Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 26, 2016

I saw something this morning I have never seen before on Lake Wicwas.  I was on a morning paddle to investigate a possible loon nesting on the protected Rawson Woods Islands.  Sorry to say, I didn't find a nest, though there was a site that looked like the loons had been up there to assess it for a possible home.  (Thanks for the tip MC, and keep watching!)  But on the way I saw two Great Blue Herons fly out of tree on a small island.  Wondering if there was a rookery there, I looked up in the tree tops, only to find a pure white heron up there!
A White Heron?

Could it be a Great Egret?  It must be:  farther along my trip I saw another one, or the same one now fishing along the shoreline, and it sure looks like an egret to me!
A Great Egret on Lake Wicwas

The closest reported breeding range is the southern coast of Maine, but with the warming temperatures it's not unexpected that animals will be moving their ranges farther north and inland.  I'd be interested to know if anyone has ever seen a Great Egret in the Lakes Region.  Do you think our local herons were up there investigating this strange new visitor to their lake?
Coming in for a landing
Those large wings provide a lot of lift

On the return trip home I heard the loons farther down the lake hollering at each other, and could see the splashing of their chasing each other reflecting in the morning sun.  One loon took flight and landed perhaps 100 yards to the west of me, so I put down my paddle to sit quietly and watch.  It swam slowly right toward me, similarly to last week's event. 

Simply another magical moment on Lake Wicwas.

Another bird that spends its life over water is the Eastern Kingbird, and this week some special caretakers of our lake alerted me to a kingbird nest hanging over the water, and invited me over to see it from their deck. (Thanks S&DL!) 

A family of Eastern Kingbirds living safely over the water
We watched as the parents came and went, bringing dragonflies to feed to the hungry youngsters, who appear to be getting itchy, stretching their necks to get a look over the edge of the nest into the world to which they will soon take flight. 

A dragon fly makes a good size meal for these little fellas

Down the hatch!
I was told these birds nested in the same spot last year, so the decision was made to leave that dead tree right where it is.  Another example of how trees that fall into the lake provide homes for many animals, both above and below the waterline.

This week we took a trip up to Baxter State Park;  I had never climbed Mt. Katahdin and the knife edge, and it had been on my list for a long time.  It is beautiful country up there, different than the white mountains and lakes region in many ways.  And the mountain is truly spectacular.
Pamola summit and the knife edge on Mt. Katahdin

Of course, we were drawn to the many lakes n Baxter State Park, and during a canoe trip on Kidney Pond we saw the two most sought after animals in the park:  moose and loons.

Moose in Baxter State Park
Feasting on Kidney Pond aquatic plants

Kidney Pond is experiencing the same loon issue as Lake Wicwas.  While we were there we witnessed territorial fighting as a pair of loons drove away a single loon. 
A lone loon wing-rowing to escape the resident pair in Kidney Pond

Hearing visitors who travel from around the country (or the world), and even the Baxter State Park rangers talking about these beautiful animals made me realize once again just how fortunate those of us who get to experience Lake Wicwas are.  We see and hear the beauty of the loons almost every day, and on occasion get to experience a moose right here on our lake. 

A Wicwas Moose strolling on Chemung Rd
I never forget the wonderful people who have generously given their time and property to protect and steward the special habitat that surrounds Lake Wicwas and much of the town of Meredith and greater New Hampshire.  Maybe we will add Egrets to its list of inhabitants.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 19, 2016

My hope for a loon nesting on Lake Wicwas this summer is fading slowly away.  On Friday I saw both pairs out fishing on the lake, meaning no one was home sitting on a nest.
Pair #1 - Perhaps our long standing pair

The two pairs were far away from one another so were calm and quiet, but their trajectories looked like they would meet up soon enough.  One pair was much less shy than the other;  this pair swam directly towards me as I sat in a cove on the east side of the lake.  My guess is they wanted to fish in that cove!
The other pair kept their distance, off on the other side of Sheep Island, but were acting like newly weds!
Pair #2 - Are these the newlyweds?
The raised forehead indicates this pair was less comfortable around people

Today the two pairs met up and it was bedlam - wild hollering and loons wing-swimming rapidly across the water chasing each other all over the lake.  Here's my speculation on the loon picture on Wicwas.  (Bear in mind, I'm just making this up.  I'm sure the court of nature would have me dis-barred for presenting purely speculative arguments!)  I think half of the second pair is the lone loon that has been on the lake for the past two years - the one I dubbed "killer" after charging it with the death of last year's chicks (again with no hard evidence).  It decided back in 2014 that it wants Wicwas as its home, and now having matured to breeding age, it found a mate this past winter and brought him or her back to homestead.  At this point either the two pairs will have to learn to share the lake, or one of them will be driven off.  But I expect our long standing pair has no interest in trying to raise another family after last year's experience.  We'll get to ask questions about all this on August 6th at the Lake Wicwas Annual Meeting where John Cooley, Senior Biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee will be the guest speaker.  Mark your calendars!

Tree pollen season is wrapping up with the White Pine being the final culprit, leaving that thick yellow-green coating on everything.  White pine pollen is released from thousands of tiny male cones way up high on the tips of the branches so it drift down to pollinate the female cones over many trees.

All the wind this week stripped some of those branches off the trees so we could get a better look at these pollen factories.
Male cones of the White Pine are the pollen source
As all the pollen gets filtered out of the lake the water is clearing up again nicely with visibility at least 8 feet.

We took a trip up to Franconia Notch and Sugar Hill this week to see the Lupines (well, at least that was the excuse to go to Polly's Pancake Parlor for breakfast).  The Lupines are quite spectacular this year, and we were also treated to a bald eagle soaring high above Pearl Lake.
Lupine at Sugar Hill

Bald Eagle over Pearl Lake

I have yet to hear a report of any fawns in the area, but the adults are around.  I caught this beautiful animal bounding across an open area beside the lake.  Let me know if you see a fawn.

Finally, on this father's day, I want to share this wonderful photo of a father Cardinal feeding its child.  It was taken by a friend who is an excellent photographer - he is inspiring me to improve my skills!
Photo by PC Chao

Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 12, 2016

Summer has just about completely unfolded around the lake;  the greens are approaching their fullest chrolophyl-induced depth.
Crockett's Ledge is back in full summer dress (that's not a speck of dust in the sky - it's a broad-winged hawk)

Of course that doesn't mean everything is summer-like.  The 80 degree temperatures and warm lake of last week have regressed - it was back into the 40's overnight with day-time highs only in the 50's.  We were even treated to a little taste of frozen precipitation one day.
An early summer hailstorm

The fresh green leaves provide sustenance and homes for a wide range of animals, including some that are well adapted to take advantage of what the trees can provide.  I saw these interesting curved spikes in large numbers jutting out of the leaves of a Witch Hazel tree and wondered what they were.
Witch Hazel Horn Galls

I had no idea that they were the homes of tiny aphids (Hormaphis hamamelidis), and are known as horn galls.  I have previously noted Oak Galls which are those round balls one often finds on the forest floor and are caused by Oak Apple Gall Wasp, but I didn't recognize these as the same kind of growth.  Here is a great description of the life process of this aphid by Walter Reeves:

In early spring aphid females hatch from over-wintered eggs and crawl onto the leaf buds.  As the leaves begin to expand the aphids inject chemicals into the leaf tissue which causes a hollow, cone-shaped gall to form.  Aphids live inside the gall, protected from predators and the elements, until they mature.  Three generations occur in a season but only the third includes both male and female aphids. In late summer the final generation lays eggs on the branches of the witchhazel plant.  The following spring the cycle begins again.  [Ref: The Georgia Gardener,]

The spring flowers are fading fast;  I saw one lone, faded Lady's Slipper up on the ridge west of the lake, its life extended by a bit higher altitude and the week's cool weather.  But the early summer flowers are happy to take their place in nature's gallery.
Lupine beside the lake

Tiger Swallow Tail on a Rhododendron Blossom

Large Blue Flags blooming in wetlands
Oxeye Daisy in a garden

Although the forest canopy is full, allowing little penetrating light, there was one beam of sunshine finding its way through, perfectly illuminating this spider web right beside the trail.
Spider web with its resident waiting right in the center for a visitor

The owner was kind enough to build beside the trail rather than right across it so the web didn't end up on my face!

One final note:  the wood ducks we were watching earlier in the season (see March 27 post) are now proud parents of a very large family of chicks!  I have seen the brood of tiny fluff balls swimming across the lake twice now, but never close enough for a decent picture, and I have so far resisted the urge to go out and chase them down! 
Wood Duck Brood

It has been difficult to count them, but I think there are 8 to 10 chicks, which is good, because they look like easy targets for that big snapper I saw last week - or a large mouth bass

The loons are not doing as well with their family life.  There are still two pairs on the lake and they are not getting along well, watching each other by day and having loud disagreements over who owns this lake at night.  Neither pair appears to be comfortable enough to try to nest.  We do have confirmation now that one of the loons is the banded female that has been on Lake Wicwas for several years.  The one positive aspect of territorial fights is that it indicates the overall population of loons is growing in the area.  I'll keep you posted on any progress towards homesteading.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

June 5, 2016

It's the time of year for turtle nesting around the lakes in New Hampshire, and it seems to be a good year based on the many reports from around the state of turtles seen on roadsides and in nesting locations.
A mother Painted Turtle laying her eggs

Turtles lay their eggs in sandy or gravelly soil within a few hundred feet of water, often along road sides where a soft shoulder makes for good nesting conditions;  that's why they are often observed on roads, and also why cars are the largest threat to adult turtles.  Around Lake Wicwas I've seen several mothers laying her eggs, and quite a few more nesting sites, identified by 4 to 6 inch round, shallow holes in the ground.
A snapping turtle on the prowl

A painted turtle looking for some soft earth

Although they are laying their eggs now, they may have mated several weeks ago, storing sperm until it's needed, sometimes for multiple years.  And like the largemouth bass seen last week, they might have mated with multiple males so a single clutch of eggs (which averages four or five in New Hampshire) may have several fathers.  When the eggs hatch two or three months from now the young turtles may proceed to the lake, or they may overwinter in the nest and make the trip in the spring.  This I just learned after seeing a very young turtle in the water two weeks ago. 
A baby painted turtle which must be from last year's nesting

I was surprised to see one so early, but the ability to overwinter in the nest explained it.  [Ref:  New Hampshire Nature Notes, Hilbert Siegler, Equity Publishing 1962]

The pictures above were of small turtles, only 6 to 8 inches long (shell length), but yes, we do have much larger turtles as well.  I saw one when I was kayaking last week, and the size of it, just a few inches under my boat was unsettling.  Some fellow lake watchers had a great example of a large female walking right across their patio in search of a nesting site.
A big snapper (photograph courtesy of Dave Thorpe)

Keep away from these gals!  (And ones this big are all moms.)  They can be very aggressive and they have extremely powerful jaws that can do real damage to a hand, a foot, even an arm!

I was doing some work on an LRCT conservation property in Gilford this week (in Smart Woods, an interesting parcel with a nice hiking trail) and saw my first ever Fisher Kit - maybe only a couple of weeks old.
A young fisher cat
It was on the forest floor but when it heard me it climbed up a tree, and it was definitely not comfortable climbing yet.  It was quite reluctant and nervous, not like an adult that would have scooted high up in an instant!
How high do I have to go?

I didn't see mother fisher, but I'll bet she was watching!

I took an early morning Lake Host shift doing boat inspections at the Wicwas boat ramp this weekend;  I almost always see something interesting while I'm on duty, being situated right between the lake and the large wetlands in the Chemung State Forest.  This time I heard the loud drumming of a pileated woodpecker and it took no time at all to locate it at the top of large pine.
Pileated Woodpecker marking its territory

It probably wasn't looking for food in that dead, hard, resonant tree, but was just letting everyone know it was there and this is its swamp.  After a few sessions of asserting its territory I watched it fly off, displaying its gorgeous white wings.
Pileated woodpeckers are stunning in flight with their 2 and a half foot wingspan

Just the previous day we had seen a pileated - perhaps the same bird being within a mile radius - that was finding some food.  Linda heard the slow thunk, thunk of its large beak working on a dead tree stump.

He (the red mustache and fully-red crown including the forehead indicate it's a male) would tear out a few large chunks of the soft wood, then reach in to collect its bounty.

I'll get you!
Where's OSHA?    No safety glasses for this guy, just a hazard of the job
 Then he would stop to listen for more prey to direct his next attack.

Who's next?
His strong claws were secured in crevasses in the bark to support his vigorous attack.
Strong feet holding tight

With the regrowth of New Hampshire's forests, pileateds seem to be growing in population, but it's still important to leave dead trees since they are their primary source of food. 

What a cool bird, these, the largest of our woodpeckers.