Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 27, 2014

I was not here for ice out, but the reports I received indicate it occurred on April 21, at least by my definition.  This was late, but not the latest I have recorded - that occurred in 2008, on April 24.  There are a few man-made piles of snow around, but the only natural ice I found was hidden under a cave of granite.
The Last Bit of Winter

Tracking season may be over, but this is the best season for seeing wildlife.  This week I saw loons, mergansers, osprey, bufflehead, pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, fly catchers, beaver, and fox.  Plus the evidence of bear, deer, and moose.  I'll provide a few notes.

First, the Wood Ducks have returned to nest.  One evening the pair flew in together and swam in the cove a bit before flying up to perch on a tree that fell over the lake on the shore where they nest.  They sat there - side by side - for 10 or 15 minutes, preening and scouting the area for signs of danger.  They took off together and flew in close formation, making two full reconnoitering circles of the cove, the second wider than the first and just above the tree tops.  Now confident that they wouldn't disclose their nesting site, the duck (female) dipped down into the trees and went to the nest, while the drake (male) took another big circle and made a dramatic landing in the lake to attract the attention of anyone in the area.  He then floated conspicuously in the middle of the cove, a good decoy to protect the nest.
A Living Decoy

As John Audubon said "Few birds are more interesting to observe during the love season than Wood Ducks".  Even with all that effort, their eggs, once laid, will still be vulnerable to a wide range of predators. 

The beaver we watched swim across the cove was dragging a branch along in its teeth, which forced it to swim more slowly than usual, and also seemed to bring more of its body above the water than is common.  Most often, all one can see is the nose, eyes and ears protruding above the lake surface.
Beaver Bring Home the Bacon

The Pileated Woodpecker visited in the rain, stopping to pick something - insects? - out of an old white pine stump.
Pileated Woodpecker

Later that day I found a fresh hole in a pine where it had been hacking out large wood chips to get to a nest of carpenter ants.  There are several prior holes in this same tree.

Signs of deer included droppings, nibbled branches, and fur.  This patch of fur was beside some cherry branches that had been bitten off.

Fur from a White Tail Deer
Perhaps the deer scratched itself with its hoof, helping to shed its winter coat in preparation for warmer weather.  The fine threads of the inner augment the insulating properties, allowing this deer to survive the minus 17 degree temperature we saw this past winter.

The trees are also now starting to put on their spring emblems, with vibrant buds swelling and bursting out.
Blueberry Bud

Red Maple Blossoms

The arrival of the fly-catchers means there are only a couple of more weeks of walking peacefully in the woods before the onslaught of black flies and mosquitoes arrives - enjoy it while you can!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ice Out

News Flash:  The ice is out, the frogs are peeping, and the grill is fired up!  Spring is here!  More to follow....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20, 2014

I didn't get up to Lake Wicwas over the holiday weekend, but a local observer saw two eagles devouring a large bass on the ice near Bryant Island.  His thought is that an otter brought it up onto the ice.  Now that's a big challenge for an otter, even if the fish do have lower energy levels due to the cold water.  He also saw a Fisher Cat making one of its final trips out to the island;  hopefully the ice will be going soon, as there is a forecast for warm weather the next couple of days.

The ice in Meredith bay on Lake Winnipesaukee is coming out fast, but other parts of the lake are still frozen over - Weirs Beach, for example:

View from Weirs Beach at 8:51 am on April 20
There is series of web-cameras around Winnipesaukee that you can watch to follow the ice retreating from the big lake.  The link to the Winnipesaukee Ice-Out site is:

The answer to last week's question on the historical marker is the Lakeport Dam, which sets the lake level for Winnipeasukee.  Last week it was flowing quickly, but far from the highest flow we've seen.  The cool spring without any really warm weather has allowed a slow and steady snow melt this year.

The Lakeport Dam where it Empties into Opechee Bay

Both Winnipesaukee and Wicwas empty in Lake Winnisquam, which then flows into the Winnipesaukee River on its way to the Merrimack River, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.

Just now, another nature watcher sent me a picture of the first loon of the year!  The ice has left a portion of the lake, apparently enough to let a loon land.  I don't know if it is a resident, or just stopping here on its way to its summer home.  At any rate, it is another sign that spring is close at hand!
First Loon Sighting - April 20, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April 13, 2014

It is curious how one seems to search for the elusive.  I went for a walk yesterday in a quest for signs of spring - on my snow shoes - as there are still copious amounts of snow in the forest, and even in some open fields.

Signs of cross country ski tracks are still evident in the snow.

Ski trail covered with spring debris
Something I always enjoy in the spring is watching tracks that were imprinted on the lake months ago, and long since hidden under layer up layer of snow, become revealed as winter recedes.  

Snow show and ski tracks emerge from under the snow as winter melts away
Saturday was a delightful, 60 degree day, and though I searched diligently, signs of spring were few and far between.  Sunny, south facing hills are mostly free of snow, and where the water runs off under the snow pack there is bare ground - or puddles - showing through.

All that melted snow has brought the lake to a high level, 15" above full, and it is flooding the low spots around the lake.  The stream to Winnisquam is a torrent.  Soft snow leaves evidence that deer have been moving around in the area;  Linda saw a pair of white-tails, though I missed them.
Deer print in soft snow
In searching for buds, I found that the Blueberries, and even the Red Maples, still have their buds tightly wrapped.  Only a few Witch Hazel and Beech trees are bold enough to confront old-man winter at this point.
The first leaf of 2014?

Bud emerging from a branch nipped off by a deer

Just when I thought these would would the be most commendable sightings of my journey, I perceived motion in an open spot where the sun had melted the snow and dried out the leaves.  Approaching slowly, I discovered a Common Garter Snake which had come out from hibernation and was also enjoying the warm spring sun.

Its natural evolution is so refined that had it not moved I never would have noticed it, how thoroughly it is camouflaged - it looks just like a dead stick lying on the leaves. 
This could well be the first reptile or amphibian to have emerged from hibernation, and is an encouraging signpost on the path to spring.  Can the Spring Peepers be far behind?

The lake creatures are getting impatient with the arrival of spring as well.  This evening I watched a  beaver navigating the meager channel between the shore and the ice, taking a deep breath when the passage became too constricted, diving under the ice and reemerging at the next breach of the frozen cover. 

This morning my attention was attracted by a mink bouncing along the shore line, hopping up and down the bank, poking around in the brush and into the tunnels fashioned under the snow by the red squirrels through the winter.  I suppose the mink are pleased that the chipmunks have emerged as well.

I have a challenge for people this week:  Can you identify this historic marker from the local region?

Here are few hints, showing its surroundings.

The marker is to the far right in front of the blue house

That steeple is a good clue, but if you need one more hint, we were walking the WOW trail (Winnipsaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam Rail Trail).  Leave your guesses as a comment (click on "comments" or "No comments" at the bottom of the page, and submit as anonymous if you wish);  I'll provide the answer with my next post.

As I was walking the woods in my pursuit of spring, I was thinking how in just a couple of weeks, I'll be out stalking the last remaining gasps of winter (I hope!).  I guess it's just more rewarding to discover that which eludes us.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 5, 2014

Oh where art thou, Lake Wicwas?  Buried deep under that layer of ice and snow, I know you are there, waiting to be freed from the shackles of the polar vortex. 
April 5, 2014
It has been four weeks since we were last here, and I'm sad to say it doesn't look much different than when we left back on March 8th, with a heavy snow pack still in place.
North-facing slopes still have plenty of snow

The ice is still solid, but there is a foot of water and slush on top of it, so I don't know how much ice is actually present.  There are small openings around the edges of the lake where the runoff from the recent rains eroded the ice, and it indicates the ice isn't safe for travel.  Even the openings at the inlet and the outlet have only small slices of open water. 

But there are signs that provide hope.  I saw the first chipmunk yesterday, and I heard the call of the geese somewhere on the lake.

There are also a few green shoots of plants pushing their way up right through the snow;  they are not inclined to wait any longer.
Lilly Shoots

A flock of four turkeys took a stroll through the yard yesterday, enjoying the dropped seeds from the bird feeders.

When they became aware of our presence they fanned out their tail feathers - probably to make themselves look larger to any attacking predators.

These were pretty large birds anyways - I wouldn't be surprised if they were well over 20 pounds.  They aren't enjoying the deep snow at all, as heavy birds on tiny feet broke through the soft crust repeatedly, crashing down until their bodies hit the snow. 

By this evening, with another warm, sunny day to strengthen its resolve, Lake Wicwas had taken a little more ground from its nemesis, but it still has a long battle ahead.
April 6, 2014

2014 has been a long winter.