Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 25, 2017 - Snowshoe Tour

Today the Lake Wicwas Association held its first ever Guided Snowshoe Tour, in the Hamlin/Eames Conservation Area.  A hardy group started out in what looked like dreary conditions, but as soon as we departed from the trailhead the sky cleared and the sun shone through, giving us a beautiful warm day to tour the beaver ponds. 
Morning sun burning off the fog

We hiked the Four Ponds Loop, including a stop at the old Stanton cellar hole, and a couple of spur trails to beaver ponds.
The result of warm moist air encroaching on the cold snow pack of a beaver pond

The snow was soft but firm enough underfoot for good traveling.  We stopped at the bridge on the Blue Link to the Yellow Trail to observe the back side of the beaver dam.
Bridge below the beaver pond
We also went onto the pond to see the front side of the dam, as well as the beaver lodge.
On the beaver pond
The lodge is the white mound on the left, the dam the longer, lower mound in the shadows on the right

We then continued on to complete the Four Ponds Loop.  Along the way we saw tracks of squirrel, mink, fox, porcupine, and even fisher! 
Fisher Tracks

We found that stream crossings are good places to look for tracks, as animals frequent the open water to drink.  Someone noted the lack of deer prints - they tend to not travel very far when the snow is deep.  Even with all the warm weather this week there is still a deep snow pack in the forest.
Only the flowing streams have melted through the heavy snow pack

We also saw signs of porcupine dining in the hemlock trees, the snow below littered with dropped hemlock branches, and talked about how porcupine have very little fear of other animals with the exception of the fisher.  The brave, strong, quick fisher is one of the very few animals that will take on a porcupine.  A desperate bobcat or coyote might try but not have good time of it.  And then of course, a domestic dog that has lost enough of its original wolf DNA to have forgotten to avoid this prickly attraction.

All told, we toured 1.9 miles of this winter wonderland.  Here is a map of the route we walked.

By the time we returned to the parking lot, tired, yet invigorated, the sun had melted enough snow that there was noticeably more water running underneath the bridge at the trailhead.  We were tired, but a great time was had by all!  Many thanks to everyone who participated and provided their contribution to our knowledge about this area and its wildlife.  Shall we do it again?
The gallant LWA Snowshoe Team

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 19, 2017 - The Bobcat Returns

More snow this week - it's beautiful around the lake now, and definitely winter!
Got Snow?

After seeing the bobcat return last week I decided to go out and follow its tracks to see what I could learn about their life in the wild.  The first thing I discovered is that they don't follow the direct, straight line path that a fox does.  He (I'll call it a "he" for reasons to be explained in a minute) tended to wander on a more twisty-turny path than the fox.  It walked to and around lots of trees, under low hanging branches, in general, making my life difficult!  At one point the trail ended at a small hemlock tree with no indication of where he went next.
A dead-end trail

I searched for exiting tracks, even checking neighboring trees to see if he jumped over to another tree, but nothing.  Finally I realized I hadn't noticed that the trail I was following was actually a two-way trail.  He had turned around at the hemlock and walked back using the exact same footprints, the only clue being foot drag marks on both sides of each print.  So I went back to the tree to see why he went there, and found the answer.  Look at the picture - he had a nice blind to hide behind with a peep hole out to a clearing where squirrels travel frequently.  He probably laid there for a while, looking to see if this would be his lucky spot that day.

Retracing the trail I found the fork where he left his double track and I picked one of them to follow.  Perhaps a third of mile along I came across another spot where he had set up shop to work on lunch.
Hiding atop a small bluff (that's my snowshoe print on the far left)

Here there was a round bed melted in the snow right at the top of a ledge, where once again, he had a well-hidden spot with a wide view.  But again, no indication he found anything to go after.  Continuing along I came across the sign that led me to believe this was a male bobcat.
Marking his territory

Although hard to see, it's the tell tale sign of a male marking territory:  a sprinkle of urine in the snow on a hemlock branch.

Becoming more acquainted with his habits, when his trail approached this turn-around I knew what I was looking at.
A blind for watching wildlife that a duck-hunter would be proud of

All told I followed his trail for about a mile, learning where he travels and how he hunts for food.  The literature on bobcats state that rather than stalking prey they tend to hang out in hiding spots, waiting for their food to walk by and then pounce, and my observations are consistent with this.  But not surprisingly, I have evidence they use whatever method suits the moment.

The very next day, the cat came back.  (Hmmm, maybe there's a song in there....)  He was moving slowly this time, creeping carefully along towards the bird feeders where a couple of red squirrels were feeding on the ground.  He crept slowly and carefully.

He slunk to the base of tree where a squirrel had disappeared.

Then pounced!

He dug deep into the snow for over a minute, but those squirrels have great tunnels, and it was long gone out to another entrance - we saw it scampering up a tree right above the cat.  The bobcat did pop his head up a couple times to look around.

I don't know if he didn't see the squirrel - hard to imagine - or whether he knew he couldn't catch a red squirrel by the time it was up in the dense branches of pine and hemlock trees.  So he sat in the hole he had dug, waiting to see if anyone else dared to come by.
Here he is, in yet another hiding spot

I can picture him sitting like this in each of the spots I found on my earlier hike.

I was a little surprised to see birds still flying to the feeders with a cat in the yard - you can see one approaching the feeder in an earlier picture - but neither bird nor cat seemed to pay any attention to each other. 

After a few minutes he went on his way along the lake following the shoreline.  Another effort that went unrewarded.  It's a good thing they have nothing to do all day but hunt.

I enjoyed my time learning about these secretive creatures first hand.  Books are great, but there's nothing like experiencing animals in their natural habitat.  It's just another reminder of the importance of protecting special places.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017

The February full moon is known as the Snow Moon, and this month it is being true to its name.  We seem to have escaped the ugly pattern of freezing rain after every storm, and have been getting storms with light, dry snow, ending with cold and windy weather. 
The Snow Moon rises over Lake Wicwas

One of the perks of a good winter is being able to explore areas that are simply out-of-bounds in the summer.  You may recall that the 2016 Lake Wicwas Paddle Regatta brought us to the beaver dam on Blake Brook, one of the two main tributaries that replenish Lake Wicwas. 
Blake Brook and the beaver dam in a slightly warmer season

Well, the cold temperatures have frozen Blake Brook sufficiently to brave traveling up the brook to the beaver dam, though I still kept away from the higher-current areas as water does flow out from the dam all winter.  But once at the dam I was able to climb up over the dam and explore the beaver pond impounded behind it, and found that I wasn't the only one enjoying the fresh snow:  there were otter tracks running all over the pond.
River Otter tracks on the Blake Brook beaver dam

The otters had run up and down the pathways between the rushes, bounding a step or two, then sliding along on their bellies.

These have to be the most playful, fun-loving creatures on the lake.  Did you happen to see the Smithsonian article about the prehistoric ancestors of our river otters?  They weren't quite as cute as our current version.

The squirrels also appear to be playing in the snow, but in reality they are searching diligently for food buried under the latest covering of snow.

Even though they tunnel under the snow in search of sustenance, they come up often to look out for danger.  And they better, as the bobcat was back again yesterday, lurking along beside the house, ready to ambush the squirrels at the bird feeder.  But this time it got spooked it before it nabbed its breakfast - and before I got a picture.

Of course a bobcat would be happy to catch a careless bird on the ground, or maybe this nice fat woodpecker on a feeder. 
A downy woodpecker with its feathers ruffled (by the wind)

I'm pretty sure a bobcat would have no trouble leaping up to a low feeder if a distracted bird didn't see it coming.

The humans were out enjoying the snow and the frozen lake too.  One group had quite a party down near the boat ramp last weekend, complete with music, bonfires, skating, and ATV-pulled sled rides for the kids.

And another family has built a pretty impressive fortress on the ice, including a sentry to watch guard over it while they are away.

Finally, I know I'm in a special place when I'm looking skywards (because I'm raking snow off the roof!) and a bald eagle flies through my line of sight, soaring majestically right over the house, it's white head and tail glowing golden yellow in the late afternoon sun, contrasted against an azure blue sky.  I bring a camera on most adventures, but not to shovel the roof, so you'll have to paint that picture in your mind.  It was one of those moments when I stop what I'm doing and just reflect on the world we've been given.

More snow is in the air today, perhaps the biggest storm yet this winter.  The Snow Moon is working it magic!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 5, 2017

There is so much do in the Lakes Region in the winter, I don't even know where to begin.  Let's start with the headline New Hampshire winter activity, downhill skiing.  There are two great ski areas right here, Gunstock and Ragged;  we had a perfect day at Ragged with great snow and beautiful views of the Presidential and Franconia ranges all day long.
Upper Ridge at Ragged

That night a couple of inches of new snow fell, just enough to freshen up the lake and provide smooth, effortless cross country skiing.  The clouds were clearing and the lake was beautiful.
Classic New England

Sheep and Bryant Islands decorated for winter

Crockett's Ledge is more exposed in winter

More Classic New England

The snow had just stopped falling so there were no animal tracks to be seen, but I did find this strange groove in the snow. 
Animal track or ice crack?

I can't tell if it's an old animal path or just a wiggly crack in the ice - any ideas?

The next day, it was back west to Cardigan Mountain State Park to hike Mt. Cardigan.  At 3516 feet it's not particularly tall, but its lone exposure and bald summit lend an air of a much higher peak.  All was calm hiking up the east side of the mountain, but once on the ridge, the west wind made itself known, and it was definitely winter. 

Mt. Cardigan, near the summit

A little frosty at the summit
Looking back at Ragged Ski Area from Cardigan
Cardigan is a great way to experience the high mountains with a reasonable hike of five miles.

The following day it was off to the seacoast and Rye Harbor State Park with friends to look for the snowy owl.  We didn't find it.  But we did see a loon diving in the harbor. 
Could this be our loon plying the waters of Rye Harbor?  (Photo by PC Chao)

It's fun to think that this could be one of our loons, spending its winter vacation here on the New Hampshire coast.

On the way back we stopped to watch the planes landing on the country's only FAA approved ice runway on Alton Bay.
The Alton Runway on Winnipesaukee

Saturday was busy with the New England Pond Hockey Classic on Meredith Bay and the Tamworth Ice Harvest and Winter Festival at the Remick Museum in Tamworth. 
Hockey on Meredith Bay

Harvesting ice in Tamworth

The Model T snowmobile club provided free rides under the supervision of Mt. Chocorua
You can see more from Tamworth here.

Skiing, skating, hiking, wildlife, State Parks, and up next... the fishing derby.  Don't let anyone tell you there's nothing to do in winter!

P.S.  You may have seen that the Lake Wicwas Association is sponsoring a guided snowshoe tour in the Hamlin Conservation Area on February 25th.  If you didn't get the notice, send an email to and they will send you the details and put you on the email distribution for future notifications.

Go Pats!