Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 28, 2017

There were enough nice days this week to move the plants along nicely, but there was also plenty more rain.  The cool temperatures and abundance of water is benefiting  not only the duration of the flower's blossoms, but also the production of the fruit producing trees - the blueberries, apples and cherries are looking like they'll have banner years.
Black Cherries are looking - and smelling - wonderful

These plants will, with a decent summer, produce a large crop of fruit to nourish many animals through the fall and winter, both the direct consumers, and those farther up the food chain.  It should bode well for the foxes, bobcats, owls, hawks - the entire forest community.

All of the plants are taking advantage of the good spring growing season; conifers, which will form their seeds later in the year, are now pushing out their "candles", one of which will grow upward to continue the trunk and the others will fold down to become this years branches.

Each year a white pine will grow its trunk upwards anywhere from a couple of inches to a couple of feet depending on the available sunlight and nutrients.  Did you know you can accurately determine the age of a young white pine by counting the number of branch whorls on the trunk?  Each whorl represents one year of growth.
A four year old white pine, starting its fifth year's growth

A 12 year old pine (the bottom-most whorl is hard to see)
This technique works until the lower branches die and fall off, usually in the 20 to 30 year time frame and can often be used to determine the last time a particular forest was timbered.  You can also determine the time-span since an unusual growth year to guess what might have happened, for example, low growth in a very dry summer, or a growth spurt if surrounding trees were removed.

Back to flowers, the Lakes Region is in that narrow window where both late Trillium and early Lady Slippers are blooming.
Pink Lady's Slipper in the Hamlin Conservation Area

Painter Trillium along the shore of Lake Wicwas

This week I found a trillium that was just starting to push out its blossom, something I had never seen before.  I had always assumed they grew a stalk above the leaves with a bud that then bloomed, but this indicates that the blossom actually forms right within those three leaves that give this plant its name.
A trillium blossom emerging from within its trio of leaves
Hopefully you were able to find some this weekend - if not, there's one more day!

The rain and cool temperatures have also been supportive of bumper black fly and mosquito crops - not quite as welcome as the flowers.  At least we can hide indoors or use bug spray to protect ourselves.  Pity the poor animals that don't have these relief methods.  The loons in particular suffer, as they must sit on their nest incubating eggs for hours at a time, stationary, at the mercy of these blood sucking tormentors.
Loon on artificial nest at Pleasant Lake.  Photo by Kittie Wilson

As far as we can tell, the loons on Wicwas haven't nested yet, but they seem to have quieted down a bit - maybe they have settled their territorial disputes and will nest soon.  Other loons in the state have nested but here on Wicwas, with all the rain, their preferred nesting sites are still under water so they may be waiting for the lake to drop.  Or maybe they're just smart enough to wait until peak bug season has passed!

The Canada Geese, having arrived when the ice was still on the lake, are much farther along;  their nests were completed weeks ago and now they are out sailing the lake with their new little fluff balls.
This picture is from last year - I've only seen a two-chick family so far this year

Remember the hobblebush flower I posted on May 14th?

Well, I had forgotten that it hadn't completed its blossom until I saw them again last week.  Each of those little balls in the center of the flower have now turned into its own tiny flower.
Hobblebush in full bloom, basked in the glow of the sunrise
More pretty flowers which, with the sun's love, will eventually turn into food for all the neighborhood creatures to consume.

On this Memorial Day, let's remember all who gave their lives so we can enjoy the life we so often take for granted.
A veteran's grave at Oakland Cemetery

Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21, 2017

There is so much going on around the lakes in spring and early summer - people and animals returning, trees flowering, flowers blooming, amphibians breeding - it's hard to decide what to leave out from the journal. It's always a good feeling this time of year when you meet a familiar face on the trails that you haven't seen for a while.
A Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) sitting in the middle of the trail
This little gray tree frog seemed happy to see me as well, as he was quite content to sit and chat with me for a while, even offering to pose for a portrait before I went on my way.  Later that evening he sang a nice etude for all to hear around the lake.  (You can listen to the song of the gray tree frog here.)

There is much to enjoy at a frog's-eye view at the moment, and purple seems to be the theme of the week.  
Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia)

Wild  Common Violet (Viola papilionacea)
In addition to fringed polygala and violets, there are wild strawberry, sweet white violets and trillium blooming down at frog level.  A bit higher up is more purple - lilacs, rhododendron, and rhodora.
Purple Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), the New Hampshire state flower, even though not indigenous to NH
Rhododendron at Oakland Cemetery

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)

Other friends get the bird's-eye view of these charms, although their own colors compete for attention in the upper-level beauty pageant where yellow and orange are added to the color scheme.
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Hang on to that bloomin' blueberry bush!

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens)
This week brought me two new sightings.  The black-throated green warbler I have heard many, many times signing it's memorable song, but I had never seen one, as they hide deep in the trees' foliage;  I was happy to finally see one in person.  (Though I must say I can barely see the green on its back that gives it its name.) 
A small streak of olive green is visible on the back of its head and neck

The next flying ornament, a mourning cloak butterfly, was also a new discovery for me.  
Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa)
They have some unique characteristics, including the longest lifespan of all our butterflies.  Although some migrate, most overwinter locally, and thus are among the first to appear in the spring.  They breed in spring, then after feeding - especially on the sap of oak trees - they go into a state of dormancy during the hot summer, reawakening in fall to feed again and store energy for the winter. [Ref:  Butterflies and Moths of North America]  I also learned they make an audible click when they take off, a defensive trait to startle a predator.  [Ref:  "Eastern Forests," Ann Sutton, Knopf, Inc, 1985]

On a somewhat sad avian note, we appear to have had a visit from the bear this week.  We woke one morning to find one of our birdhouses ravaged by a wild beast.
Bird house, with nest to the left
I'm guessing that only a bear would be able to pull apart this house, bending five nails in the process.
Birdhouse easily and cleanly disassembled required some strength
A raccoon or a weasel would happily go after a bird nest, but with not a scratch left on the birdhouse, I think it was a feat requiring the strength of a bear.  We're glad we had taken in the bird feeders a few weeks ago.  

I did some work with the Lakes Region Conservation Trust this week on Rattlesnake Island. (Can you count a trip on Winnipesaukee and a perfect hike on an island "work"?)  It was my first time on the island and it is beautiful, including a nice two mile (round-trip) trail with great views south and west towards the Belknap Range, and north towards the White Mountains.  

If you are on Lake Winnipesaukee this summer, make a stop there.  The Lakes Region Conservation Trust does ask that you become a member if you visit, and display your decal on your boat.  Their dock is on the southeast point of the island, and is marked.  
Approaching Rattlesnake Island from the east shows the ledges upon which the trail passes
Alton Bay and Mount Major to the south as seen from the ledge
White oak flowers frame Gunstock and Belknap Mountains to the west

Boats and docks are starting to appear on all the lakes, and more people are arriving every week.  I look forward to seeing many more familiar faces on the water and on the trails in the coming weeks. 
More friends returning for the summer?
Welcome back to summer!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day!

The world is unfurling around the lake just in time for Mother's Day, even if today wasn't very pretty. But the hills are turning green and whether you look high or low, buds are reaching out to find the sun.
The hills are alive with green
High above, trees are forming new leaves to gather in the sun's increasing energy.
Red Maple
Paper Birch

  And down at your feet ferns are unfurling fronds to do the same.
A Bracken Fern emerges

The warm weather this week brought out the black flies in force.  "Something Wild" did a story on the importance of black flies - you can listen to it here.  It doesn't make them any more tolerable, but at least it shows that we live in a healthy environment, and without them we wouldn't have the cheery sound of warblers and thrushes singing in springtime.

I saw this pretty Common Yellowthroat hopping around the bushes along the shore of the lake this week.
Common Yellowthroat (Geothylpis trichas)
I took the following picture two years ago, but I think of it whenever I get annoyed by black flies circling around my head - proof that something really does appreciate those little black tormentors.
A Yellow-rumped warbler reduces the count by one
Another of our distinguished summer residents has returned to New Hampshire:  the Osprey.  I saw my first of the season as it sped across the lake early one morning.
First Oprey sighting of the year

Only after I looked at the picture did I see that it was on a mission to avoid the eagles and find a safe spot to enjoy its breakfast after a successful morning fishing excursion.
Breakfast via air mail
The much larger Bald Eagle would be happy to steal a fish from a hard working osprey.

As larger species are putting out leaves, the smaller flowering trees continue to regale us with their spring display.
Hobblebush viburnum keeping things pretty
I'm looking forward to the lilac blooming, which will be our next performer, adorning the countryside with both color and aroma!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May 7, 2017

The cool, wet weather that has engulfed much of the country this week has certainly slowed the progression of spring.  As of today there is still barely a hint of lemon-lime below the low clouds hanging in the hills of New Hampshire's Lakes Region.
Only a few pale green leaves at this point
Clouds veil Crockett's Ledge

Some of the early flowering trees are putting out their blossoms regardless of the weather, and it being so cool we should be able to enjoy them longer than usual.  Dogwood, Hobblebush and Honeysuckle all made their debut this week.
American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis)

I also saw an interesting tree that I had never seen before, and it took me a long time to identify it.
The beautiful yet greatly conflicted Boxelder (Acer negundo)

I finally determined that it is a boxelder.  It seems to be a rather conflicted tree, called an elder, considered a species of maple, and with multiple common names that reference three different type of trees:  boxelder, boxelder maple, maple ash, and ash-leaved maple. [Ref:  Wikipedia]  The boxelder is not indigenous to New Hampshire but has been naturalized here and planted frequently as a shade tree due to its fast growth.  [Ref:  "Eastern Forests," Ann Sutton, Knopf, Inc, 1985]

Along with the budding trees come the insects that feed on them.  One of the prettier ones is the aptly named Spring Azure.
The Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) blends into its surroundings when not flying

We saw several along the Winnipesaukee River Rail Trail between Tilton and Franklin.  It's a pretty blue butterfly when airborne and the inside of its wings are exposed, but when it lands it becomes almost invisible, even if it lands right by your foot.  Or, maybe, on your foot.
That's the toe of Linda's sneaker

It's a common butterfly this time of year in many habitats from woodlands to clearings to roadsides, and it feeds on the early flowering trees such as dogwood and viburnum.

With the spring runoff the Winnipesaukee River was raging with rapids.
The Winnipesaukee River along the Rail Trail, flowing at over 1900 cubic feet per second

Unfortunately, there are some less savory characters that also arrive to feed on the trees, including the Tent Caterpillars, which are plentiful now.
Tent caterpillars waiting for more leaves to feed on

Plants aren't the only victims of the arriving insects - mammals, including humans, are subject to the tiny deer tic (though actually arachnids, not insects) which have made their presence known.  These are so tiny it is best to use a proven bug spray on your shoes and clothing when you're out.
An arachnid in the palm of my hand

There has been a sighting of our banded female loon, and I just received an update from the Loon Preservation Committee saying that no, the banded loon seen earlier this spring on Lake Massebesic (see April 23 post) was not our loon.  But it is great that our pair has now returned!  They took a fishing tour through our end of the lake on Saturday, when I saw them for the first time.  But for several days prior a single loon, likely the same one that's been on the lake for three years now, has been living in the cove.  We watched it groom itself in hopes of looking sharp to a potential mate.
Be careful with that beak!

I took some video to show how it travels around in circles as it paddles with one foot while grooming its underside.

                           Grooming Video                  Swimming in Circles

And after all that hard work, a nice nap was in order.
A quiet afternoon means nap time on Lake Wicwas

I'm sure the trees are about ready to explode at this point, and just one warm sunny day is all it will take for them to burst out and paint the world green again.
Red Maple ready to explode