Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18, 2012

Winter is creeping closer and closer to Lake Wicwas.  The sun is rising lower, setting earlier, and the nights are getting cold.  Even the moon is trying hide from the coming chill.
The surface of the lake has cooled enough that the first skim of ice appeared in the marshes and along the edges of sheltered coves.  On Sunday it never completely melted during the day, but it is forecast to be warmer this week, so I doubt this is the start of ice on the lake.

Calm, cold nights always form interesting patterns as the water crystallizes.

It's an amazing aspect of physics that water changes from a completely fluid form of matter to a solid form when its energy (temperature) drops just a fraction of a degree below zero centigrade.  No getting thicker like honey or oil as it cools, but transforming to a new state instantly. 

Walking through a field on a cold morning I stopped to pick up a few bits of cotton or tissue paper someone had dropped on the ground.  But as I pinched them in my fingers, they disintegrated - they weren't paper at all, but ice crystals.  Rime ice had formed around some tiny dry stems sticking up out of the moss.
Rime Ice
I had never seen this around Lake Wicwas before.  It isn't water that condenses first and then freezes, but rather super cooled droplets in the air that are below 0C, which upon encountering a surface that is also below freezing, crystallizes instantly.  This process captures air pockets in the ice which is why it is white, porous, and brittle.

Why it formed on just a few lone stalks is a mystery to me.  Why didn't it form on the pine needles?  Why didn't it form on all the stalks?  Perhaps it's the combination of moisture captured in the moss and the thermal conduction of the stems. 

The water isn't too cold for the birds though.  Our loon chick is still on the lake, as observed by one of our bird watchers (thank you!).  There are still a few wood ducks around as well, but only in groups of two or three - no large flocks.  We also saw several mallards, including a group of five that was just floating around, sometimes not even making a ripple.  Perhaps they are gathering energy for the next leg of their journey.


Even the rawness of November breaks now and then, bringing a tranquil moment to the lake.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 4, 2012

Lake Wicwas went from looking like October to looking like November in one fell swoop when Hurricane Sandy blew through.  She didn't cause any significant damage, but she did strip all the remaining leaves off the trees.  There were lots of branches and a few trees blown down, but not nearly as many as in the July 4th storm.  We now have a distinctly November look around the lake.

The large animals around Lake Wicwas are pretty active this time of year.  Two good-size Black Bears were spotted playing together about 200 feet from the lake.   They weren't full sized yet, but may be last year's cubs, now off on their own after being sent away by mother.

There are also many signs of the fall rut taking place, with the White Tail Deer mating season almost here.  The bucks are scenting their territory, both through "antler rubs" and "scrapes".  Rubs are found on small trees, usually about 2 inches in diameter, where they have rubbed their antlers on the trunks, wearing off the bark.   This rub is from a prior year, but it was right next to a scrape just made today, showing that deer use the same trails year after year.
Deer Rub on Beech Tree

The "velvet" on the deer antlers leaves a scent on the tree to inform does and other bucks of its presence.  The rub above is on a beech tree, but they also often use hemlock which is aromatic and adds to the scenting.  This hemlock rub below is fresh, and the smell was quite strong.
Rub on Hemlock

Scrapes are formed when a buck digs at the ground with its hooves, throwing leaves and debris several feet from the spot.  He then scents the fresh soil with his glands and urine. 
Deer Scrape
 This picture shows the proximity of the scrape to the rub shown above on the beech tree.

There are a couple of tiny hoof prints in the fresh soil, indicating a smaller animal has been by to investigate, just as the buck intended.
Visitor Hoof Print

Another sign of deer was a small maple tree that has been putting out late "stump-shoots" on which a deer had been browsing, no doubt delighted to find some tender young leaves at this time of year.
Deer Browse on Fall Maple Shoots
 And of course, there's the most frequent sign of deer:
White Tail Scat

The duck migration from the north continues, with more large flocks of wood duck congregating in the evenings.
Signs of another bird - the Pileated Woodpecker - are found around dead trees, either standing snags or fallen on the ground.
Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I came across an unusual sight on the west side of the lake on Sunday:  Someone hanging on the top of a tree with a chain saw in hand.  It looks like dangerous work, but it's the only way to take down a tree that's close to a house or power lines without the use of a crane.

It's a time of year when there's not much human activity on the lake, save a few late-fall fishermen.