Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27, 2014

It has been so warm this week that when I was walking today I wouldn't have been surprised to find the bear out again - but there were no signs, I am happy to report.  Warm temperatures - over 50 degrees on Christmas day - and more rain have washed away much of the Thanksgiving Day snow, and the ice on Lake Wicwas has retreated yet again.

December 27
And this was after we had a small dose of wet snow earlier in the week that had the world looking wintry again.

December 23

Then just a few days later, anywhere the sun could get through or water could collect, the ground was bare.
Sunlight Reflects off Large Puddles in the Trail

The streams are running like spring freshets, and the lake is back up several inches above full level.

The repeated melt-freeze cycles have converted the remaining snow flakes into various forms of opaque and clear ice crystals.

On the surface of the lake, wind and waves tossed chunks of ice many feet up onto the ice, leaving them stranded far from the water's edge.

The plants are animals are a bit perplexed, with green grass and ground cover appearing, and even some buds popping out.

Even the snow fleas think it's March - I found hundreds of them hatched out the surface of the snow in an area exposed to the sun.

The Black Bear may not have emerged to take advantage of the moment but other animals have!

Pine Cone Debris left by a Red Squirrel

Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21, 2014

Winter is taking its time this year in its slow but nonetheless certain approach on Lake Wicwas.  The snow we had several weeks ago has managed to hold on even with several days of warm and rainy weather.  And where the snow formed a layer of slush in the lake, it has survived the rain as well.  After a couple of cool nights that fell below freezing I saw the first pioneers out exploring the ice on the lake.  No surprise they were fishermen!

First Ice Travel of the Season

I cut a hole through the ice and found to my surprise almost six inches of ice;  two inches of frozen slush on top of almost four inches of good black ice.  So where it has remained frozen it is quite safe for foot travel - just be certain you know where the line is, because at the same time there is open water farther out in the lake.
December 15, 2014 - Lots of open water

That was on December 15th.  Today, after a few flakes of snow this morning, the ice has filled in a bit more.
December 21, 2014
The open areas are getting smaller, but the weather forecast for the coming week indicates this may be short lived....

I took a walk through the conservation land around the beaver ponds on one of the few sunny days this week.  I saw no wildlife, but had some beautiful scenes of white snow and blue skies.
Beaver Pond in the Hamlin-Eames-Smyth Conservation Area

For those of you who are alpine skiers, Ragged Mountain in Danbury has opened their new high-speed quad chair lift to the summit of Spear Mountain.  Four minutes to the top sure beats the old lift of 13 minutes - if it didn't stop three times on the way up!
New Doppelmayr High Speed Quad from the Summit of Spear Mountain

Sunday, December 14, 2014

December 14, 2014

A few more traces of snow this week provided a surface that left evidence of more animals traveling the hills and shores of Lake Wicwas - but no bears!

This seemingly distinctive bird track was left on our deck one morning (and no, it didn't find any bird feeders). 

My first thought was a crow even though we've never seen crows on the deck, but there are other birds that leave a similar track, including the Rock Dove.  But the size and shape are closer to a crow, so that's my best guess.

I had a couple of other bird sightings this week.  A pretty Pileated Woodpecker flew along beside me on a stretch of Chemung Road before it banked off into the forest.  And this morning I caught glimpse of an enormous bird flying over the lake.  It landed far away, high in the top of white pine.  It had the size and behavior of a bald eagle, but through the binoculars it clearly didn't have the right markings.  I concluded it was probably a Golden Eagle, and I have read about recent sightings of Goldens in the area.  After it had landed, a smaller - yet still good sized bird, probably a crow - was harassing it, diving at it in the tree.  With each pass the eagle stabbed at the diving bird with its massive beak, and seeing that weapon, the attacker never got very close.  The eagle was eating something, so I wonder if it had taken a meal from the crow.  It's also possible the crow was just trying to drive it from its territory.  Either way, the crow only made a few passes before it gave up and moved on.  I captured some poor pictures, but with the far distance it was the best I could do.  With better ice I would have tried to get a closer approach, but not yet.

Speaking of ice, the center of the lake hasn't made much progress in freezing over.  The temperatures continue in a narrow range - five or ten degrees below freezing over night, and five or ten degrees above freezing during the day, which isn't conducive to ice forming.

Most of the edges of the lake have been frozen for some time, but there are plenty of openings where the Otter can come up on shore for some play time.  There is quite a bit of traffic on particular otter trail,

and one of my wildlife spotters told me there were several otters playing on the snow down by the dam.  He saw them out playing in both the morning and the late afternoon, enjoying the warm weather while it lasts.  (Thanks Callum!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7, 2014 - Black Bear on the Hunt

Early snow followed by warm weather provided a rare opportunity, something I have not had before:  the chance to track a Black Bear on its travels through the forest in search of food.  Usually bears are fast asleep by the time the snow comes.  The supposed safe-date for putting bird feeders out is December first, but this year put that theory to waste.  On both December first and second I found bear tracks in the snow - right across my ski trail - and I took the opportunity to follow it on its travels.
Bear Tracks across the Trail

The soft, wet snow left beautiful prints.

And an indication as to just how large an animal this is!

It was out taking advantage of the warm weather to add a bit more to its fat stores, as a bear will lose 20 to 30% of its weight during the winter.  And if it's a pregnant female, it needs sufficient stored energy to give birth and nurse its young during this time. 

The first stop on its way was to raid a Red Squirrel's cache of acorns and pine cones, which the squirrel had diligently stashed under a large boulder (though not well enough to hide it from a bear's nose).
Raiding a Squirrel's Food Supply

An Empty Stash

Mister squirrel won't be happy to find its winter food supply depleted.

Next, the bear spent a long time digging up a large area of the forest floor under a stand of mature oak trees in search of acorns.

Foraging for Acorns
As mentioned on October 12, this was a mast year with copious acorn production, so I expect it found an abundance of high energy food at this stop.

Farther along in its journey it came across the remains of deer, killed by a coyote, or perhaps a hunter which had not removed the carcass.  At any rate, the bear picked up a couple of choice pieces of deer remnant and brought them along to a comfortable resting spot under a hemlock tree.

A Quiet Spot for a Meal
Here the signs indicate the bear lay for quite a while, licking the bones clean.
Parts of Deer Spine and Ribs

Bear are opportunistic consumers, eating just about anything they come across.  Remember the hornet's nest back on August 31st?  They eat mostly vegetable matter, but will take any carrion they find, and will kill a fawn or a weak deer if they have they opportunity.

Throughout this bear's feeding voyage it left its calling card - large piles of scat and urine holes in the snow.

Back close to home, it was attracted to the scent of bird feeders and bird houses.  It stood right up and peered into our bird houses.  Had their been anything of substance inside I have no doubt it would have ripped the wooden bird houses to shreds.

Now cold weather has returned, and I haven't seen any more activity for the past few days, so maybe it has finally decided it is time to sleep.  As much as I enjoyed the rare experience of tracking a bear, I must admit it's a little unsettling to think about this animal roaming around the forest where I spend so much time.

The cycling back and forth of warm and cold temperatures has formed, and then melted, ice on Lake Wicwas, but each time the edge of the ice extends farther out into the lake.  Today, I estimated about 80% of the lake is covered, with only the widest part in the center of the lake still open. 
(The White Mountains in the distance are upholding their name)

Winter is steadily increasing its grasp on Lake Wicwas.