Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017 - Community Forest

This week I took a visit to Meredith's Community Forest, one of four properties for which the Meredith Conservation Commission publishes trail maps (see them all here). 

The  area has a wide variety of habitat including beaver ponds, streams, rocky outcroppings and stone walls;  the trails are well marked - but do pick up a trail map, as there are a lot of trails and intersections.
Community Forest trails are well marked
The stream below the waterfall
The waterfall is shown on the map though there isn't much water falling at the moment

One of several beaver ponds on the property

A stone wall leads right up to this granite outcropping

Many of the streams were open but there are bridges over most of them so crossings are not a problem.
Warm weather and moving water means open streams - but bridges facilitate crossings

I'm always surprised at how much wildlife is present here, being so close to the village, but it shows that even a medium-size conserved area of 186 acres will support a wide range of life.  I saw signs of many of the mammals present in New Hampshire, including some I rarely see, such as rabbit (or hare).
Rabbit tracks

Near the beaver dam animals had taken advantage of the openings to access water, including this mink which slid down the icy bank just below the dam.
Several animals visited this watering hole below the beaver dam

It's good to know that I'm not the only one that slips on the ice.  Look how this fox slid all over the crusty surface!
Even four wheel drive and spikes can't prevent skids
The woodpeckers were busy on this stand of hemlocks.

In one wound we can see the tracks the insects made in the outer layer of wood just under the bark.
Insect tracks revealed by woodpeckers in search of the culprits

I don't know what beetle does this, but the woodpeckers are doing their part to get rid of them.

I'll close with a couple of pictures back at Lake Wicwas which show the contrasting scenes that can appear on a winter day.  First, looking south.
South towards Ladd Mountain

And then, looking north.
Northwest, towards the Dolloff Brook inlet

To borrow a phrase from John Denver, sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017

This was a week for winter adventure as New England gave us the opportunity to enjoy just about every possible outdoor winter activity.  Early in the week the ice brought lots of skaters onto the lake, including some creative types taking advantage of smooth ice and warm winds.

Solid ice also means winter fishing, and there were lots of anglers out trying their luck.
Ice fishing on Lake Wicwas

This group had caught several perch and a couple of good size bass.

Then came the snow, which not only brought out the skiers, but also draped the lake in winter splendor again.

Mercier Rd after a storm

The morning of the snowfall I skied around the lake, and once again was flummoxed by what I saw out there.  Out in the middle, well, maybe 30 yards from shore, as I skied along, a spot on the snow caught my eye.  A thought flashed through my mind, and I had to go back to look again.  Sure enough:
I don't make this stuff up.

There was a spider crawling along the surface of the new snow.  I don't even know where to begin to think this guy came from.

The day after the snow fell I took a long ski in a conservation area I hadn't visited before, Chapman Sanctuary in Sandwich.  Nestled at the base of Mt. Israel and Sandwich Mountain, the sanctuary includes 10 miles of trails through woods, fields, and along old logging roads. 

Sandwich Mountain from Chapman Sanctuary
They do groom the trails, though they haven't needed to yet this year, and I got to break some 12 km of fresh tracks. 
First tracks the whole day

If you go there to ski, just be aware there are frequent stream crossings, all of which were open on this warm winter day. 

One trail leads down to, and along, the Cold River.
The aptly named Cold River

The caretakers do much to protect and encourage wildlife on the property - I will visit again in the summer to walk the trails and look for birds and other wildlife. 

Earlier in the week I took a hike up Mt. Roberts in the Ossipee Mountains on a gorgeous, sunny and calm day.
A colbalt blue sky above the ridge on Mount Roberts

This summit rewards hikers with views of the White Mountains, including Mount Washington.
A snow-capped Mt. Washington

The moose must also appreciate the view, as I found their calling cards right at the very summit.
Moose droppings on the summit
Also scat of fisher a ways down the trail.
Fisher scat in the middle of the trail at about 2500' elevation

Back in Meredith, activity is picking up on the Big Lake as the ice works it way across Meredith Bay.
This is living a little too close to the edge for me

They are starting to prepare for the Pond Hockey Classic on Feb 3rd-5th, clearing the ice for the rinks.
Removing the snow for the Pond Hockey tournament

I hope the warm weather forecast for the coming week doesn't affect the events on Winnipesaukee;  open spots have starting forming around the edges of Lake Wicwas.

Holes in the ice shouldn't be this large in January

The warm weather might not be great for future winter activities, but it was nice to see people taking advantage of it at the moment.  And it was wasn't just people - here a chick-a-dee was enjoying the good weather and the feeder, having its own winter adventures this week.
A chick-a-dee escapes with a sunflower seed

I'm hoping old man winter returns with enough force to keep our winter activities going for at least one more month!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 14, 2017 - Coyote

The New England roller-coaster continues:  Zero degrees one day, 45 degrees and raining the next, then back to single digits again.  It hasn't done much for the skiing, but the lake did freeze up well enough to provide some decent skating conditions.  It's pretty good for mid-winter:  some really smooth areas interconnected with rougher patches that are easily navigated.  

There have been good hiking conditions when the roller coaster climbs up into the 40s and the snow softens up.  We had a gorgeous spring-like hike up to the White Mountain Ledge on one of those warm sunny days, and were treated to nice views of the whites.
Hiking up to the White Mountain Ledge

A snow-capped Lafayette on the left, Tecumseh and Osceola on the right

When the 'coaster hit a low point on one of the coldest mornings after a light dusting of snow fell, I went for a walk on the lake to see who's been out on the ice.  I've heard lots of night time coyote howling this year, and have seen tracks all over the lake.
A great example of a coyote side-trot in the light snow

I sometimes question whether I'm looking at fox or coyote tracks, but when the two animals cross paths it gives a definite reminder of how small fox prints are compared to those of a coyote.
Coyote from left to right, fox top to bottom

There was something out on the lake that attracted a lot of attention;  maybe that was the cause of all the howling one night.

Looking around, all I found were a few left over bones.

I can't tell what they came from - maybe a turkey?

Coyotes are true survivors, having won the war that humans have waged on them for over a hundred years, adapting along the way some unique survival techniques.  New Hampshire Public Radio's "Exchange" show produced a great program on their story ("The Wolf in Our Backyards") from Native American time to today;  you can listen to it here.
Coyote with a warm fur coat on Wicwas in January 2012
This week their tracks led me to one of the many beaver lodges on the lake.

This coyote had climbed right up on top and sniffed around, following the scent coming from the chimney in the top.
Paw prints at the top of the lodge

I always like thinking about the beavers down there in winter, safe from predators and enjoying a nice temperature-controlled environment - if you call 32 to 39 degrees "nice".

The warm, moist air molecules coming up through the chimney in the top of the lodge crystallize into brilliant miniature ice sculptures in near-zero temperatures.

Curious about other lodges, I took a look at a few more (there are at least nine active or recently-active lodges in Lake Wicwas) as I wandered my way around the lake, including checking on the largest lodge on the lake which is down toward the dam.

It's clearly still active, as indicated by all the fresh branches sticking up out of the ice.

This is their winter food source, having been carefully stored under the water during the fall for later consumption.

I also found a set of bobcat tracks that, like the coyote, went right up on top of the lodge.  The thin snow on the ice left perfect impressions.
A bobcat print no larger than a thumb in a warm mitten

Just like the twists and turns in an animal track, one never knows what surprises the roller coaster will bring us next.  Maybe a frozen tundra, maybe a foot of snow, maybe a sea of mush.  Whatever it brings, I know it will be worth the ride.
Lake Wicwas before the latest freeze

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 8, 2017 - The past year in review

I was going to do a recap of 2016 last week, but the bobcats came along and kind of stole the show.  So here it is, one week late:  my favorite moments from 2016.

The winter of 2016 started slowly and never really got into gear.  We had the latest ice-in date I've seen as well as the shortest period of ice coverage.  But there was enough time for fishing, skating, and trekking on the lake to enjoy the winter season.

 One of my favorite visitors I only saw in winter, and only at night:  Flying Squirrels.

The red and gray squirrels were of course reliable daytime entertainment.

Spring migration always brings lots of commuters to the Lakes Region, including this Hooded Merganser in March.

No matter how mild the winter may have been, signs of spring are always welcome.

Service Berry (Shadbush)

I didn't see any fawns in 2016, but I saw their parents, and other people did see fawns around the lake.

May brings peak season for wildflowers in New Hampshire - always a high point of the year.
Lady's Slipper

The summer birds arrived as soon as the insects emerged.  This Baltimore Oriole was working hard to rid the white pines of insects.

And speaking of insects, does anything dare to eat the Pine Sawyer Beetle?
If you have too many yellow jackets around next summer, see if you can get a Black and Yellow Garden Spider to rent some space at your house.

The Pileated Woodpeckers also did their part in insect control;  this one gave a great show last summer.

This bird I had never seen before on a New Hampshire lake:  A Great Egret.

A similar bird, equally majestic, is a common sight on New Hampshire's lakes.
Great Blue Heron

And at the other end of the flying spectrum:

We had many loons on Lake Wicwas this summer, maybe too many - for the first time in quite a few years we did not have a nesting on the lake as competing pairs kept each other from settling down to home building.

Come fall, this was all they left on the lake for us.

As autumn matured the late bloomers attracted our eyes as well as the pollen collectors

I had a fun playing hide and seek with a chipmunk one fall morning.

One of the best moments this year was watching a mink hunting along the shoreline.

And of course, to cap the year off, the arrival of the bobcats.

It was a great year to watch the diversity of nature that a healthy ecosystem will support.  It's encouraging to know that every year more of the Lakes Region is added to the list of protected habitat.