Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29, 2015

Lake Wicwas was absolutely gorgeous today.  A low temperature of 17 degrees overnight froze everything up, and then the noon sun softened the surface nicely.  I saw ski tracks from people enjoying the smooth, soft conditions, as well as lots of animal tracks.  The light snow that fell yesterday, reworked by the melt-freeze-melt cycle, created a surface that left imprints of the most perfect coyote tracks I have seen.

This trail pattern is called a "side trot".  All of the front foot tracks are on the left, and the hind foot tracks are on the right.

Note that the front foot is larger than the rear, as it is on the fox as well.

Coyote on Lake Wicwas, January 2012

The Wicwas volcano that erupted last week grows.  As the lake level continues to be lowered (it's now 10" below full level) to reduce flooding from the spring freshets that will soon pour into Lake Wicwas, the ice slabs continue to be forced skywards.  Compare the change over just four days:
March 21st

March 25th
Usually at this time of year the ice is too treacherous to venture onto the lake, but drilling another hole I found it is still 23 inches thick.  But it is changing - the first four inches are now soft and porous after a couple of warmer days assaulted the surface.  And around the edges there are many openings and thin spots, so care is in order even with the thick layer in some places.

During a run on one of those warmer days I had a rare spring sighting - a wooly bear caterpillar.
Wooly Bear Caterpillar  (Pyrrharctia isabella)

I usually see these in the fall.  As usual, it was sunning itself on the warmth of pavement - on Chemung Road - having probably just crawled out from the neighboring stone wall.  Knowing it wouldn't make it to the next phase of its transformation in that spot, I scooped it up and put it on the shoulder of the road.   But instinct is hard to overcome, and it immediately motored directly back onto the road.  I placed it farther off the shoulder, and this time it rolled up into its protective crescent shape and played dead, so I went on my way, hoping for the best.

Unlike most caterpillars, the wooly bear overwinters as a caterpillar.  It curls up inside its wooly blanket deep in a stone wall or under forest debris, and will freeze solid over the winter.  In the spring it will thaw out and form its pupa, eventually becoming a moth that will mate and lay eggs for the next round of wooly bears.  The wooly bear is the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth - I will keep an eye out for one of these moths this summer.
From Wikipedia:

Last week I saw my first chipmunk of 2015, and this week I saw their offspring out and about, little tiny 'munks, chasing each other all over on top of the snow.  They are rather curious and not very wary of humans yet, staring at me from just a few feet away.  They will either learn quickly, or have the same fate the young grey squirrel met last week.

The fox diet seems to be changing, adding in more vegetation with the reduction in the snow pack - much to the relief of the local rodents. 

Fox Scat
This fox scat included a large, thick, cardboard-like substance that had not been digested, and that I was not able to identify.

The closest material I can compare it to would be an avocado peel;  did this fox perhaps get into someone's garbage?

Thinking about animals and their interaction with humans, there was an unfortunate case of twelve deer dying from being fed by well-intentioned people in the southern part of New Hampshire;  you can read about it here.  It is never a good idea to feed wild animals - well, except I guess the birds, but even there one must careful for the bears. 

With the warmer weather, New Hampshire's fifth season has begun:  mud season.  (The sixth is black fly season.)  This can be, visually, a rather ugly season, even though psychologically it's beautiful, knowing winter is melting away.  Even where the mud doesn't show through, the world is rather unsightly due to the ravages of a hard winter being exposed by the receding snow.

It's been a challenge to keep the forest clean this winter

Fortunately, that touch of snow yesterday freshened things up a bit. 

Now, isn't that better?

Once again, Lake Wicwas was absolutely gorgeous today.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22, 2015 - Spring???

The stars say spring has arrived, but mother nature says otherwise;  winter was still very much in control when I took a walk on the lake this weekend.

A hole cut through the ice, almost at the limit of the ice auger, shows 25 inches of ice is still protecting Lake Wicwas from the sun's warming rays. 

Near one of the islands in the center of the lake we discovered one of the more intriguing natural events I've seen, something that appeared to be a minature volcano in the middle of the lake, with giant ice chunks thrown up around an open center.
A Volcano on Lake Wicwas?

As we approached it became clear it was larger than it appeared from a distance.

Upon peering inside, the source of the volcano became evident:  A large rock (made of Kinsman Granodiorite no doubt) lying just below the surface of the lake provided the impetus for the eruption.

My guess is that the ice formed above the rock last fall when the water was high, and then all the snow this winter built up on top, adding to the mass of 25" of ice on the lake.  Then as the lake drained during the winter, the ice dropped down below the top of the rock, prying up the chunks of ice. 

I expect this artifact will survive for a while considering the cold forecast for the next week.  If you're interested in seeing it first-hand, it is located off the west shore Sheep Island, about 200 yards from the southern tip of the island.

Other not-so-natural items on the lake weren't so exciting.  The trash pile made two months ago by fishermen (see 25 January 2015) is still there, complete with beer cans, and now there are remnants from an ice-fishing house left behind.
This spring's boating hazards

Warning for early boaters and bass-fishermen:  be on the lookout for flotsam in Lake Wicwas this spring.

Even though the weather has been cold, the animals are becoming much more active.  I found the track of good size moose frozen in the shallow mud from one warm day.
Moose Tracks
 This large animal has giant hooves, and travels 37 inches between steps - over three feet!

Lots of rodents are out now as well, including the first chipmunk of spring, all nicely sharing the spillage from the bird feeders. 

Note that the department of fish and game has announced the bears are active as well, so it's time to take down those feeders.

One afternoon I spotted a small hawk - probably a sharp-shinned hawk - sitting on a branch on the shore line.  It swooped down to a bit of open water and sat on the ground.  At this point we noticed a gray squirrel on a tree right next to the hawk - very strange, as usually not a squirrel nor a bird is to be seen when a raptor makes an appearance.  Even more strange, this squirrel starting climbing down the tree right toward the bird.  Just as we thought this rodent had a death wish, the hawk flew off in the opposite direction, and that's when we saw the root of the circumstance:  it had a small gray object in its talons.  It appears that mother squirrel had just lost one of its young.  Mother ran after the bird a few yards, but then stopped and looked off into the distance at the disappearing hawk.

She then sat motionless on the cold, frozen snow for a long time, wringing her hands, hoping, though knowing, she had seen the last of her offspring.  But what a bold move to stare down a hawk to try save one of her own!

It was yet another reminder that the natural world is a constant battle for survival.  But she will have another litter very soon, especially with all the easy food she gets from a winter of bird feeders!  It gives me a lot more compassion when the squirrels get to the feeders.  And it's nice to know we are supporting the entire food chain.

So the animals are out and ready for spring; how about you?  Can you believe we'll be swimming in this "water" in a mere two months time?

Monday, March 16, 2015

March 15, 2015 - Rocky Mountains

This week I had another off-lake excursion where I experienced more rocks and more mountains - they are even called the Rocky Mountains!
The Flat Top Mountains west of Steamboat Springs

Yes, we traveled to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where the mountains are far newer and much higher than our White Mountains.  The Rocky Mountains were formed a mere 55 to 80 million years ago;  contrast that to our Granodiorite-based mountains in the Lakes Region formed some 400 million years ago.  According to the museum exhibit I visited last week, when the White Mountains were first formed  they were even higher than the Rocky Mountains are today, but have been worn down over the past several hundred million years, and they continue to wear away as most recently demonstrated by the collapse of our state icon in Franconia Notch in May 2003.

Another aspect of the newly-formed mountains in Colorado, as in places like Yellowstone National Park, is the proximity of heat from the earth's hot core which creates hot springs, one of which gave the town of Steamboat Springs its name.  The Steamboat Spring - so named because it made a chugging sound that reminded the early pioneers of a steamboat - is no longer active, but many others are.  The "Sulphur Spring" for example, which bubbles at 72 degrees even on the coldest winter days.
Sulphur Spring in downtown Steamboat Springs
There are still "tie-down" rings at this spring, used by early settlers to secure their horses to let them drink from the restorative water.

We did some snow-shoeing in Rabbits Ears Pass, 9426' elevation, and were treated to a Colorado Blue sky, much like that in our own mountains (Franconia Notch, February 22, 2015).

New England calls the low point between two mountains a "notch", where in the Rockies it is called a "pass".

Rabbits Ear Pass, Routt National Forest

Did you notice the dead Lodgepole Pines?  Colorado forests are suffering from an invasive species, the Mountain Pine Beetle, which is devastating large swaths of pine forests and adding to wildfire concerns.
Lodgepole Pines killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle

It is a reminder that we must be diligent in watching for and preventing invasive species in our own regions, whether it's the Emerald Ash Borer, which has now made its way to New Hampshire, or Milfoil in our local lakes. 

Keeping a lookout for Colorado wildlife I saw a few animals, many of which are the same ones we have in New Hampshire, including this Downy Woodpecker in an Aspen tree.
Colorado Downy Woodpecker

At the top of the mountains there are Gray Jays which behave the same way they do in our mountains, taking food right out of your hand if offered to them.
A well socialized Gray Jay

I also saw hawks, squirrels, and tracks of fox and weasels.  But the most impressive sighting was a huge moose standing right at the edge of a ski trail, munching on the buds and twigs of Aspen trees.  It was completely unfazed by skiers zipping by, but the ski patrol was on site, keeping people moving along the trail so there was no opportunity to stop and snap a picture.  It was by far the largest moose I have seen - maybe just because it was so close!

I'll be home soon; I read a report that the bears are already out and about, so it's time to take in those bird-feeders.  And whether at home in Meredith, or across the country, I'm always drawn to the magic of a beautiful sunset.
Sunset over the Yampa Valley

Saturday, March 7, 2015

March 7, 2015 - Wicwas Geology

I managed to get up to the Museum of White Mountains in Plymouth just before their current exhibition titled "Beyond Granite:  The Geology of Adventure" closes on March 8th.  I learned quite a bit about the geology of New Hampshire, and even a little about the geology in the lakes region, including right here at Lake Wicwas.

There is quite a varied history of our White Mountains, with the older mountains of the Presidential Range being formed 400 million years ago, while other mountains such as those in Franconia Notch and the Ossipee Mountains are newer, having been formed only 200 million years ago in the Jurassic Age.

The predominant granite in the Lakes Region is among the older rocks - it is called Kinsman Granodiorite, and was formed some 400 million years ago in the Devonian Age.  (Reference USGS Mineral Resources On-Line Spatial Data)

Kinsman Granodiorite

I expect if you have spent time anywhere around the Lakes Region you will recognize this.  It forms the imposing granite ledges exposed by glaciers, the rocky shores of the islands, the countless miles of stone walls that meander through the region - and have you ever tried to dig a hole around here?

Geological Map of New Hampshire

There was a detailed map showing the myriad different geologies throughbinout New Hampshire.

The portion of the map around the Lakes Region is shown below, with the labels "Meredith Center" and the start of the word "Wicwas" barely legible in this picture next to the term "Dk2x" which is the label for Kinsman Granodiorite.  You can see the outline of the lake, and contours of the hills built of that granite to the west of the lake.
Portion of Map around Meredith Center

The next exhibit to be shown at the Museum of the White Mountains opens on March 31, and is titled "Trail Clubs: Connecting People with the Mountains."  The museum is at the campus of Plymouth State University and is free to visit.

Several feet above all that snow-covered granite, activity around Lake Wicwas continues to be scarce, but it is increasing as the intensifying sun warms, settles, and firms the snow.  The most recent snowfall is an indicator of the change in temperature and humidity, as it was more dense and contained a higher moisture content that we've had since way back in November.

Warmer temperatures and higher moisture content provokes snow that sticks
There were a few more animals roving the pathways of the area;  this weasel stole a trick from the otter's playbook, taking a belly-slide down the shore of Sheep Island back onto the lake.

As much as I enjoy witnessing all the signs of the animals that rove around Lake Wicwas, I now find myself looking forward to the melting of the blanket of snow on the ground so I can rediscover the rock that lies thereunder with a bit of new knowledge - there is much for me to learn about the ancient rocks that assembled this granite state.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015

The first day of meteorological spring!  Rather than the vernal equinox, March first is the day that meteorologists consider the start of the spring weather season, and hopefully the worst of winter is behind us.  Perhaps we turned the season with the coldest night of the season on February 14, with a low of 20 degrees below zero.  And we went a whole week without snow falling on us, so maybe change is in the air.

February 14 - Coldest Night of the Year

The coldest days of winter always seem to be the most beautiful, with the brilliant blue skies contrasting against pristine white snow.  Dressing appropriately and selecting a journey to take advantage of the sun and wind, I inevitably discover peace and inspiration on a such a day.

My nephew asked me recently why the sky is blue, and though I knew it was due to the atmosphere scattering blue light more than other colors, I had to look up a few of the details.  For example, why is the blue less intense near the horizon?  The reason is that light from that angle has bounced around many more times, both within the atmosphere and off the surface of the earth, so the colors have all been mixed back to together again, restoring more of the other colors in the process. 

Even with no fresh snow for a week there are not many animals moving around in the deep snow cover.  I saw fox tracks repeatedly traveling the same trails that have either been plowed, or packed down by skis or snow shoes.

One fox found something in it travels, as indicated by a small chasm it had excavated in search in of meal.

There was no evidence to indicate its effort was fruitful.

I also found quite a few sets of weasel and mink tracks where they have been circling the shoreline in search of prey;  it's a good tactic, as I watched a red squirrel travel the same route earlier in the week.  Eventually the two will meet up and the chase will be on!

Mink tend to travel along the shoreline.  This mink worked its way along a long stretch of shore;  it knows where all the streams enter into the lake, creating open spots of water.

A Mink on its Daily Circuit around the Lake

This track may be from a mink making its way back from a hunting trip on one of the islands in Lake Wicwas.

Ermine and long tailed weasels stay more in the forest.  This is a spot where a weasel jumped out of tree and left an imprint in the snow as it worked its way through the woods, traveling in the trees wherever possible to circumvent the deep snow.
Likely Imprint from a Least Weasel

While walking along the shore line myself, I noticed the cones of two different types of pine tree still attached to branches hanging over the lake. 
Red Pine


And emerging high above the edge of the lake, the moon had transformed itself in just a week, already half-full in that cold, blue sky.
And did you notice?  It was still light at 6:00 tonight.  Yes, change is in the air.