Sunday, December 6, 2015

December 6, 2015

All of New England continues to enjoy above average temperatures (it hit 50F in Meredith today) but that doesn't mean we haven't had a cold night here and there.  On one chilly morning Jack Frost visited the house, this time blazing his creative flourish on the front windows of the sun room.

There is a narrow set of conditions that permits the formation of these ornate creations.  These crystals formed only on the lake-side windows on the outside of the glass;  the other two sides of the same un-heated room did not have a touch of frost on them.  The humidity must be high enough, and the temperature cold enough for water vapor in the air to freeze directly on the glass, without condensing into water first.  In this case the moisture drifted up from the still-unfrozen lake and was deposited on the cold glass facing the shore.

The particulars of the patterns are not completely understood, but they are guided by imperfections and impurities on the glass:  bits of dirt, finger prints, cleaning residue, scratches in the glass - they all provide discontinuities for crystal nucleation and then subsequent growth. 

I saw a lot more wildlife activity around the lake this week;  perhaps the animals are out enjoying the nice December weather as well.  One morning I saw a mink hopping along the shore line looking for lunch, and later in the day there was an otter out playing in the lake.  On two separate days I saw huge eagles flying overhead - not Bald Eagles, but probably Goldens on their way to the central Appalachian mountains for the winter.  Golden eagles have not bred in New Hampshire for many years, but do pass through on their way to and from their breeding grounds in Labrador and Quebec.  You can read more about Golden Eagles in New Hampshire in this post by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

All of these sightings were too fleeting to catch a picture, but I did get a good look at another fabulous bird just yesterday.  I was returning from doing some trail maintenance when a beautiful Barred Owl flew right over me and perched on a branch some 30 yards into the woods. Because I was working I only had a small camera in my pocket, but was able to get a clear enough shot to be able to identify it. 
Barred Owl

I stood and watched for a long time, as it swiveled its head back and forth, either looking for food or just trying to determine if I was a threat. 

This bird is almost 2 feet tall and has a wing span over three and half feet.  It's amazing to see such a large bird fly in complete silence.  The only time it make a sound was when a wing tip brushed against a branch as it navigated deftly through the trees - remarkable for such a large bird in a dense forest. 

The barred owl is a friend to farmers, as its diet is predominantly small and medium sized rodents:  mice, moles, chipmunks and squirrels, as well as larger mammals including rabbits, weasels, and even mink.  It will take a bird as well if it has the chance.  Think how many rodents this skilled hunter needs to catch in week to maintain its weight.

I'm a little torn between enjoying the nice weather, and wanting to get out on the skis, snowshoes, and ice skates.  But I know winter will get here eventually, so I've decided I'll be happy to take the warm weather as long as mother nature and el nino will send it our way.
A rare serene day in December

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