Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30, 2017 - Feeding Time at the Rookery

I'm posting early this week in case people want to take a walk this weekend to see the action at Arbutus Hill Pond.  Last week I noted that there was an active nest in the rookery at Arbutus Hill Pond in the Hamlin/Eames conservation area, and this week I went up with a camera to see if they were still in the nest, and they are!
On the lookout in a crowded nest high up in a dead tree
Last week I thought there were three, but now I see there are four in the nest, and they were standing up when I arrived, looking back and forth, waiting for a meal to arrive.
"Where's our lunch?"
While I was watching I had the good fortune to actually observe a feeding of these large chicks.  A loud racket erupted from the chicks as a parent approached the nest  - imagine a nest full of little robins chirping as a parent arrives with food, but about three octaves lower, and four times louder.

Male and female heron are identical in appearance, and both adults take part in feeding their young, but lets assume this was mom.  She stood on the edge of nest for a bit regurgitating food for the kids as the racket continued.
Feed me!
Earlier she would have placed food directly in the chicks' beaks, but now she leaves the food in her beak and the chicks take it out.  Later on she will just drop it in the nest and let the birds fight over it.  The young-uns were getting restless.
"C'mon mom, cough it up"
But soon the feeding began - click here to see and hear the action.

After mom had emptied the contents of her long neck, she turned to leave.
"What?  Is that all?"
Off to restock the pantry
The chicks were fed, but certainly not satisfied.
"Well, that was good, but I'm still hungry"

They immediately started scanning the horizon for the arrival of dad with the next meal.
"Ok, now where's dad?"
Look at the size of these birds and think about how many fish, frogs, small rodents and similar creatures it must take to grow four birds to this size.  They will stay in the nest until they are almost as big as their parents, at which point they will leave the nest to find their own hunting grounds.  So you probably have time to see them for yourself.  Bring binoculars, as the viewing spot is far enough away to not bother them, but still, be quiet and walk slowly as you approach.  I noted the location last week, but here it is again (the red star).  It's a 4-1/2 mile round-trip hike from the trail head.  Have fun with nature!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 25, 2017 - Nighttime sounds of summer

Hot summer nights mean open windows and  peaceful sounds of nocturnal life drifting in during the quiet hours when we diurnal creatures are sleeping.  Most pleasing this summer are the quiet calls of the loon floating over the water.  This year, with only one pair of loons on the lake, the loud fights of last year have been supplanted with the much more soothing call of one loon to another, "here I am, where are you?" known as the wail call.  Loons sleep on the water at night and will drift apart as the winds blow them, so when one wakes up it will call to locate its mate.

On occasion we hear an excited call when perhaps the single loon comes too close to the pair, but it lasts only a minute and is over.  Loons have many different vocalizations;  you can listen to them, and read short descriptions of each at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

One night this week I was awakened at 3:00 am by the familiar call of the Barred Owl's, "who cooks for you?"
A barred owl on look out

I never mind be roused by this sound.  That night it went on for several minutes, and then after a short break, was replaced by a raucous, wild racket known as "caterwauling."  I reviewed Stokes "A Guide to Bird Behavior" to see what I could learn about this call, and was surprised to find that very little is known about this large yet common raptor.  Stokes provided the same guesses I had:  that it's either a pair interacting (a domestic squabble?) or two territorial birds claiming the hunting grounds. Even the Cornell site provides no explanation for their calls, but you can listen to them here.

The barred owl can often be heard during the day as well, and not infrequently observed.  Walking with a friend at Page Pond Forest in Meredith last week, a barred owl flew right over us and across the quarry pond to land in a pine tree.  It was too far away for a good look, but as the photo below shows, it was a barred owl.  Your best bet to see one is in dense, mature forests on a hot, humid, summer afternoon.
Barred Owl at the Quarry Pond

A bird one doesn't hear at night is the great blue heron, but if often gives its distinctive croak in the late evening as it returns to its roost.
A great blue Heron takes flight

Early this spring I noticed the rookery up at Arbutus Hill Pond in the Eames conservation area looked like it was being maintained so I made a mental note to check on it this spring.  This week I took a pair of small binoculars on a run up there, and sure enough, there were three quite large juvenile herons sitting there filling up the nest, waiting for a parent to return with a food delivery.  If I get up there on a walk with a camera before they depart I'll see if I can get a picture, but it doesn't look like they will be there long.  If you want to see them you should go soon - here's the viewing location (red star):

A quick follow up on last week's snapping turtle story:  Neil was right, some astute predator returned to the beach to feast on the freshly laid turtle eggs.
Someone had a nice feast of fresh snapping turtle eggs

And another great reader sighting from last week:
Bobcat on Chemung Road in its summer dress
Marge Thorpe was doing Lake Host duty at the Wicwas boat landing when this bobcat came and walked right across the road - good thing she was quick with the camera!  It looks so much different in the hot weather with its short summer dress as compared to its warm, fluffy winter coat.
Momma bobcat this past winter
Just one more of the many benefits of being a Lake Host!  Contact me, Paul Trombi or Marge Thorpe if you would like to get in on the action.

Like the bobcats, we are now wearing our summer clothes and enjoying these long, hot summer days. But when the sun goes down, keep those windows open and discover what nighttime sounds are floating though the air in your neck of the woods.
Ker-Splash   -   A beaver crashes its tail on the water at night

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18, 2018 - The Eggs are Hatching

The nourishment from the bounty of the spring season and the hard work of the locals is paying off for them with new life bursting from their eggs.  Although the loons on Lake Wicwas have not yet nested, other loons saw their chicks break out of their shells this week, including the pair on Pleasant Lake.  Kittie Wilson always watches this pair and documents their life through beautiful photography.
Ping sneaks a peak out from under her parent's wing.  Kittie Wilson photo

Pong hatched second, and is still wet from the egg.   Kittie Wilson photo
Yes, the chicks have been named Ping and Pong;  the pictures Kittie takes are simple amazing.
Ping and Pong go for a sail.  Kittie Wilson photo

Nap time for Pong.  Kittie Wilson photo

Because the Pleasant Lake loons have the luxury of a floating nest they don't have to wait for the water level in the lake to stabilize.  Due to all the rain this spring, it's been a slow process on Lake Wicwas, but it now appears to be stable enough for nesting.  It is late, but not too late;  even if a pair has a failed first nesting they have time to try again, though a later nesting usually has only one chick to improve the chances of it growing strong enough to fly away before winter.  We're still hoping for baby loons on Lake Wicwas in 2017.

I've had reports of other baby birds being sighted, though I haven't seen any yet.  Let me know if you see any young fledglings around the lakes.

While bird eggs are already hatching, reptiles, being cold blooded, must wait a bit longer than their warm-blooded counterparts, holding off until the ground has warmed enough that they can lay their eggs, then abandon them, allowing the sun and earth to keep them warm enough to develop.  I've seen several female painted turtles doing their thing in the sand this week; this pretty girl was near the east shore of Marion Cove.
Keep your eye out for little turtles around August 20th
And this one I plucked out of the middle of Chemung Road to save her from becoming road kill on her search for the perfect nesting location.
When rescuing a turtle, always move them to the side of the road in which they are heading

Neil Crimins often sees the much larger Snapping Turtle laying eggs in the sand in front of their house;  he saw this mom this week.
Mother snapper in the sand.  Neil Crimins photo

Reading about snapping turtles I learned some fascinating facts related to snapping turtle eggs  [REF: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection].  First, eggs at a temperature of 68 degrees produce only female turtles, while eggs at 73-75 degrees produce only male turtles!  In between, both males and females will result.  While they incubate in the sand the eggs are prime targets for a wide range of predators including raccoons, skunks, and crows.  Neil reports that most years that's what happens to the nests they watch, finding them dug up and egg shells left behind, but sometimes a few of the 20 to 40 eggs manage to survive and make it to the water.
A baby snapper crawls out of the sand.  Neil Crimins photo

Nearing the comparative safety of the lake.  Neil Crimins photo

At this point their shells are soft and they are vulnerable to a new set of predators such as eagles, foxes, and snakes.  Neil once saw a heron fly in and watch the little turtles crawling to the water but it didn't take any.  And even in the lake they still aren't safe until their shells harden, so they are subject to the appetites of fish and even other snappers.  Thank you Neil for the great pictures!

Once their shells harden they are pretty much impervious to any attack short of a car tire when they emerge to start the process all over again.
Snapping turtles in NH can grow to 40 pounds - here a big momma crosses Chemung Rd

Their eggs hatch in 80 to 90 days, so we won't be looking for new snappers until early September.  Hopefully we'll be seeing new loons long before then!

Of course the dads have a part in all this, so Happy Father's Day to all!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11, 2017 - Green is the Word

What a fabulous weekend!  Kayakers, fishermen, waters skiers, hikers, motorcyclists - everyone was out enjoying all that the lakes and mountains of the Lakes Region have to offer.
Verdant hills and aqua blue water
Lake fun on a hot summer day

There was only one really wet day this week, but it was a doozey and the lake level went right back up again, so no loon nesting yet.  A few lake tours this week determined there are three loons on the lake and one of them is the long-term resident female, proven by a good look at her bands when she was preening.
The banded female loon on a house-hunting tour
Two bands on her left leg

They sure are limber birds, able to reach every inch of their bodies with their beak to pluck old feathers and spread oil to keep themselves waterproof.
The contortionist

Lots of rain followed by sun and heat means lots of green as vegetation grows fast and lush.  Ferns love this weather.
Cinnamon Fern

The pale green leaves of the alder are contrasted against chocolate brown cones.
Alder tree with female catkins

These cones are the female catkins of the alder, the male catkins are long, soft, and light.

Plants don't don't have a monopoly on the greens - check out this iridescent Six Spotted Green Tiger Beetle:
Six Spotted Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

That one has a pretty easy name to remember, although all six spots can be hard to see.  The tiger beetle is harmless, unless you're a caterpillar, ant, spider, or some similar small insect on which they feed - not a bad neighbor to have.

Here's another green bug, also with a catchy name.
Assassin Bug (Zelus luridus)
This beetle looked somewhat familiar;  when I checked pictures from other sightings I found why it looked different:  it must have just emerged from its nymph phase as it had little tiny wings still developing.  Compare it to the mature insect.

I wrote about this interesting bug a few years ago, how it injects its prey with a poisonous enzyme that liquefies the insides of its victim so it can suck out the nutrients with its proboscis.

On that pleasant note, lets look at a non-green species, but one in a family that also thrives in wet conditions - mushrooms.
Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria)

This fungi has hallucinogenic properties - it contains the psychoactive compound muscimol - but it's also considered poisonous, so let's not try it out.  There will be many more mushrooms emerging in the coming weeks.

Now that spring has moved aside and summer is finally here it's time to enjoy the green that is all around us.
Even the hummingbirds are wearing green

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 4, 2017 - Japanese Knotweed

You may have noticed the past week or two that some lush, vibrant green plants have shot up all around New Hampshire, particularly along roadsides.
Japanese Knotweed  is four feet high after just a few weeks of growth

Unfortunately, this is not a desirable species.  Japanese Knotweed is one of the most aggressive of all the invasive species in New Hampshire;  it is extremely fast-growing and spreads quickly, crowding out any other plants in its way.  Here it is in the process of taking over this meadow along Camp Waldron Road (just past the junction with Chemung road) in Meredith.

Right across the street it has invaded a decades-old stand of Purple Lilac and within another year or two it will completely obliterate, and soon after kill those majestic shrubs.  Once a patch reaches this magnitude it is very difficult to control, let alone exterminate it, and it happens so rapidly that they can take over an entire property in just a few years.

If you notice small growths you can attack them rather easily, it just requires a little persistence. They may look impressive but their stalks are hollow and very soft.  The best approach is to cut them down when they reach a height of 4 or 5 feet, leaving the stalks on the ground (transporting them can spread them to other locations).  When they grow back - and they will - cut them again.  Then in late summer when they grow back yet again, spray them with the herbicide Rodeo.  Rodeo is preferred, but you can use Roundup if you are far from any water sources.  (Do not use Roundup near any bodies of water.) Yes, I hate using this powerful, still not fully understood herbicide, but sometimes it is the best option.

Another approach which has less environmental impact is to apply full concentration of the herbicide directly to the stump of the stalks immediately after cutting them the last time - this prevents overspray and ensures the chemical goes only where needed.  In either case it is best to do this late in the summer after the repeated cutting has weakened it, and the plant is in the phase of drawing nutrients, and thus the poison, down into the roots to store energy for winter.

At the very least, do not let them flower!  If you do nothing more than cut them back repeatedly before they flower you will keep them from spreading and over time may kill them.  You can find more detailed information on the control of knotweed here.

With that sad story said, let's look to more enjoyable plants.  Lady's Slippers are blooming throughout the woodlands now and I found the largest single clump of these pretty orchids I've ever seen when I was walking in the Sherman Easement at Meredith's Page Pond and Forest.
Pink Lady's Slipper

Adding to the artwork on the forest floor is a whole host of tiny white flowers including starflower, bluets, bunchberry, goldthread, and lily of the valley.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Lily of the valley are indicative of human presence as they are not indigenous to New England (they are native to Europe and Asia) and though they also spread out they are not considered invasive.  All parts of this plant are highly poisonous to humans and pets.

Higher up, the maples are dangling enticing touches of color into the picture.
Red maple have many different ways to color the forest though out the year

Soon the chipmunks will be collecting these seeds for their winter stores.

You know the age-old question "Does a bear you-know-what in the woods?"  Well, it appears this one does its thing right in the middle of the trail, on an outcropping of granite.
Bear scat left as a notice to all others in the forest
A rotten birch log torn apart by some carnivore looking for ants, grubs, and other protein-rich delicacies may also be a sign of bears.
A rotten birch log was searched for insects

Lying under rotten logs one will often find these little amphibians, which a bear would be happy to gobble up as well:
Red Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)
There has been much news of bears interacting with humans recently, including one killed in Bristol and three juviniles relocated to the north country, reminding us of the importance of taking down bird feeders and properly storing trash.

While you are out enjoying the sights be careful to watch for poison ivy as it is growing now and might not be noticed when it is small and just starting to get its shiny leaves.
The new year's crop of poison ivy is growing

It loves to grow on disturbed, sunny, sandy locations including road edges.
Poison Ivy grows well along road edges
So watch out for it when you attack that knotweed - did you notice it growing under the knotweed in the first picture in this post?

A quick update on the loons:  The town is doing a great job managing the water level, and with the boards out of the dam Lake Wicwas is dropping quickly.  Barring another deluge it should be at a good nesting level in another day or two.  Stay tuned.