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

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