It's worth watching if you haven't seen it (thanks PC!):  Turkey Traffic Cop

Last week I noted the spalting I found inside a recently blown over tree.

With the guidance of our town and county foresters I learned that spalting is caused by fungi, and with a little digging I found a US Forest Service publication, "Encyclopedia of Plant Pathology" [Maloy and Murray editors, 2001, John Wiley and Sons] with a nice succinct article on the process that creates it.  The entry titled "Zone Lines" was written by Kevin Smith of the Forest Service Northeastern Research Station, right here in Durham, NH.  It explains that these distinct lines are created at the boundary where two different genetically distinct fungi are growing;  the fungi within a single zone usually contain a single genetic individual, with a different genetic individual on the other side of the zone line.
Amazing clarity of these zone lines

The lines themselves contain dead parts of the fungi and high concentrations of wood resins and gums.  The article doesn't state this, but I'm guessing the fungi push these out ahead of the areas they are colonizing.

Now here's the interesting part:  the fungi use these lines for "self-isolation" by creating survival structures that "reduces competition from other potential colonizers".  The makeup of the zone lines prevent the neighboring individuals from crossing it.  It appears that building walls around our domain to keep others out has been built into our genetic material from the very beginning;  fungi were some of the earliest life forms on the planet.
This could be the map of some war-torn region of our planet

Spalted wood is pretty rare and hard to find, but is highly valued by woodworkers because when it's workable it makes interesting patterns in the products.

Spalted wood products.  Photo from "Woodworker's Journal"

I went back this week and cut a small piece of wood from the tree I found and will save it for our local wood artisan for when he returns this spring.  I don't know if it will be usable, but I figure that if anyone can make it work, it will be he who was able to create art out of 80 year old trees pulled from the bottom of the lake where they had been lying since the hurricane of 1938. (Click here to more read about that story.)
Hurricane Bowl crafted by Wayne B.

And here are more signs of spring:  the first snowdrops have pushed their way up beside the house.  But it's going to be a while before those geese find any open water - there is still 23" of ice on Lake Wicwas!
The first flowers to arrive:  Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, remember "nives" from subnivian?)