Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27, 2013

One word describes Lake Wicwas this week:  Cold.  Not quite record making cold, but it has been as low as negative 7, and over the past six days the thermometer hasn't risen out of the teens.  The northwest wind has been doing its part as well, with 20 mile per hours winds common, often gusting over 30 mph, bringing wind-chills far below zero.  We've also had some of the driest air we get - dew points at negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit just suck the moisture out of your skin!

There is however, a bright side (pun intended) to the cold, dry weather:  the sun, sky, and moonlight are spectacular when one is brave enough to venture outside.  And we were fortunate enough to have a full moon align with the cold weather on Saturday night, making night walks look like daytime.
A Moonlit Lake Wicwas at 10:00 pm

The full moon rises much higher in the winter sky than the sun does because it's in the same plane as the sun, and at full moon, it is opposite from the sun.  The moon was up for almost 14 hours versus less than ten hours for the sun.  Compare the length of the shadows above to those from the sun posted on December 26.

The Full Moon Dropping into the Tree Tops
Cold, clear mornings also make for stunning sun rises in an unusual direction - looking west.
Sunrise Looking Northwest

We braved the cold to investigate the WOW Trail (Winnisquam, Opechee, Winnipesaukee) that currently runs from Lakeport to downtown Laconia.  It's a nice trail, an interesting variation from many of the rail trails in the area, and extensions in both directions are planned for the future.  Parking is available near the Laconia Library and the Lakeport dam.  There are plenty of gorgeous winter scenes along the shore of Lake Opechee.
Lake Opechee from the WOW Trail
The Lakeport Dam is at the far right

And there were even some ducks where the currents are keeping the water open.
I wouldn't be here if I could fly

Back at Lake Wicwas, the cold has frozen up the streams feeding into the lake, with different colors locked into the ice.  I'm guessing the tan color is either from iron or decaying organic material in the water.

Frozen Streams are still trying to Fill Lake Wicwas

The Cherokee name for the January moon of "Cold Moon" is certainly appropriate this year!
Moon set on January 27, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20, 2012

Lake Wicwas has been on a weather roller coaster lately.  How does a 50 degree temperature change sound?  It was 55 on Monday, (though still two degrees from the record high) and then 5 degrees on Friday.  Most of our snow melted, though we received a few more inches on Wednesday;  not enough to ski in the woods, or even to need snow shoes, but it sure made for a splendid sunrise.
Photo Credit:  L. Powell
I did take a nice ski on the lake, at least on the edges.  After the warm weather and open water just a few weeks ago, I'm still not willing to bet my life that the middle of the lake is safe.

Along my trip, I came across a marker obviously staked near an active beaver lodge.  It was clearly put there intentionally, and well marked.  When I saw a second near another beaver lodge, I figured something was going on.  I checked two other lodges, and they also had similar markers.  What's up?

Today, I got my answer. On a walk around the lake we came across a couple of people at one of the markers.  They are trappers, and I learned a lot about beavers and trapping.

Trapping season runs from November through April;  starting in November, beavers grow a layer of soft fur, which makes this the best season for pelts.  There isn't much of a market for beaver pelt;  he sends the pelts to Idaho for tanning, and is collecting enough to make a bed cover.

A small piece of poplar wood is used for bait, which makes the trap pretty much a one-species snare - no other animal will be attracted to an old chunk of wood!  Trappers must check their snares at least every three days, so it's a pretty intensive undertaking. 

Trapping to meet the insatiable European demand for pelts completely eliminated beavers from all of New England except the farthest reaches of Maine by the middle of the 1800s.  After their reintroduction in Vermont in the early 1900s, their population has boomed - they have few predators left and little market value.  It is not uncommon for a colony to completely harvest their available food supply, and have to move on or starve.  Land owners in the lakes region will hire trappers to reduce the size of a colony if it is devastating their property.

Lake Wicwas and its surrounds are probably near the limit of a healthy population, based on the observations I've made.  I've identified eleven lodges within the boundaries of Lake Wicwas alone, not including the Chemung Forest or the Hamlin/Eames/Smyth area.  It might sound cruel, but trappers are doing what nature no longer takes care of on its own.

This particular trapper will help people with problem animals, including skunk and raccoon.  Let me know if you need a contact.

On Saturday we took a hike -  no snow shoes needed - up to Arbutus Hill Pond.  On the way we saw deer, moose, rabbit, and fox tracks.

Rabbit Tracks

There are also splendid ice formations on the streams.

We were startled at one point by a grouse that flew out from under cover of a hemlock tree, followed shortly be two or three more.  We followed their tracks a bit;  they are rather narrow, often in a straight path without distinct foot prints except where the snow was barely an inch deep beneath the tree they were hiding under.  Without seeing the birds we never would have identified the tracks.

The ice fishermen were out in force this weekend, at least before the squall came through today.
Ice Fishing on Lake Wicwas
There was once again dynamic weather, with sun on the lake but threatening weather coming over the hills from the west.
Squalls coming from the West
Oh - and then this evening, we had another visit from the flying squirrel! 

They are very bold rodents;  it really takes a lot to get them to abandon an unrestricted food source!  If you've never seen a flying squirrel actually fly, see if you can run this video - it's my first attempt at uploading a video.

A late update:  I captured a beautiful gray fox coming and going on his nightly rounds early this morning.  Keep the trappers away from him - we need the foxes - they keep the rodent population in check!

2:18 am

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 2013

The January thaw hit Lake Wicwas this week, and it isn't pretty.  At least we had enough snow in December that the landscape is still mostly white, but it won't last if this weather keeps up.  The lake has standing water on it, and has had a dense layer of fog hanging above it for the past two days.  In fact, multiple layers of fog due to the colder temperature right at the surface of the ice.

Travel up in elevation a thousand feet or so, and the picture changes.  The warm air riding over colder air at the surface created the fog through a tempertuare inversion.  From the top of Ragged Mountain, looking over towards lake Wicwas, it looked like an ocean of clouds with mountain tops sticking up like islands.  Lake Wicwas is somewhere under that thick blanket.

From the Summit of Ragged Mountain in Danbury

This is the view looking north towards Mount Cardigan.
Mount Cardigan
Warm and sunny on the mountain top, damp and dreary in the valley - that's New England!

Back, on January 5th, a rather cold day, I found this tiny insect on the snow - it's about a half an inch long.
I don't know what it is, and I have no idea why it was out on a winter day when the temperature was only 30 degrees.

I put out some acorns for the animals during the cold snap after the snow we had.  They have been appreciated by the turkeys and the squirrels, and then yesterday we had a deer or two enjoying them.
Deer Feeding on Acorns
Acorns are one of the most nutritious and important winter food sources for many animals.  Although acorns - as well as oak buds - contain high levels of tannins (up to 9% - they were used in leather tanning!) and other potent toxins that humans can't process, some animals have evolved over time with organs that manufacture enzymes that break down and metabolize those toxins.  It's part of the battle between the self-protection systems of plants and the evolution of animals.  Plants create toxins to prevent them from being eaten, and over time, herbivores develop mechanisms that protect them from these assaults.

One reason deer have such a varied diet is because they eat slow-growing plant tissues which tend to have high levels of toxins:  acorns, leaves, hemlock needles.  By varying their diet and eating only small amounts of each food, they prevent the toxins from overloading their internal defensive organs.  Thus the deer have left some acorns for later.

Of course some animals, squirrels for one, play an important part in dispersing the oak tree's genes by carrying their seeds away and hiding them in the ground.  Those they lose track of and never harvest spread the oak's DNA farther than the tree could accomplish on its own.  Deer help as well, by stepping on some seeds, pressing them into the ground - as seen above - helping them to germinate in the spring.

But, if we don't get more snow soon we won't be doing any more tracking - let's hope winter returns soon!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 6, 2013

Happy New Year! 

January brought the winter's first mass of cold air down from Canada, with temperatures on Thursday and Friday right around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was enough to finally get Lake Wicwas frozen.  As late as January 1st  there was still a large open section of water in the middle of the lake.
January 1, 2013

It froze over that night, but as we saw in Rindge, the ice will be treacherous for a while - ice fishermen and snowmobilers take note!  The difference in the time of freezing is easily seen in the varying surface colors and textures.

The cold temperatures have kept the snow dry and light, which has made for great tracking;  it's enlightening to see just how much activity takes place around Lake Wicwas that we are never aware of.  There are fox tracks everywhere criss-crossing the woods looking for rodents.
Fox Tracks

Frequently one finds where a fox dug in the snow hunting for a mouse, or a left a marker for their territory.
Fox Hunting

I enjoy seeing them follow my ski tracks for long distances, knowing I made their travel a little easier;  you'd think they'd show a little courtesy in return!
Fox Scat in my Ski Trail

I saw a group of four good-size turkeys strutting down the road in the middle of the day.

Later, out on a walk we saw their tracks going back and forth across the road, up into the woods and back down looking for food.

They scratched in the road often, looking for acorns,

and scratched up large piles of leaves that were buried under the snowbanks, leaving quite a bit of evidence of their passing.

We also saw a set of deer prints, along with numerous squirrel, mice, weasel and otter tracks.  A hole in the ice along the shore was an active spot for an otter, with tracks, slides, and a latrine close by.

River Otter Signs
Entrance and Exit Holes
Otter Slide

I took a walk with my nephews up to the beaver dam in the Hamlin area, and found dramatic evidence of beaver activity - large areas cleared of trees, including some of the largest trees cut down I've seen.  There are several large red oaks that were cut most of the way through, but left standing.  Could they just be practicing, or wearing down their teeth for the winter?

Note the bark chewed off the felled tree in the background.  If you have a chance to get up there, poke around and take a look.

We also found some weasel tracks,
Long-Tailed Weasel Tracks

and large areas where the deer had dug around in the snow and leaves looking for acorns.  Look at the size of this area:

White Tail Hunting Grounds

Let's hope the weather stays cold so we can get out on the ice soon - the Meredith Fishing Derby is only five weeks away, and Meredith Bay is wide open.  A bit more snow would be nice also, to build up the base for skiing and snow shoeing.

Enjoy the winter of 2013, and keep warm!