Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 30, 2016

We returned from our trip last night, and I was pleased to find some trees still parading their colors in the Lakes Region.  All along the thousand mile drive through the Appalachian mountains, over hills and through valleys, watching the trees vary from full green leaves to bare branches and everything in between, I wondered what we would find back in New Hampshire.  Even on this dreary Sunday there was enough color to brighten the day. 
Oak, beech, and blueberry dominate the colors in late October

The bright reds and yellows of the maples are mostly gone, laying on the ground in various stages of decline;  now is the time for the oaks, the beech, and the aspen to take center stage.
Beech trees glow in the lower levels of the forest

Aspen leaves preparing to make next summers fertilizer

The trees weren't alone in making changes while we were away.  The beaver were also busy constructing large piles of debris along the shore of the lake. 
Multiple piles of beaver debris along the shoreline

These piles are large enough that I wonder if someone is staking out this territory for a new lodge.  After a year or two in their parents dwelling, the young are banished from the lodge and must find a home for themselves. 

Last week I mentioned hickory trees we saw in Tennessee.  On our last few days in North Carolina we saw another interesting tree that I haven't seen in New England, though it it does grow in this region:  the Mountain Ash. They had large bunches of beautiful red berries that stood out against the bare branches and blue sky.
Mountain Ash in the Smoky Mountains

In the southern Appalachian mountains they grow only above 5000' elevation, sometime alone among the spruce as above, sometimes in large homogeneous stands.

A stand of Mountain Ash above 5000' on Mt. Mitchell, North Carlolina
As pretty as they are, I still think the red maples of New England are the most stunning of the eastern trees
It's time to enjoy the last vestiges of autumn;  the drab gray of November will be here soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23, 2016

I was away from New Hampshire this week, so I don't have any news to post from the lake, but as is so often the case wherever I go, I found myself once again on the water and in the mountains.  This week I was in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  The terrain, wildlife and plants of the southern Appalachians have many similarities to the northern end of the range in New Hampshire in spite of their 1000 mile separation.  Many of the animals and trees are the same - I saw woodpeckers, heron, water snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, one black bear, and many other species we enjoy in New Hampshire.
Great Blue Heron on the Clinch River

Water Snake beside the Little River in Townsend Tennessee

We also saw one magnificent creature we don't see in New Hampshire:
Elk in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The young bucks were licking their chops over the females, and then showing off their strength while the females feigned interest.

Practicing their fighting for when they're ready to take on the head buck
The largest bucks just ignored the young 'uns, knowing they would be no problem when mating time arrives.  The closest animal to the Elk in our region would be the moose, as elk have been extirpated from New England for many years, despite an attempt to reintroduce them to Maine in the recent past. 

Similar trees in the southern Appalachians include oaks and maples, and they are not that far behind the northeast in turning color.
Foliage is near peak in the Smokies

One species we don't have in New Hampshire is the hickory tree, and on one of our hikes we found many hickory nuts on the ground, providing food for deer, bears, and many other animals.
Peanut Hickory nut

There are far fewer coniferous trees here, so the hills tend to be more uniform in color, even though the colors are more muted than in New England.

Newfound Gap Road
The picture above was taken at an elevation of about 4300 feet which shows another significant difference - look at the size of the trees in the foreground.  In New England the harsher environment keeps the height of trees at this altitude to 15 to 20 feet at most, and in may cases less than four feet.

Hiking on the Smoky Mountains, one sees many sights that could be found right in New Hampshire including beautifully clear mountain streams.
Stream crossing on the trail up to the Chimney Tops

We also get cool foggy mornings  in New England, but not quite like the appearance that gives these Smoky Mountains their trademark name.
Morning at Cades Cove, Tennessee

Sunday, October 16, 2016

October 16, 2016 - Mushrooms

Mushrooms.  Or more accurately, fungi.  This is subject one can spend a career, even a lifetime studying.  And for mushroom lovers, at least those who forage and consume wild mushrooms, it's time well spent as there are mushrooms that really will kill you, and they are not always easy to identify.  Not being someone who savors this particular delicacy, I have not invested much time learning about them, but this summer on a guided walk on the Fogg Hill conservation area, I did learn a few lessons.  The most significant point being that the visible "mushroom" is actually the fruit of a much larger organism.

A fungus consist of an extensive underground network of threadlike strands called mycelium that grows slowly and may live for hundreds of years [REF:  Encylopedia Brittanica].  Now here's the really interesting part:  almost all plants rely on fungi for their survival;  without mushrooms there would be no trees and maybe no plants [REF:  mycologue publications] (this reference has a very short and concise description of this symbiotic relationship).  The fungus grow around and into the roots of plants, bringing nutrients to them, and in return, the trees provide the fungus with sugars that it produces via photosynthesis.  This explains why a mushroom can materialize and grow so large in just a few hours - it has stored tremendous energy in its vast underground system, and sends it to the fruit when triggered.

Even though this was a very dry summer, I saw many mushrooms growing all around Lake Wicwas.  The lightest mist or quick thundershower would trigger various fungi to send out their fruit, taking advantage of what little moisture the atmosphere would give it.  Here are just a few of the various fungi I found around the lake this summer.  I don't know what kind they all are, but the variety of size, shape, color and location is testament to its being everywhere, helping every plant thrive.

Big and yellow - this one's 6 inches across

Tiny and orange - only half an inch tall

Stuck right in a wound on a living tree
And forming a roof for a visitor
On a dead birch on the ground
Indian Pipe

Nature recycling - thousands decomposing a tree
A bid one on the Red Trail in Hamlin
I mean, really big.  This could feed a family!
Just poking up - it wasn't here yesterday
They'll take up residence just about anywhere

Maybe someday I'll come to find mushrooms tasty enough to invest the time to learn what's what.  Until then, I'll just appreciate them for their beauty, and for their essential role in life on earth!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

Fall color is building quickly around the Lakes Region but is not quite at peak yet as seen in the hills around Crockett's Ledge west of Lake Wicwas on this foggy morning.

Just a bit farther to the north the colors are peaking just in time for the Columbus' Day weekend visitors.  I took a hike on the Mount Welch-Dickey Loop on Friday and the color were outstanding. 

The Tripyramids from the Mount Welch ledges

So much for the predictions of poor color due to the lack of rainfall.  New Hampshire trees, like the animals and people, are resilient!

Even though many of the trees around the lake are still green, bright yellow and red maples are plentiful - especially along the shore lines - and the geese are standing up to get a good look.
Maple trees along the northeast shore of Lake Wicwas

Along Chemung Road near the boat ramp
And in Marion Cove

On my paddle I saw a small group of geese come soaring over head - probably from Oakland Cemetery - on their approach to a water landing on the lake.
Landing gear down

Final approach


The migratory birds have started making their way south, stopping in New Hampshire to rest for a day or two.
Male Wood duck

Black ducks, or maybe juvenile mallards?

It can be startling to be awoken half an hour before sunrise by the sound of shotguns taking aim at these handsome creatures, although Canada Geese are in season now, and we certainly can use a culling of the goose population.

On my way back from doing trail work in the Page Pond conservation area I saw this flock of gobblers in someone's yard.
Turkeys near Page Pond

Turkey season starts tomorrow (archery has been in progress since September 15).

Morning is usually the best time to see our wildlife;  if you're willing to rise early, cool misty mornings provide some of the best opportunities to witness the beauty that autumn in New Hampshire has to offer.
Just be sure to wear your own orange colors when walking in the woods!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2, 2016

The young deer I saw last week with its juvenile spots fading away isn't the only animal around the lake that is showing signs of change.  The loons are starting to molt, shedding their summer feathers and in the process losing their distinctive, sharp black and white summer attire.  Their heads seem to be the first to go, giving them a wise, gray-beard look.
Loons are starting to molt

By the time they head out to the Atlantic Ocean for the winter they will be drab gray all over - no need to impress the opposite sex if it's not mating season! 

I saw our resident pair out in the very middle of the lake grooming themselves;  it was a calm day and the lake was speckled with small feathers drifting gracefully along.  
The fine inner down that keeps them warm in cold waters was evident, and some of them left no doubt that they came from a loon.

 At one point I got a look at a foot in the air which showed two bands on it, one white and one silver. 

I thought it was not our resident pair, knowing the female has a green and a red-and-white band.  But John Cooley from the Loon Preservation Committee informed me that our loon has both legs banded, and this is in fact our female.  I had never seen her right leg before, but now we know:  green over red and white stripe on her left leg, and white over silver on her right.

There were a few other animals out on the lake enjoying the calm, warm summer day, including Canada Geese and this Painted Turtle relaxing on a rock in a sunny spot.
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)

Did you notice its shy friend poking its nose up from behind the rock?

The flora is much more flamboyant in displaying their autumnal changes than the animals - no need for them to be discreet.  Winterberry has matured into its bright red color which really stands out and will last well into winter - unless the birds eat them all first.
Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)

The fruit on the Mapleleaf Viburnum is not so bright, but just as distinctive.
Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)

This fruit, like the winterberry, is not considered edible, but is a food source for many birds as well as mammals. 

The foliage around the Lakes Region is still in the early stages of their change as seen from this view from the White Mountain Ledge in the Hamlin Conservation Area.
Even to the north there is little color in the trees

But many of the loners are already rebelling against summer, proclaiming their autumnal independence from the laws of photosynthesis.
A lone maple makes a rebellious statement in the Chemung Forest with Ladd Mountain watching from afar

  Change is everywhere around Lake Wicwas.