Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30, 2017

Signs of life are poking up everywhere as spring emerges from its long slumber.  The very first of the wildflowers, the Trailing Arbutus, emerged early in the week and are now blooming widely in the warmer locations.
First wildflower buds of the season
Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), also known as Mayflower

Little Canada Mayflower stalks are starting to push their way up through last fall's leaf litter, even in the most improbable spots.
Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) also known as false-lily-of-the-valley.  Confusing, isn't it?

Soon the forest floor will be speckled with green shoots.

Even the Red Oak seeds are emerging from their cradle, reaching a toe out to test the soil, revealing their true colors even at this early stage.
A Red Oak is born

It's a wonder of nature that some day such a tiny seed will become a majestic oak.
A pair of Red Oaks along the Blue Trail in the Hamlin conservation area

Most of the Red Maple flowers are gone now and they are starting to push out miniature leaves, as are the Black Cherry trees.
Black Cherry leaves, and fruit in its early form

Allergy lovers, of course, already know this.

I witnessed a couple of displays of aerial acrobatics this week as crows defended their nests.  First I saw one crow attacking another that was just sitting in the top of an oak tree.

The attacker would fly away and circle up to gather energy for a bombing run.  As it dove down at the tree-sitter, the target would raise its sharp beak and let a out a loud "caaaw" and the bomber would make a close approach at high speed, then bank hard and swing away for another strafing run.
A crow protecting its territory

This went on for several minutes - I shared a couple of videos on YouTube:

               Crow Acrobatics                Bombing Run

Another day I saw a small bird chasing a larger bird and thought it was one of the smaller birds such as a blue jay or a black bird harassing a crow. (This is known as "mobbing": when smaller birds harass a larger bird to protect their nesting territory.  Crows for example, are known robbers of young hatchlings from smaller bird's nests.)  But with binoculars I immediately saw it was a crow going after a Bald Eagle.  The eagle flew to the shoreline and found a protected branch on a white pine to land, and the crow went on its way.
The Eagle protected from its smaller antagonist

I know there are crow nests in this area, as when walking nearby the crows put up an awful racket when I'm in the vicinity of their nest tree.  They know eagles love to raid their offspring just as much as the crows love to raid those of smaller birds.  It doesn't matter if you are the largest creature in the forest;  it won't make you invulnerable to less powerful nations who will fight tirelessly to protect their country.

Soon the next bird generation will be hatching out to join with all the other new life that makes up the rebirth of New England year after year.

Postscript:  As you drive the roads in Meredith in the coming weeks, take note how good the roadsides look.  A team of generous volunteers spent their Saturday morning picking up trash along the town's roads.  The event was organized and sponsored by Dave Kutcher and DAK Financial Group in Meredith.  Next time you're down town, stop by to say thank you to Dave and his team. Many thanks all the wonderful people who participated, including employees of Meredith's DPW who took away the mountain of trash collected.  It really makes a difference in how our town looks!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017

The Loon Preservation Committee posted on their Facebook page pictures of a loon that someone took at Lake Massabesic this week.

As soon as I saw them I thought "is that our loon?" as I recognized the bands from the female loon that has been on Lake Wicwas since at least 2014 when it was banded (no one knows how long before then).  I checked with John Cooley at the LPC and he confirmed that the best match is our Wicwas loon!  How amazing that someone caught our loon on April 10th, just a few days before the first loon arrived on Wicwas.  I don't know if any of the loons here right now are the banded loon - I did go looking but didn't get any leg wagging from the loons I found - but I'll bet that our loon was working her way home, using Massebesic as a way point until Wicwas was open enough to land.

I know there are a lot of concerns around Facebook, but there really is no better way to stay connected with what's happening these days, whether your interest is loon migration or Malaysian sovereign bonds.

After a couple of warm summer-like days early in the week the weather regressed back to April showers and weather that only a duck could love.  And the ducks certainly flocked to the haven of Lake Wicwas this past week.  In addition to the common mallards and black ducks dabbling the the coves we were treated to visits of Mergansers, Buffleheads, Wood Ducks, and Ring-necked Ducks.  Here are some birds I saw on my first kayak on the lake looking for banded loons.
A pair of Ring-necked ducks, infrequent visitors to Wicwas
A female Red Breasted Merganser

Three friends out on a ladies day

Common Megansers.  Come on guy, time to decide
Here's a pair that hooked up

Mergansers in flight
Buffleheads, an occasional visitor
Buffleheads on the wing

Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck are regular residents in our cove

On occasion birds of a different feather flocked together, but didn't socialize for long.
Mr. Wood giving the mergansers a stern look

Up on dry land the phoebes have arrived, signaling that the insects are close at hand.

Being flycatchers, they tend to migrate north with the bugs.  I've heard a warbler or two, and just today saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Yellow-rumped Warbler resting in a Red Maple between insect-catching sorties
And the seed eaters are wondering where that feeder has gone.
"I know it was right here!"
The spring foliage season has also begun and the hills behind the lake have a reddish tinge to them as the maples put out their flowers in preparation for sprouting leaves on the next warm day.

I'm hoping we don't have wait long for that kind of weather to return even if does mean the demise of duck days;  today was a good start.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ice Out

Ice out in Lake Wicwas was declared at 2:55 pm today, April 18th.  The last of the ice from the lake had blown into the boat ramp and was still there at 11:00 this morning but was gone by 2:55 in the afternoon.
Last of the ice at 11:00 am

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!
Easter Morning at Lake Wicwas
Yes, with warm weather this week, real signs of spring are visible around the lake.  The ice on Wicwas still has a ways to go, but it is opening up good size gaps around the shore now and the surface is getting that translucent blue appearance indicating the end is near.
Saturday at the boat ramp

That's what a couple of days in the 80s will do for us - in addition to a good attitude adjustment!

When that warm humid air descended on the frozen lake it formed wisps of fog that blew across the ice.

Then as the wind shifted to the north in the late afternoon, blowing in colder air to attack the moist air from both sides, the fog turned dense.

By evening the fog was dissipating just enough to provide an eerie sky and an orange sunset.
Mysterious Evening.  Photo credit: Sue DeMund Mangers

We lost a good foot of snow pack in two days, revealing the first signs of color in a long time.
Partridge Berries revealed in time for Easter
Though there is still snow to be found in cool, shaded areas.
Plenty of snow around on Saturday
On any walk now the air is filled with the song of birds praising the spring warmth - and attracting mates.  The pretty call of the Song Sparrow can be heard everywhere;  you can listen to it here.

They aren't as well camouflaged when they sit on the snow.

We also had the first beaver sighting of the year.  We saw ripples in the skinny channel of open water far away along the shore, and were pretty sure what was making them, as the time was about quarter-past-beaver in the evening.  It took a while, but eventually it made its way along the shore to our vantage point, at which point it hopped up out of the water and onto the ice.

It snuffled around in the water where we had cut some branches on the ice this past winter.

It somehow detected there was food there and found a few scraps left behind to nibble on.

It turned to wave goodbye to us before slipping back into the ice cold water to go on its way.

What's one of the best, brightest, and surest signs that spring is here?  Male goldfinches shedding their drab winter feathers for their spring, get-a-girl plumage.
Still a few gray feathers left, but almost dressed and ready to go out for a date
It is spring, and love is in the air.

Late breaking update:  The Thorpes saw a pair of Bald Eagles on the lake, and Sue Mangers just reported the first loon has arrived!
More animals waiting for the ice to melt!  Photo by Dave Thorpe
Photo by Dave Thorpe
The first loons!  Photo by Anne Crane

Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017

Spring sure it taking its own sweet time to arrive in New England this year.  Right now there are still 20 inches of ice out there - no joke, I checked.  The ice was clearly sound enough to support me, so I took the auger and cut a hole about 30 feet from shore.  Even subtracting the top 4 inches which, though strong enough to support my weight, was soft enough that I could remove it with a sharp shovel, still left 16 inches of good solid ice.  Progress towards ice-out has been hindered by the recent snow falls, including another light storm on April 5th.
Yet another April snow
Last week I saw the first geese and ducks, and this week more have  arrived, as well as the first of the great blue herons.  I didn't get any pictures but on a run down Chemung Road I did flush out a heron that was fishing in a tiny spot of open water where Lake Wicwas comes close to Chemung Road.
Just enough open water for the heron to hunt for food
And the geese - I always think this is a ridiculous sight:
Canada geese taking a stroll on the ice
It seems like they are looking around at each other asking, "why are we here when it's still warm in South Carolina?"

We have had enough warm days to get the sap flowing, and buckets are hung on sugar maples all around the Lakes Region.  This is the scene beside the Lakeland School.
Syrup being collected beside Lakeland School
Plastic tubing and buckets appeared at the school for the first time time this year;  last year they still used the system of spiles (metal taps put into the holes drilled in the trees) and metal pails hung on the spiles.
Metal pails (and no snow), March, 2016
You may have seen the high-tech system used in a large sugar bush - a stand of sugar maples - where long plastic tubes wind from tree to tree, running down hill to terminate at a large collection vessel at the bottom of the hill.
Sap collecting system at Prescott Farm in Laconia (January, 2016)
I do miss the nostalgia of the old galvanized steel pails, though I'm sure this high-tech system keeps out a lot more of the rain, pollen, bugs, and assorted debris that made its way into those those classic pails.  I suppose the old timers felt the same way a hundred years ago when those modern, unsightly metal pails replaced the classic wooden bucket.
Classic sap bucket complete with hook to hang it on a tree
Another sign that spring is coming was the first evidence of a skunk, a set of tracks showing it was rummaging near the house, probably attracted by dropped bird seed on the ground.
The hap-hazard trail typical of a skunk

Like bears, skunks don't truly hibernate, though they will spend most of the winter sleeping away in their dens, only coming out during a warm spell to poke around for any available food.  Their presence means they are hungry, wanting the snow to melt as well.

I took a hike up to a remote pond the day the snow fell to see what other animals were active;  it was still misty and gray after the storm, but beautiful in its own way.
Wachipauka Pond, Warren, NH

There were lots of animal tracks along the way:  Deer, coyote, snowshoe hare, bobcat, even a fisher - but no bear or moose tracks to be seen.  I was amazed at the size of some of the hare tracks;  I have nothing to show scale in this picture, but each track from front to hind foot is about two and half feet long.
Snowshoe Hare tracks

The larger prints are from the rear feet, and show how the foot spreads out to distribute the animals weight on the snow, lending it the name "snowshoe" hare.  A snowshoe hare weighs almost twice that of a cotton tail rabbit.

Along the way I was happy to see a few signs of spring pushing through mother nature's stubborn hold on winter.
This Hobblebush Viburnum, tired of waiting for spring, is pushing its buds out
The forecast has warm weather for the coming week - maybe there will be more sightings of the elusive 2017 spring soon.