Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011

Wednesday night's warm rain took the ice back out of Lake Wicwas!  It was 47 degrees overnight - the peak temperature recorded sometime around 2:00am.  There was heavy rain, and although much of the lake remained iced-over, the main body of the lake was completely open today, even today after a very cold night last night.


This means that even if it freezes back over tonight, it will be the latest ice-in I've recorded - just barely later than 2006 when it froze over on December 29th. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28, 2011

This evening we experienced yet another new creature at Lake Wicwas - something we've never seen before:  a flying squirrel. 

They are reportedly quite common in this area, but being nocturnal, they are not often seen.  Flying squirrels do frequent bird feeders, but since we don't put our feeders out during bear season, and we don't usually bird-watch in the middle of the night, we've never seen one.  This evening though, Linda turned on the light to see if the approaching cold front was bringing any snow, and there on the feeder was this cute little guy.

I don't know if it's a "northern" or a "southern" flying squirrel, but I'll guess a northern because of its rich brown coloring, where the southern has a lighter fur in the winter.  The northern is larger, and this one seems rather small, but it was scrunched up due to the cold, so it's difficult to judge its true size.

It hung onto the feeder for a long time - at least 30 minutes - trying to get to the seed, which it couldn't reach with its short legs.  Linda spreads lots of seeds under the feeders for the ground birds, and the squirrels enjoy that as well, and they know that where there are seeds on the ground, there's a source up above!

You can see the dark line that separates its dark uppper-body from the the light fur on the underside of the layer of skin that stretches between its legs and its body that it uses to glide from tree to tree or from tree to ground. 

This guy was not at all concerned about us or the light coming on the middle of the night - it made no attempt to run off.  In fact, it let me go out and take a couple of pictures with a flash from only a few feet away!  I thought when I went out it would leap off the feeder, but instead it just hung on with its little feet, and went on trying to crack the cache.

One more of nature's fantastic creatures observed on the shores of Lake Wicwas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011

8.4 degrees last night just about did it.  By mid morning the entire lake was frozen except for one section in the widest part of the lake, and I expect that was frozen over by sunset.

Noon on December 19, 2011

It looks like beavers finished their building just in time.  Now all we need is for the cold weather to stick around long enough for the ice to bulk up, and we'll some fantastic skating.  With the lack of snow we're having this year, there's good chance, but then after all, this is New England.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18, 2011

It's starting to look a little like winter around lake Wicwas.  A light dusting of snow fell early Saturday, just frosting what little ice there is around the edges of the lake.   By noon the sun was out, shining on the fresh snow and blue water.

The dropping lake level also left some interesting ice crystals that grew from various branches touching the water.
Saturday night was quite cold, down to about 13 degrees, which encouraged the ice to grow farther out from shore, at least in the coves.  During the day the edge continued to creep outwards, and we watched the pattern form:  smooth ice when it was calm, interrupted by rings of roughness when the wind blew water up onto the ice and froze.

The main body of the lake remains ice-free, but with another cold night, it should start to freeze over.  If it stays cold this week as forecast, the whole lake will likely freeze in the next couple of days - and maybe this time it will last.  It will be the latest ice-in since 2006;  that's the year that winter came so late that loons in Lake Winnepsaukee had molted their flight feathers by the time the ice came, and they had to be rescued.  We haven't seen our young loon for a couple of weeks now, so we're guessing it has flown off to the ocean for the winter.

We also noticed that the beavers were busy on their lodge again this week.  They have pulled mud up from the bottom of the lake and packed it in all around the new framework they built in the prior few weeks.  They then threw a few more branches up on top for good measure.  Here are pictures comparing last week with this week.
December 9, 2011
December 18, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11, 2011

Winter creeps ever closer towards New Hampshire and Lake Wicwas.  There have been one or two glimpses of snow in the area, and an occasional skim of ice along the shores of the lake, but it is looking like we'll have a late ice-in for the start of the 2011-2012 winter.  People up north are trying to make up for what nature is lacking, and the product of snow guns can be seen forming a white arc on Mount Tecumseh from the north-facing hills around the lake.
Snow Making at Waterville Valley Ski Area

Back closer to home, the full Cold Moon could be seen setting late in the morning behind a thin ribbon of ice.
Cold Full Moon

It is quite strange to see the full moon hanging so high in the sky late in the evening - well above the trees, much higher than the sun rises at its zenith.  The full moon has a trajectory opposite of the sun, so near the solstice, when the sun is low, the moon rises high in counterbalance.

I mentioned in November that the November full moon was known as the Trading Moon.  It is also called the Beaver Moon, and this year, that certainly is fitting.  Since last week, the beaver have been back to the same area, clearing more and more of the trees.  But if you want your trees back you know where to find them - they have used them to construct a second story on their lodge for an in-law apartment!
Fresh Timber on the Beaver Loddge

The heavy rain this week has brought the lake back up near flood level again, at almost a foot above normal level even with the dam allowing a very large flow.  I saw one pair of common mergansers near the south end of the lake, and still more pairs of ducks.

Hunting season ended this week, and some of the local deer have eluded the hunter's sights, as we found fresh hoof prints after the heavy rains.  We also found evidence of an animal strategically marking its territory in a highly visible - and olfactory - location. It is most likely a fox, as this is their characteristic mark, and it's on a trail where I often see fox, but it's large enough that it could have been a coyote.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011

Winter is approaching slowly at Lake Wicwas, after a couple of false starts with early snow storms.  Two cold nights in a row brought a bit of ice to the edges of some protected coves, but that is about all.
Ice around the edges of Lake Wicwas

The ducks continue to come and go, traveling in groups of several pairs, though we did not see the remaining loon this week.
Three pairs of Mallards

The beavers, however, are very much visible, or at least their handy-work is.  We found  a low section of the shore line where they had taken well over a dozen trees in the last two weeks.  The area is getting thinned out.

They have worn themselves quite a pathway where they come out of the water, and then drag their harvest back down to the lake.  This entire shore used to be thick with two to three foot high shrubs.

Beaver Path to their Bounty

They were mostly taking the birch, with some as large as four inches in diameter.  This one they cut down, but left the tree. 
Birch tree cut, but not taken away

They leave behind wood chips of surprising size;  the grooves left where their two incisors cut into the tree are visible in the chunks of wood.  The strength of their jaws and teeth must be tremendous.

Another update on Child's Park:  Sturdy wood benches have been installed, and the base of playground is being delivered and spread around the equipment.
Child's Park

The fruit of the winterberry contrasting against the drab backdrop of December is a bright reminder of the season that is upon us.  They raise the caloric intake of the birds that feed on them, as well as the spirits of those who see them. 


Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27, 2011

Bald Eagle

A fantastic sighting of a Bald Eagle was caught this week at Lake Wicwas!   A resident of Chemung road took this picture and gave this account: 

Taken on a walk 11/26/11 on Chemung road, just past where snow machines cross Chemung road on the south side of the road. Someone threw a turkey breast down over the 'edge-of-road' bank. Crows were picking at it which drew attention and he looked up to see this LARGE bald eagle watching....  The eagle left and we waited and we spotted a turkey vulture in a tree in the swamp.

It's fantastic to have so many nature watchers around the lake!  Thanks for sharing.  (If the photographer gives permission, I'll credit you with the photo - leave a comment or send me an email at

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011

Yesterday morning around 8:00 I was treated to an amazing experience:  A family of four River Otters taking a tour of Lake Wicwas.  I first noticed some ripples emanating from the shore, but they were larger and more numerous than the ducks usually make along the shoreline.  Looking for the source though, I saw nothing.  Then a head poked up out of the lake about 25 yards from the shore, and I assumed it was a beaver even though they don't usually dive, but rather swim on the surface.  But suddenly three other heads appeared, started romping around with the first, and it was clear they were otters.
River Otters

The four of them then proceeded to swim across the cove, diving for a stretch, then surfacing again to play.  They would raise their heads high above the water to look around, and then lunge at one another, diving up and down with their backs arched as they dove, and their long, tapered tails following along behind.

Otters seem to be the polar opposite of beavers.  Beavers are very focused on their work, always swimming purposely in a straight line, knowing exactly where they intend to go.  Otters on the other hand are very playful, spending a lot time just seeming to enjoy themselves.  Maybe it's the difference between being an herbivore where one must store up a whole winter's worth of food when it's available, versus being a carnivore, where fish are available year 'round.  Otters are extrememly capable fishers, leaving them lots of time to play.

I was too mesmerized watching through binoculars to pick up the camera until they were almost around the point.  One of them started to run up on terre firma, but then came back down and they all disappeared around the corner into the next cove to continue their morning escapades.

Otters often have four offspring, so it's possible they were siblings - I don't know if parents stay with their mom this long into the season or not.  It was another of those wonderful nature moments we are so fortunate to be able to experience in this unique habitat. 
We also had the first sighting of northern birds migrating south through New Hampshire, with a pair of hooded mergansers stopping by Lake Wicwas for a rest and a food stop.
Hooded Merganser
Other than that one pair or mergansers, we saw two pairs of mallards.  Also, the forest birds were more visible, with chick-a-dees, nut hatches and woodpeckers more active than in recent weeks.

We again found more fresh beaver cuts near the lake, including one witch hazel tree which was cut so recently that its sap was still flowing.  Closer inspection revealed a swarm of small flying insects feasting on the readily-available source of high-sugar content fluid.  I have no idea what species of insect it is, but they appear to be vegetarians, which is good by me!
Insects Feeding on Fresh Beaver Stump

This afternoon we checked on the status of the work at Child's Park, and found the building fully enclosed, the water fountains installed, and the playground being constructed! 
 The playground is really neat, with good sturdy structures representing key landmarks of Meredith Center:  The Meredith Center Fire Station and the Meredith Center Store.  The kids will love it!
Child's Park's New Playground

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011

We were away last week, enjoying some lovely southern hospitality in South Carolina.  The mountains and the lakes in the western part of the state create an environment much different from the low country one usually envisions when thinking of South Carolina;  It looks a lot like New Hampshire. 
Lake Jocassee, South Carolina

The trees still had beautiful color, but it's starting to reach the end even there.  
Lake Keowee, South Carolina

Back in New Hampshire, we found November had arrived at Lake Wicwas, but at least the snow was gone!  All but the resolute oak trees have disbursed their leaves, and many of those oaks will hang onto them right into spring.
Many of those leaves are gathering at the edges of the lake, while others have already sunk to the bottom, preparing another layer of organic material for the animals that live in and on the mud at the bottom of Lake Wicwas.
I didn't see any deer around this week, though I heard a few single reports from rifles, as deer hunting season is in full swing now.  There are still lots of water fowl on the lake;  there was another constant stream of ducks swimming by the shore, including this group of mallards.
They spent a long time dabbling in the leaves at the bottom of the lake, with sometimes four or five DA's pointing skyward at the same time.
And our newest loon is still hanging around.  It is now diving like an adult, staying underwater for long periods of time and surfacing sometimes 75 or 100 yards from where it dove.  It continues to grow larger, so I guess its parents taught it well.  It now has a bright white chest, but still gray plumage elsewhere.

Lake Wicwas' Maturing Loon

The native Americans called the November moon the "Trading Moon" - seeing the moon set behind bare branches for the first time in seven months is another sign that winter is rapidly approaching.
Trading Moon