Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31, 2013

Those of us who are fortunate enough to spend at least some of our time in the New Hampshire Lakes Region, and Lake Wicwas in particular, know what a magical domain this is.  This has no doubt been recognized, consciously and unconsciously, for thousands of years.  Certainly the native Americans appreciated the beauty and bounty of the region, but even before them, other creatures found a welcoming home here.  Even those that couldn't survive the cold winter months traveled many miles each spring and fall to spend the summer here.  We still have a lot in common with that ancient time.

When the local weather gets out synch with the global weather and astronomical timing however, animals may arrive a bit before the lake is really ready for them, and this is one of those years.  There is a tiny bit of open water at the inlet from Dolloff Brook, and there we saw a Great Blue Heron poking in the mud looking for nourishment (not seen in this picture).
Inlet from Dolloff Brook

There is also a small - but slowly expanding - river of open water near the dam, and that has become the assembly point for the growing flock of Canada Geese. 
The Geese Have Arrived

They do sometimes march out across the ice like an army searching for a more hospitable homeland.

They are typically the first arriving water birds, often dropping in when there is still some ice left on the lake, but this year they must be wondering what's going on.  I measured 15 inches of ice in our cove, and a skier we met on the lake reported that a fisherman told him he found the ice to be between 15 and 30 inches thick.  Where I took my measurement, the top seven inches is soft ice, but there's still a good eight inches of hard, clear ice below.  Those geese are going to have cold feet for quite a while!
Cold Feet

We also saw a large light-colored owl, but that may be a winter resident.  A definite winter resident came and visited us this week:
Red Fox

A flash of red caught my attention as this fox took a run at one of the many squirrels in the yard.  It missed its target, so went and prowled in the snow looking for mice.  It circled back and investigated all the squirrel holes in the snow under and around the bird feeders.

It then rested a bit, scratched its chin, and then headed down the the lake, trotting along the shoreline looking for another unsuspecting squirrel to bring home to its family. 

It's striking when I think about the breadth of life - up and down the food chain - that one benefits by proving a few seeds intended for the birds:  from mice and voles to fox, coyotes, owls and hawks.

The weather is making for a productive maple sugar season this year, in contrast to last year's 80 degree March tempertures.  The sap is flowing, and both of Lake Wicwas' sugar shacks are boiling.

Sugar Shack Boiling on Chemung Road
Cooking on Route 104

It's great to see Meredith residents preserving the traditional methods of farming maple syrup.  Today, large manufacturers use reverse-osmosis equipment to separate the sugar from the sap.  Analysis has shown that some of the flavor compounds are affected by this process.  They are also using vacuum equipment to suck greater amounts of sap out of the trees, though they claim it doesn't harm the trees. 

One of the local houses said this will be the last week of collecting, and then they'll just be evaporating for a while, so it's nearing the end.  So be sure to stop in a get a quart of the authentic product, so you'll be ready to pour some Lake Wicwas Maple Syrup on those Lake Wicwas Blueberry Pancakes come July!  It will get here!
Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24, 2013

Winter makes a comeback!  With another foot of snow this week, old man winter is hanging on strong.  And with the forecast of continued below-average temperatures, the winter of 2013 is looking like it's going to last.  This latest storm dumped heavy, dense snow which is holding up well even under the strong, post-equinox sun.

It's Going to be a Long Winter

Another check of the ice thickness shows it's also hanging tough at 17 inches.  Even mud season has been aborted as the roads have frozen up again.  About the only sign that spring is creeping forward is increasing open water at the outlet.

Although we did see a summer bird today:  A large Turkey Vulture soaring over the lake.  The guide books say they arrive in March - I'll bet it was surprised at what it found upon arrival this year!

The dam is fully open, with the water level down at minus 7 inches and flowing fast.  There will be good storage capacity in Lake Wicwas when all this snow finally melts, which could be important in preventing flooding because it's so late we may get a sudden warm spell causing rapid snow melt.

I'm thinking we should be careful with the bird feeders - the bears will be coming out now, hungry, and looking for food, and with all the snow, much of their usual food sources will be buried, and they'll be on the prowl!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17, 2013

After our short spring interlude, winter returned to Lake Wicwas with cold temperatures - back down to 13 degress last night under clear skies and a crescent moon.  And another light snow came through and made it look like winter too!

Fresh Spring Snow Friday Night
And Bright March Sunshine on Saturday

The new snow wasn't enough to penetrate the trees and allow skiing in the woods after last week's rain devastated the base, but it left another perfect surface for both skiing and tracking on the lake.  There were numerous mink, weasel, mouse and fox tracks to be seen.  Here a pair of coyotes traveled right across the middle of the lake and along the shore line, heading into a low swampy area.
Coyotes On the Prowl
The larger foot print and stride - about 24" - distinguishes it from a fox.

The fox stride by comparison is about 16 inches long.  This near perfect rendering of a fox's side trotting pattern very was left in the very thin layer of soft snow early Saturday morning. 
Fox  Side Trotting

 A mouse also left some clear tracks in the light snow.  The tiny size of these tracks, only about two inches apart, can be appreciated by the small line in the snow left by its tail.
Mouse Tracks on the Lake

In some deeper snow where the sun had softened it just the right amount, we came across some deer tracks that left the imprint of the hoofed animal's dewclaws, which I don't see very often.  
White Tailed Deer Track with Visible Dewclaw Imprints

All in all, it's been a pretty uneventful winter around the lake without any dramatic events - the most interesting sights being a Cooper's Hawk and a Bald Eagle in late February.  But all the snow has made it a great winter for animal tracking, and lots of other outdoor activity.
Signs of a Good Day on Lake Wicwas

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March 10, 2013

More snow for Lake Wicwas!  It just keeps coming, and now that it's March, snowy days are followed by fabulous warm and sunny days.

The latest storm was a soft, gentle snow painting a beautiful picture around the lake.

It also left a perfect layer for animal prints, of which there were many.  Long stretches of mink prints followed along the shoreline looking for mice and squirrels.
Mink Tracks

A hole next to a fallen tree where an otter had come out to to sun itself in the warm, fresh air.
Otter Hole

A meandering path of some tiny, unknown creature (a mole or a vole maybe?) as it wandered in circles on the ice in search of who-knows-what!  This is why the mink likes this territory....
Which way to Terra Firma?

Lots of fox prints as well, and this morning at 8:00, a red fox came trotting down the road in broad daylight.
Red Fox on the Hunt

It may be a male out doing some extra hunting for its mate back in the den nursing kits which may have just been born.  The activity is already picking up around the lake!

With a fabulous, clear blue sky and the sun nearing the equinox, the temperature reached past 50 degrees the past two days, and the fresh white snow made for a pretty intense scene out on the lake. 
Bright March Sun and Clear Blue Sky

I noticed a new clearing on a hill north-west of the lake - it looks like logging, as the roads seem too numerous and steep for a development.  Does anyone know this story?
Tree Clearing north of Lake Wicwas

The March sun is starting to work on the ice, softening the surface, but the deep slush from last week has somehow mostly frozen up.  There is now a layer of two inches of porous ice - yet strong enough to support one's weight - on top off the slush now, and in some areas the new snow is melted down to the ice layer.  All told, there is still a total of 18 inches of ice - eight inches of soft ice and then ten inches of hard ice - at least where I cut a hole.

The openings where the streams enter are getting larger every day.

These are all signs that old man winter is starting to lose its grip on Lake Wicwas.

And then today, I saw the first chipmunk of 2013 peeking out from its den - another sign!
Spring's First Chipmunk

The maple syrup is also flowing, with lots of taps appearing on the trees - the past few days have been perfect weather for it. Mud season is also now in full swing, and the roads around the lake have been posted.  It could be a long mud season with the good snow pack. 

But days like this let us know spring is on its way!

Monday, March 4, 2013

March 3, 2013

March is here, and with it came the start of mud season.  Mild weather has softened the top few inches of plowed roads, and areas with sun exposure are already getting squishy.  But the roads are nothing compared to the lake.  The rain, snow, sun and warmer temperatures have created a deep slush layer underneath a couple of inches of snow on the lake.  Snow shoeing is barely  possible, as even then one sinks into the slush on occasion.  I even saw a snowmobile get stuck in the quagmire.

Yesterday was a beautiful day out, and it's fun to get out and see what's going on around the lake.  The newest house on the lake is taking shape now, and it looks to be another beauty, complete with a turret and weather-vane.

Another sign of warmer weather is the arrival of the snow fleas.  When I pulled a branch out of the snow, a flurry of fleas came off it - perhaps they are attracted to the warmth that the dark wood absorbs.

And this was a very unique find in the middle of the woods, a good hundred yards from the shore.
Fresh Water Mussel

Some creature must have brought this clam up from the water's edge, though there were no signs of tracks nearby.  Another mystery at Lake Wicwas.

All the recent snow did have an important role for the Lakes Region:  It put down a solid foundation for the Laconia World Champion Dog Sled races this weekend.  The race center was right at the bottom of Meredith Center Road.
Laconia World Championship Dog Sled Races

There was lots of action in the staging area with the teams getting ready to go.
Staging Area

There were both traditional sleds and high tech racing machines.

Lots of excitement at the starting line as the dogs knew they were about to be let loose.  Some teams were very animated, while others were quite calm and patient.
The Starting Line

And then they were off, with snow flying in the air!
They're Off!

Coming back to the finish line, the teams were just as fast and energetic, but their flapping tongues betrayed their great exertion.
The Finish

Here's some action footage of one team starting, and another approaching the finish.

So 2013 has been a good winter for Meredith, as we got in all three major events:  Pond hockey, Fishing derby, and Dog sled races.  It looks like another good month of winter is ahead, although a few impatient things are trying to get an early start on spring!

Crocus Shoots