Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29, 2012

Fluctuating temperatures, snow, ice, and rain have made for unusual snow conditions around Lake Wicwas this winter.  But it's been cold enough that the ice is still getting thicker;  I measured 14 inches about 50 feet from shore.  The skiing and snow shoeing isn't much fun after the latest round of freezing rain, but following a couple of cold nights, it left the lake surface in good shape for skating today.  It's not the glass-smooth surface of last winter, but it's good enough to skate the entire lake - as long as you skate around all the animal tracks that froze in the slush!
Coyote Tracks

With the surface frozen, we can't tell how much coyote traffic is happening now.

It was a pretty day, sunny and not too cold even with the brisk westerly breeze, and we met Tom and Annie out enjoying the lake as well.  We received a report of a car on the ice! 

I don't know if this is the final chapter of the deer kill, but the story is nearing the end.  First one leg disappeared, followed by two more a day or two later.  The coyotes dragged the carcass quite a way across the ice, probably tugging on it to tear parts off, leaving quite a trail in the slush.

There is just a skeleton left now, and almost every bit of flesh has been picked off the bones.

The jaw bone was separated by 20 yards, and has been cleaned well enough to make my dentist jealous.

The differentiation between the front teeth, to strip foliage from plants, and the molars, to chew it up, is stark.

Someone will probably come back for the remaining leg, and it will be interesting to see if any of the smaller bones are taken away.  This animal gave up its life, but in the process it has provided tremendous sustenance to a wide range of wildlife around Lake Wicwas.

Linda and I recently spent a very enjoyable evening with a wonderful group of people and very generous hosts on Arbutus Hill.  Everyone shared a great appreciation for the special part of the world here in Meredith, and we heard many stories of local nature and events.  One couple who lives on the west shore of Lake Winnisquam sent me this beautiful picture of a bald eagle (credit: Stan Brallier) that was taken from their backyard, and I just have to share it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22, 2012

The word is out around Lake Wicwas that there's food on the ice.  The traffic in the cove last night was like nothing we've ever seen.

One or more coyotes came by the kill regularly from 10:00 pm last night until 3:00 am this morning.  And last night was the coldest night of the winter - seven degrees below zero.  These are some tough animals!  One picture clearly shows that there is at least one pair in the area, as it captured two sets of eyes. 

I continue to be surprised that the camera flash doesn't spook animals.  I even got a couple pictures of a coyote working on the carcass.

We took advantage of all the traffic to get a good look at their tracks.  The coyote doesn't have the same steady, bee-line track of the fox, meandering a bit more, and it leaves a lot of foot drag between prints. 

Compare the coyote track to to the precise track of a fox.

The coyote's paw is also noticeably larger than a fox.  I found a place where a fox and coyote had followed the same path, and where they separated I was able to compare the two tracks side-by-side.  The fox track is on the top.
Fox (top) and Coyote (bottom) Tracks

Fresh snow is great! 

Following the coyote's path, I also found where it had left its mark to announce to all intruders that this was its kill.
Coyote Scat

But, that sign wasn't noticed by the diners who approached on the wing, and the crows again spent a lot time on the carcass.  And they weren't the only birds:  this red tail hawk took part in the feast as well.  Look at the size of this raptor!
Red Tail Hawk

The sun warmed up the day quite nicely from its cold start, and we took a snow shoe trip around to see what other animal signs we could find.  In an area of thin ice between two islands we found holes where the otter had been out on the ice just a short while before us.  There were several holes, a short slide, and fresh scat.
Otter Slide and Latrine
Entrance Hole

We also explored the recently enlarged beaver lodge.  It is quite a good size, and signs of warm, air-breathing animals were evident around the air hole on the top of the lodge.
Beaver Lodge Air Hole

This was quite an educational week on lake wicwas!

January 21, 2012

Well, it’s nature in action, but it’s still hard to see – the deer I was observing last week has most likely concluded its life here at Lake Wicwas.  This week a coyote took down a deer right in front of our house.  It wasn’t a pretty site, so I won’t show a lot of detail, but still, consider this a mature audience warning….

We first noticed the carcass out on the ice, and went out to study the situation.  We were able to follow the peaceful track of the deer as it as browsed along the shoreline, having no idea it was being stalked.  Suddenly the calm track turned into a frenzy of hoof and canine prints, accompanied by large tufts of fur. 

This went on for a good stretch, before they moved out onto the lake, which was not a good move for the deer.  On the ice it had even worse footing, and there were many times when it fell onto the ice, probably providing the coyote opportunity to attack its neck rather than just its legs. 

Not that it really mattered – with the hard going even on land, the result was determined as soon as the coyote detected the deer.  Although coyote will hunt in packs, I’m guessing this was a lone coyote, as only one of the deer’s legs was damaged, and we only saw a single coyote on later days.

Once killed, the coyote started with the large parts of the animal, and over the next few days, worked its way through the less desirable parts.

Over the next few days there was a steady stream of visitors, and the carcass slowly eroded away.  This is probably the hunter, but there’s no way to be sure.

Most of  the visitors came at night, but there were some daytime visits, including frequent calls by the crows which are picking the bones clean.

We did not see any eagles joining in, though it doesn’t mean they weren’t there.  I also saw fox prints along the shore, but no signs of it approaching the much larger predators prize.

On this daytime visit (1:45pm) the coyote walked back and forth, but never approached the carcass, as it appears to have detected our motion, even inside the house.  It nervously paced the area for five minutes before heading off into the woods.  The deer should have been so cautious.

Of course, I don’t know for sure that it was the same deer I tracked last week, but that particular animal was clearly not as wary as most.  To be out in exposed areas when travel was so difficult is unusual;  in those conditions most deer stay within their well protected and hidden deer yards.  Those that don’t have that instinct don’t tend to pass their traits on into the gene pool.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15, 2012

Well, this is a little more like it - 6 to 8 inches of snow on Thursday, and 2 degrees below zero last night.  It never got above 8 degrees all day!  I know not everyone likes this kind of weather, but after all, it is mid-January in New Hampshire!
I took a couple of walks to see what has been moving around since the snow, and came upon a set of tracks that weren't immediately identifiable.  But shortly I found a section where the tracks were well defined, providing clear evidence it was a deer. 
White Tail Deer Track

Then not much farther along came the tell-tale evidence of a white tail.

Continuing on I found where the animal had browsed on some fresh, tender shoots, and had also dug around under the snow to find some more succulent green plants that were hidden from sight - probably partridge berry, club moss, or spearmint. 

Deer Browse

The rain that fell after Thursday's snow has frozen into a hard crust on the surface of the snow, which scrapes and cuts the deer's legs with each step.  Small specks of blood were visible around the hoof prints wherever it paused for a bit to browse.

And farther on there were larger drops of blood where it was moving in an open area where the snow received more rain and the crust was especially thick.

It makes me wonder how much blood the animal will lose in a whole day of searching for food.  Clearly the easy living of the early winter is over.  At least they have conserved a lot of energy, and had good browsing up to this point, so they should be strong for whatever the rest of the season brings.  Here's a close up of the snow surface that shows the sharp edges that cut through the deer's skin.

I was surprised to see the size of this pile of pine cone debris that a red squirrel had generated in just the three days since the snow. 
Just Three Days Work

Under the tree you can see where it has stashed its supply of cones that it will feed on this winter.  This squirrel probably has dozens of these stashes around the portion of New Hampshire that it claims for its home.
Red Squirrel Food Stash

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 8, 2012

One can hardly call it "snow", but Lake Wicwas did receive a dusting on Friday morning.  Not enough to do much of anything but cover up the ice to prevent what otherwise would have been some pretty good skating.  The ice is 8 inches thick about 20 feet out from shore, but I would still be careful farther out considering there was open water only ten days ago. 

Mink Tracks
The snow did provide a good opportunity to find out what animals have been traveling around the lake.  Of course we found lots of squirrel tracks eveywhere, but we also found a long trail of weasel tracks traveling a great distance on the ice right around the edge of the lake - most certainly a mink, as it investigated holes in the ice at the edge of the lake.  Fisher usually spend more time in the woods.  This efficient hunter left the distinct tracks of a member of the weasel family; the uniform spacing of the tracks is also indicative a mink.  Note also the numerous track of squirrels close to shore, which surely would become the mink's lunch if they had met up with each other.

Crow Tracks

We also found many crow tracks along the shore of lake, where they were looking for food themselves.  But had the mink found them, it would have had fresh poultry for its lunch in addition to squirrel meat.  The mink tracks went right by the crow tracks - it certainly knows where to find food.

Up on shore we found giant piles of pine cone remains at the bottom of each trunk in a uniform stand of large white pines. 
Red Squirrel Midden Pile
The red squirrels sit with their back against the tree to protect being attacked from behind, and feast on the seeds in the cones, leaving large piles of scales and shafts behind.

Finally, we found the largest beaver tree we've seen all fall. 
This tree was quite an undertaking - it makes we wonder why they did 90% of the work and then left the tree behind.  Perhaps a mink walked by?