Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015

Perhaps mother nature has settled into her winter pattern now.  We've had snow - no rain - with more snow on the way, and it sure was cold today with a brutal northwest wind blasting across the lake, whipping up yesterday's fresh snow.

Here's a short clip of what it was like on Lake Wicwas today:

At least it was beautiful out there today.  Yesterday, after the snow, it was completely gray with no color in the world at all.

But the fresh snow allowed getting back on the skis, so I went out to see what was going on around the lake, and I did get a few sights.  Fresh snow, even on a gray day, always fashions an enchanting setting.  These are from the north-west corner of the lake, near the entrance of Dolloff Brook.

There was plenty of activity from the fishermen, perhaps devising their strategy for next week's big fishing derby.

One group was just setting up as we chatted, and before they even set down their tip-up, they had caught a yellow perch.  They took it off the hook and tried to reset it, but again a fish struck before they could lower it down!  I guess the fish are hungry this year.  Unfortunately, some fishermen are not as good stewards of the lake as others.

The gray day made for an interesting scene looking up at Crockett's Ledge above the west shore of the lake. 

I had been up there a few days earlier - on a much prettier day.  One gets a great view of the area from this vantage point this time of year, including a neat perspective on the motorcycle track.
Belknap and Gunstock Mountains in the Distance

It is a tough time of year to be a vegetarian, as the carnivorous predators need to keep up their strength in the harsh weather.  Whether you're a mouse being sought out by a Snowy Owl, or a deer trying to avoid coyotes, life is tough.  On my trip I came across a White Tail Deer that had been driven out onto the lake where it had no chance against one or more coyotes.  

With skinny legs and cloven hooves, they have no hope for survival if they get forced onto the ice.

Just like the owl, the coyotes go after the best parts first, but they will return to take more of it over time. 

The last time I saw this on Lake Wicwas (see 29 January 2014) everything from coyotes to eagles to crows took advantage of the kill.  This will be an important part of the food chain this winter.

The strong wind today partially covered it up with snow, but that won't stop the many animals in the area from feasting on it for the next several weeks. 

They had already ripped one leg off and dragged it away;  perhaps a less aggressive coyote that was being kept away from the main carcass by more dominant animals. 

Don't worry about finding it in the lake next summer - every last bit will be gone long before the ice melts.  Even if we get a foot of snow next week, the animals know where it is, and they will be back.  (It's just off Loon Point if you want to investigate as well.)

At least it is a beautiful final resting place for a beautiful animal.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Snowy Owl

Today's post isn't about Lake Wicwas, but it is in line with the nature of the blog.  We took a trip out Rye Harbor State Park this week to see if we could find the Snowy Owl that has taken up residence there for the second year in a row.  And we found it easily - you most likely will too if you want to take the trip.  When we arrived it was perched in plain sight up on top of a telephone pole, completely unfazed by the people there with binoculars and cameras. 
Snowy Owl

It is a magnificent bird;  these pictures don't do it justice.

It sat there quietly, its head swiveling around, constantly looking for any motion that indicated lunch was available. 

We got lucky - it saw something on the ground and took off in flight.
En-route to Lunch

Swooping down it scooped up a small creature.

And took it the top of a nearby house where, before doing anything else, it looked all around to make sure no other larger bird noticed its capture and might come along to take it away. 
Did anyone see that?

Seeing that all was clear, it separated the animal from all the grass that came up with it in its talons.
Cleaning the Wheat from the Chaff

It then became apparent that it had selected a mouse for its lunch time meal.

It carefully positioned its fine cuisine in its claws for a flight to its dining spot.

Preparing for Flight
With Lunch in the Cargo Bay
Which was a picnic table on the point, with a window view of the Atlantic Ocean.  It checked all around again to make sure it wasn't being targeted by another predator.

All Clear?
And then got right to work preparing its feast, first disemboweling its prey to consume the delicacies as an appetizer.  (If you have a weak stomach you may want to fast forward a bit.)
The First Course

After that came the main course, gobbling up the rest of the beast.
The Entree

Being very courteous, it spent a moment to clean up any scraps it spilled on the picnic table, and then flew back to its perch for an afternoon siesta.

All the while people were watching its every move.  Someone said this is a female, which seems right based on the quantity of dark spots - the males are predominantly white. 

The Snowy Owl is the largest - by weight - of the North American Owls.  They spend their summers far north of the Arctic Circle, where they hunt rodents in 24-hour daylight.  This must be what has adapted them to hunt in daylight hours during the winter rather than being nocturnal like our full-time resident owls.  In the winter they migrate to the entire northern third of continental America, preferring large areas of open ground.  I understand they have been observed around the Manchester Airport. 

So that was my adventure with the Snowy Owl.  With a touch of precipitation yesterday, I'm happy to say that the owls around Lake Wicwas are snowy also!  There was just enough new snow to get out on the skis;  tomorrow I'll post what I found out on Lake Wicwas this weekend.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January 18, 2015

I was able to enjoy some long ski trips on Lake Wicwas this week as the firm crust supporting a layer of light snow, kept dry by the cold weather, made for fast and easy skiing.  I took the opportunity to travel around the shore line to find what animals have been active.  Before moving onto the ice though, I found ample evidence of small animals in the woods, including mice and squirrels collecting their food.

These tracks are from a mouse hopping from one hole to another near a tree, hoping to avoid a fox traveling in the same location.

Mouse Tracks

And foxes there are, plenty of them all around the lake.  Usually I see their tracks following along in mine, taking advantage of less taxing travel in my packed trail.  However at this moment the trail is frozen so unevenly that they are happier walking on top of the crust.
Note the Squirrel Track Crossing the Fox Track

Signs of red squirrels are omnipresent, with piles of chewed pine cones dotting the bases of white pines where they sat on a branch shredding cones.
Red Squirrel Picnic Spot
Out on the lake there are fox tracks almost everywhere along the shore and sometimes right across open expanses of ice.  Near the shore they trot along slowly looking for food, but out in the open where there is no prey they go into gallop to get across quickly.  At one point I saw a long trail across the ice that looked like a fox track from a distance, but closer approach revealed it was an otter.
Otter Tracks Across Lake Wicwas

When it came upon the slightest hump in the snow, it left an unmistakable calling card:  a belly-slide!
These tracks were in the cove at the entrance of Blake Brook.  Later, on the far opposite side of the lake I found a hole in the ice where the otters have come up and made a latrine.
Otter Latrine

There were no tracks going to or from this spot, and there were no other holes anywhere nearby;  it amazes me that otters can swim so far under the ice, and find a hole to come up for air.  I expect there are smaller  holes, unnoticed by me, where they can breath but are too small for them to emerge onto the ice.  Regardless, they must be pretty good navigators under the ice. 

Sadly, after today's rain event, there will be no more skiing until we get some fresh snow.
Freezing Rain in January!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 11, 2015

Just as forecast, the coldest air of the season arrived this past week, bring several days of temperatures below zero, with the coldest morning registering -12° F.  With many days of below freezing temperatures, the ice on Lake Wicwas should be safe for most activities, short of automobiles and airplanes.  On one of the coldest nights, January 5th, the Full Wolf Moon rose over the lake.
The January Wolf Moon
There are no wolves in New Hampshire today, but the coyotes might have been out howling (or maybe tucked away in their dens on a cold night).  January through February is mating season for coyotes - what a romantic setting for them!

One very cold night extracted a bit of moisture our of the air, depositing a thin layer of dry snow on the  crust left by the previous rain.  I saw no coyote signs, but these precise animal tracks were left by a fox we saw walking along the edge of the lake.

Fox and other light animals have easy travel on this winter surface, but not the heavier animals, including humans.  The thick ice-crust on top of several inches of light, dry snow make for inhospitable travel - unstable, sharp, noisy - for any creature that breaks though the crust.  

I expect the deer are staying in very close quarters;  not only would they be highly vulnerable to coyotes in these conditions, but just walking would lacerate their legs.

The cold temperatures also fashioned a new set of intricate ice structures on any object that was on the ice.

Sometimes even just a bump on the surface of the lake was enough to seed crystal growth. 

I am way too easily amused by the simplest of things....

Remember the great pine cone crop from the White Pines back in August?
August 24, 2014

Well, now they are all on lake after strong winds blew them off the trees.
Pine Cones Scattered by the Wind

It doesn't appear there are any seeds left in them for the birds and the squirrels;  they have long since been released onto the ground to germinate next spring's seedlings.

With just an inch or two of light snow on Friday there was enough cover on the crust to do some skiing on the lake.  I was out yesterday with my nephews and we toured a good part of the lake, watching all the activity.  It was a beautiful, but still cold day.
Bob Houses have Appeared on Lake Wicwas

Winter Fun on the Lake

It has even been cold enough that much of Lake Winnipesaukee has frozen over - bob houses are rapidly sprouting up all over Meredith bay.

It is good to know that winter has finally settled in over the Lakes.

A Winter Afternoon