Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 31, 2016

It's hard to believe January is over when it doesn't feel like winter has even started.  Already the days are noticeably longer, and the sun higher in the sky.  The chickadees are even out singing their spring "dee-dee" song.  It has been so warm that the larger lakes are still not completely frozen over, and some loons have lingered here past the point when they lose their flight feathers.  Loons are unlike most birds which lose and replace their flight feathers continuously, one or two or a time - think about how often we see a hawk soaring with a gap in its wings.  But loons are such heavy birds that they can barely fly with all their feathers intact!  That's why they need such a long stretch of water to take off;  if they lost even one feather they would have difficutly flying.  So instead, they molt all their flight feathers at once, leaving them vulnerable for a few weeks with diving their only mode of escape.  They are supposed to do this after they leave the lakes and are on the open ocean, far away from most predators. 

Scientists don't know if the warm weather is causing some loons to stick around, but at any rate, five animals have been rescued by the Loon Preservation Committee on Lake Sunapee, four of which have already been released on the ocean (the fifth is being treated for lead poisoning).  You can read the LPC press release about the rescue by clicking here.  If you become aware of any loons still on New Hampshire lakes during this warm year, contact the Loon Preservation Committee immediately.  In addition to delaying the animal's schedules, the warm winter has also delayed the Meredith Fishing Derby by two weeks, and the Pond Hockey Classic has been relocated to Lake Waukewan.

On one of those warm winter days this week we took a trip over to Prescott Farm, a beautiful environmental education center managed in partnership with the NH Audobon Society, and located in the center of the Lakes Region just a mile from Weirs Beach.
Prescott Farm on White Oak Road near Weir's Beach

It is a wonderful example of early New Hampshire farms, originally encompassing 700 acres, set high on a hill with views of the Belknap Mountains.

The Belknap mountains frame the farm to the south
The property includes well maintained trails through forest, fields, wetlands, and a working sugarbush;  we hiked the Pond Loop and Sugar Trails, seeing lots of animal signs along the way.  At one point we noticed a spot of fresh blood on the trail.
Something was recently injured here

Looking further we saw a porcupine trail and more spots of blood along the trail up to the ledge where it undoubtedly has a den, and down the trail in the other direction as well.  We followed the trail back to see what we could learn.  It wasn't far - porcupines don't cover a lot of territory - before we found the origin of the event.

The porcupine had been dining on the tender bark of these small beech trees.

These trees will likely die, the reason orchard farmers don't appreciate porcupine

When somehow it became injured up on a tree.

Now it wasn't clear just how this guy got injured.  Did it cut itself chewing on something sharp?  Did it fall on a pointed branch?  (Supposedly it's not uncommon for a porcupine to fall out of a tree.)  At any rate, it appears it cut itself up on this beech tree and decided to head back to its den to recover.  At least a porcupine doesn't have to worry too much about a predator following a blood trail - about the only animal willing to take on a porcupine is a fisher, and even that would have to be pretty hungry.

Farther along the hike we came upon the sugar house and some of the tubing ready to collect this winter's harvest.
Sugar Shack at Prescott Farm
Plastic tubing set out to let gravity direct the sap to a central collector

The farm holds educational events in sugaring season.  I wonder what kind of product this year's warm winter and thin snow pack will deliver....

Back at Lake Wicwas we continue to have lots of rodent visitors (the porcupine is a rodent as well, one of the largest).  The squirrels are having fun with their corn cob feeder.

And we've had a little vole scurring around taking advantage of the dropped seeds and corn kernels.

It took a little research to determine what this is, but the short tail, small ears, rounded snout, and daytime excursions distinguish it as a vole rather than a mouse.

It has a multitude of paths running around under the snow, so it pops up suddenly out of the snow in random places with no warning.

It then dashes under a feeder, grabs a morsel, then dives back under cover.

Supervole!  Rescuing that sunflower seed!
So far it has avoided the neighborhood barred owl as well as all the other creatures out hunting for a meal! 

I'll bet the owls had good hunting this week with the bright full moon - I hope you saw it!
The Full Wolf Moon sets over a stand of white pine

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