Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23, 2011

Ah, the sights and sounds of summer at Lake Wicwas.  It may not feel, smell or taste like summer yet, but yesterday it looked and sounded like it, as the sun was shining off open water, and the loons were calling. 

My fellow bird watchers (with the avian name - thanks for this picture!) reported that the loons returned on April 17th, even before ice-out, taking up residence in the stretch of open water near the inlet.
The Loons are back on Lake Wicwas

On April 22nd I declared ice-out.  (Defined when Stress Free can make all its ports of calls:  the boat ramp, our house, and my parents house.  That pretty much means the entire lake is navigable.)  This year, Marion Cove was about the last place to open.
Ice-Out on April 22

Even today there are still large sections of ice along the western side of the cove, but by this morning, the loons were swimming in the cove, diving right at the edge of the remaining ice.

But that was yesterday.  Today it looked more like December than April.  It snowed all morning, resulting in about an inch of wet snow on the ground, and weighing down the trees just like in winter.
April Snow

The snow even gathered on the surface of the lake, bringing back what looked like ice, but it was really just slush floating on the surface.  The birds swam right though it, leaving curving trails behind them like Coast Guard ice-breakers.

Today was the best day of nature observing in a long while.  In addition to the loons, we saw turkey, mergansers, a mink, and a new bird for us, a Ring-necked Duck.  This is a pretty neat looking bird, with a very distinctive beak to identify it.  Its beak is black with a white out-line around it.  It spent the entire morning diving in the cove, ignoring the snow that piled up on its back between dives.

Ringed-neck Duck

The snow made for finding good animal tracks.  This turkey followed along the trail, diverting into the woods when it heard me, and just disappeared.  The mink bounded right along the lake edge, poking its head into the brush and thickets every now and then in search of a snack.
Turkey Tracks

Mink Tracks

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17, 2011

Heavy rain on Saturday night eroded more of the ice on Lake Wicwas, but it didn't make as much progress as one would hope because it was so cold.  In fact, the storm started out with a little hail and sleet.  But by today the ice has turned dark along the west shores, and the openings are getting larger. 
There are large openings at the inlet and outlet, but it looks like several more days before the ice will be out - the current that runs along the north end of the lake that connects them hasn't even opened up yet.
The openings were large enough for two of pairs of Mergansers to share the water today, but just barely. 
Common Mergansers

Whenever they passed close together the males kept themselves between the females, raising and fanning their tail feathers in a display of dominance, and occasionally being even a little more aggressive.

An update on the construction on the south end of the lake:  things are taking shape nicely now - here's a view from the lake.  It is going to be a fabulous house, with incredible views to the north, all the way to the Osceola mountains and the Franconia range.  

I'm seeing signs of a little more animal life around the lake also.  This evening I saw the first beaver of the year swim by, circling the lake by hugging the edge of the ice.  I also found fresh Fisher scat in the woods, with a combination of seeds and animal fur twisted up together.

 But, it does still look a lot like winter on the lake!

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15, 2011

The warm weather on Monday and Tuesday melted away most of the snow around Lake Wicwas this week.  Where last week there was still about 90% snow cover in the woods, now it's down to less than 5%.  There are still large patches of snow, but they are few and far between.

It's clear where all that snow has gone - last week the lake was several inches below full, and now it's 8 inches above the full lake level - a rise of 14 inches over just a few days.  Some snow melt has been captured in vernal ponds around the lake, and the tree frogs have come out of their winter hibernation and are now calling their mates.  (They sound a lot like ducks.)  These frogs are amazing – unlike most amphibians that hibernate in the mud at the bottom of bodies of water, wood frogs hibernate under leaves and debris on the floor of the forest.  They freeze rock-solid, but somehow thaw out in the spring, come to life, and travel to vernal ponds for just a few days to mate.

The ice on the lake on the other hand, did not make as much progress as the snow did.  The openings around the shore are getting larger, and now encircle most of the shoreline, although there are sheltered areas where there is still ice right to the shore.  Ice-out is still a ways off, as there are still 19 inches of ice just a few yards away from shore!
 The nights are still cool, and in the morning the open water is often frozen over again.

The water under the ice is extremely clear right now, as one might expect with no waves, boats, or even animals to stir it up.

It's always interesting to see the tracks of winter's activities show up as the ice melts on the lake.   I would never figure out what made the strange marks on the left if I only saw them as they emerged in the spring.  The large tracks on the left are from a snow shoe trip back on February 6 - the ski tracks are from early March. They have been covered up with snow and ice for weeks, but somehow they emerge quite plainly this time of year.

Snow Show Tracks from February 6th
The buds on the trees haven't burst yet, but I did find a few blueberry bushes that are getting close.
Blueberry Bud

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9, 2011

Not much changed around Lake Wicwas this week.  Even though the temperature was seasonably warm and the snow is melting, we just didn’t make a lot of progress.  The ice did give up a little ground, as it dropped two inches in thickness, but it remains 22 inches deep.  There are still only small openings around the shore line.
Maple Sugar season is comning to an end.  The Chemung Gang Sugar Shack (the Taggett's) are boiling their last batch for the season this weekend.  They said they had a record year, with 22 gallons of syrup made, and just about every drop sold.  They only had a few bottles left when I was there today, so if you want some great, fresh local syrup straight from the trees that drink the same water as Lake Wicwas, you'd better hurry!

Crow season never ends.  We saw a group of three or four harrassing a hawk who was too close to their nesting site. 

Later, a flock of crows was out on the ice huddling up like a football team as they decided who was going to get the fisherman's leftovers that were uncovered by the melting snow.

In the woods there are bare spots showing up now, and signs of life are reappearing.
Tree Clubmoss


In the shade however, it's not uncommon to find well over a foot of snow.  Here and there one finds holes in the snow cover where a rock underneath the snow has conducted the warmth from below up to melt the snow from the bottom, sometimes suspending the snow several inches above the ground.

I haven't checked on the progress of the second house construction lately, but the one on the north side of the lake looks complete from the outside, and will certainly have happy occupants this summer!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3, 2011

Now that April Fool's day is over, we can set the record straight:  Lake Wicwas received about eight inches of new snow on April first.  Old man winter just refuses to let go this year.  Early in the morning I watched an Otter hopping across the cove, right through the wind-driven snow.  And the first crazy waterfowl are back.  There were ducks huddled in the edge of the open water by the dam, trying to keep out of the wind.  And yes, the geese are back as well.  Wouldn't you think they'd enjoy a few more weeks in the warm south before heading back to New Hampshire?

On the plus side, it provided enough snow for probably the last ski trip up to the White Mountain Ledge and Arbutus Hill.  Although by Saturday afternoon the strong sun melted the snow right down to bare ground where there was good exposure, there is still a good foot of snow in most of the woods, with close to two feet in the protected areas.  I found fox tracks along the ridge near the ledge, as well as turkey tracks which I have not seen there before.
Turkey Tracks near the White Mountain Ledge

The sun has brought out the first insects of the year.  By Saturday afternoon there were hundreds of tiny snow fleas on the snow in the warmer areas.  I have seen these as early as January in a warm year, and as late as May.  They are about the size of a grain of sand, and easy to miss, as they look like tree debris that is also scattered over the snow.
Snow Fleas

Today I went for a snow shoe trip - with warmer weather the snow has softened up such that snow shoes are needed again.  The fresh, new snow in the April sun is really quite brilliant, and the streams stand in stark contrast.  There are still enough snow bridges to facilitate crossings.

I found more signs of the pileated woodpecker being active in the area.

Taking a walk along the north side of the lake I found some open water at the in let, but not much. 
Water is flowing well both into and out of the lake, with a nice waterfall by the sugar house.  The lake level is now six inches below full lake level.
 Finally, there were a few signs of spring visible today!
Canada Geese

First Spring Blossom

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1, 2011

Today was a fabulous spring New Hampshire day.  Warm, blue skies, with bright sunshine all day.  We sat outside, soaked up the rays and listened to the birds singing.  Spring has finally arrived at Lake Wicwas!

April First, 2011