Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 30, 2017 - Berries: Red, Black, and Blue

One of the great things about New Englanders is that no matter what the weather - hot and humid, breezy and brisk, cold and rainy - people find a way to enjoy whatever mother nature doles out.
Sailing in the sunshine,

or fishing in the drizzle, people enjoy New Hampshire lakes

It's berry season in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.  Blueberries are everyone's favorite and they have been prolific this year, resulting in some great sweet treats.

It's not too late to find some;  two of my favorite spots are along the shores of Lake Wicwas and up on the ridges of the Belknap Mountain Range. Belknap, Whiteface, Piper, even Lockes Hill all have blueberries that aren't hard to find.  Of course you can buy wild blueberries at some of the farm stands, but they always seem to taste better if they have grown in the cool waters of a lake or the crisp air high on a mountain top.
Summit of Piper Mountain in the Belknap Range

Following behind the blueberries by a couple of weeks, and also good to eat though they have seeds in them, are the huckleberries.  The Black Cherry I've been watching are just about ripe, and although edible, I've never found them palatable - they are bitter and have large pits - which is too bad because they are plentiful this year.
Not quite "black" cherries yet

This year's rain and hot weather has been good for the berry crop

Inedible but very pretty are the bright red fruit of the bunchberry.

These had white flowers back in early June around the lake.
Blossom on June 6th

I was hiking up at 4800' in the White Mountains last week and found that bunchberry are just now blooming at that elevation, six or seven weeks behind the lower elevations, indicating that the season lags by almost two weeks for every thousand feet of elevation gained.
Bunchberry blooming on July 21 at the 4833 foot summit of Carter Dome

And here are some black berries I found in a deeply shaded part of the forest; I don't know what they are.
An unidentified black berry
They remind me of something we called "deadly nightshade" when I was a kid, but looking that up, deadly nightshade, or belladonna, is clearly something different.  Does anyone have any help for me on this one?

Lastly, an update on the loon nest:  at three and a half weeks after nesting, everything appears to be going smoothly.  At last check, mom was on the nest - her bands were visible when she stood up to turn over the egg, so we know it was the female.

The male was out and about doing some fishing.

We also saw an osprey fly right over them, doing some fishing of its own.

Osprey eat almost exclusively fish, so our loons should be safe from the osprey.  But not from eagles - a bald eagle will certainly go after a loon chick. The chick should hatch within the next week, so lets hope for the best.
An osprey in search mode

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23, 2017 - Lightning Strikes

Meredith and much of the Lakes Region was treated to a dramatic electrical storm on Monday night.  There were thunderous lightning strikes, sometimes two or three in quick succession, and almost two inches of rain fell in an hour or two.  Harry Clymer sent me a chart showing the areas where lightning struck, which indicates three hit around Lake Wicwas, though Meredith Village really won the jackpot.

Somehow Debby Crowley was able to capture this incredible picture of a bolt that appears to have struck the surface of the lake south of Bryant Island.
Lightning over Wicwas - photo by Deborah Crowley
Thank you Ken and Debby for sharing that!  Fortunately there was no reported damage and I'm not aware of any significant power outages.  I looked for signs of strikes around the lake but didn't find anything.

The lack of rain lately has let the earth dry out a bit, but given such torrents of rain, most still ran off into the streams and lakes, and Lake Wicwas immediately rose four or five inches.  A quick check of the loon nest showed that their kingdom had become smaller, but it was still intact.
Its world looks a little smaller today
Like a dog, on a hot day a loon will cool itself by breathing with its mouth open.  The cool water below will help cool the egg while the parent protects it from the mid-day sun.  The parent may take a quick dip if needed before being spelled by its mate, but it won't be off the nest for long lest the egg cook in the hot sun.

Neil Crimins had observed on Sunday that the loons were augmenting their little island, dredging up mud and debris to build up the land.  It's fun to think they knew a storm was coming and were preparing for it, but more likely the island had been eroded by waves over the busy, beautiful weekend and they were just doing some restoration.

I continue to watch this year's premium crop of Black Cherries, and this week they are starting to ripen - perhaps two weeks behind the blueberries.

I hope to be able to determine who consumes them in the coming week or two.  Certainly birds will get many of them, but I expect the neighborhood bear will also get his or her fill.  I know it's still around, as it made a return visit to the yard to take out our second bird house.
The scene of the crime
It takes a big bear to bend that heavy steel stake
At this point, we have decided to post the houses "No Trespassing - Crime Scene" and board up the doors.  Not that their nests elsewhere are necessarily safe from predators, but we don't want to attract bears to human areas, and at least we won't feel complicit in crimes they commit elsewhere!

And just to make sure there's no doubt, one morning this week I came almost face to face with Mr. Black Bear.  I heard crunching the woods ahead of me on an early morning walk, and assumed it was a deer since I was in an area where I frequently come across deer at that time of day.  So I raised the camera hoping to get a picture in the dim light.  But instead of a deer poking its curious head out, it was a tremendous black bear.

Bears have poor eyesight, but stupendous sense of smell and excellent hearing.  One click of the camera and even at that distance it heard the shutter and looked right at me.

For all of two seconds - then it turned tail and bolted off into the woods.  It stopped not too far away, maybe 50 yards, but a couple of loud shouts and it was off and running far up and over a hill.  It must not have been a mother with cubs or it would have collected its cubs before it ran so I felt safe, but nonetheless decided to continue my walk in the opposite direction.

I've had this experience before - upon a bear hearing or smelling me it runs away a few yards, then stops and looks back as if to make sure it really needs to alter its planned route for the day, then decides, yup, it's time to go and disappears off into the forest.

As the ruckus caused by the bear dissipated, the tranquility of early morning returned, the rising sun bathing the world in soft, silken light, revealing, as it always does, a bounty of beautiful scenes.
The mushrooms love this weather  (Fly Amanita)

A yellow-bellied sapsucker soaks up the morning sun

Eastern newt, red-eft phase
Pickerel Frog
And finally, an old birch tree creates a home for new life to flourish.

Be sure to enjoy this great summer weather - we're already into the last week of July.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017 - Annual Loon Census

Yesterday the Loon Preservation Committee held the annual loon census where volunteers all over the state observe and record the loons they see between 8:00 and 9:00 am.  The data is analyzed and compiled to create a picture of the loon population in New Hampshire.  Since the Wicwas loons are nesting late this year, we knew where to find at least one of them.
King (or queen) of his own island

The loon on the nest was somewhat concerned due to several boats in the area, so I kept a safe distance away.
Head lowered means move away before the loon leaves the nest for the safety of the water

What I presume is the mate of the bird on the nest was several hundred yards away and appeared to be keeping an eye a rogue loon, driving it away from the nesting site out towards the center of the lake.  I also saw a loon fly over the lake, circle overhead, and then fly back in the direction from which it came.  Almost an hour later another loon flew in and landed - I don't know if it was the same loon or not.  So over all, my Lake Wicwas Loon count was three on the water, and two flying.  If you are a member of the LPC you will receive the results of the survey;  if not you can join here.

Of course, paddling around on the lake in the morning provides perks beyond loon watching.  I saw two heron fishing beside the Rawson Wood Islands, as a red-winged blackbird serenaded them from its perch high in a shrub over the marsh.
Red-winged blackbirds like to sing from highly visible locations

Right below the blackbird was a pretty Swamp Rose.
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)

These are blooming all around the lake; you will find them along much of the shoreline, sometimes with visiting pollinators if you look closely.
Bumble bees pollinate the Swamp Rose

And the heron and loons weren't the only ones fishing - there were several humans out doing the same.
The strike!

The catch

The release
Thanks DC for being a willing subject!

As we watch the loons nesting in this year's selected location off what are known as the "Rawson Wood Islands" it's worth remembering that Mr. Wood conserved these very islands because he was aware they were prime loon nesting territory.  Rawson Wood was dedicated to conservation - did you know he founded the Loon Preservation Committee which is such an important force in protecting loons in New Hampshire?  He also founded the North American Loon Fund and was a director of the National Audubon Society.  It is quite an honor to have an island in Lake Wicwas named for him, and to have his name on the list of generous people who have likewise granted conservation land to ensure Lake Wicwas will be a sanctuary for loons and many other species long into the future.
A Great Egret fishes on the Rawson Wood Islands (photo from June, 2016) 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 9, 2017 - The loons attempt to nest

One doesn't have to climb a mountain or hike to a remote pond to see the beauty that surrounds us everywhere in the Lakes Region; sometimes it only takes a walk down the road in the early light of morning.  I did that after one of those steamy July nights last week and was treated to an array of delicate, misty, sights.
Low rays of sun reflect off the NHEC's power lines

Mist cloaks dead snags in the Chemung State Forest

Moisture collected by the webs of the Bowl and Doily Weaver Spider

First rays on a Milkweed preparing to bloom

Dew drops on fresh Red Maple leaves

You may have recognized these scenes as all are located on one quarter-mile stretch of Chemung Road in Meredith, although scenes like these exist on most any rural New Hampshire street on a hot summer morning.

As the high July sun warms the earth and dries the atmosphere other common summer beauties make their presence known.
Daises and Hawkweed grow wild in fields and yards throughout New Hampshire

Hawkweed about to bloom

Now some hopeful news from Lake Wicwas:  the loon pair has decided it's not too late for them to try and raise a family this year - they have built a nest now that the water level has receded and hopefully stabilized. However, the nest is in a very precarious location on a tiny hummock in open water, exposed to both the sun and boat action.  
Sitting proudly a new island they just built

You can't always wait for the perfect house to come on the market; sometimes you have to take what's available, especially when your family is expecting.

Our resident loon experts Marge and Dave Thorpe, with the assistance of Caroline Hughes from the Loon Preservation Committee, set out markers to keep everyone a safe distance from the nest.  
Please keep outside the buoy line - and no wake south of Bryant Island

We are asking power boats to travel only at headway speed on the entire south side of Bryant Island as even a small wake could easily wash right over the entire nest.  Of course all boats should stay well outside the marked buoy line, and if you see or hear a loon making its presence known, please leave immediately.  Especially in the heat of mid-July, even a few minutes off the nest could kill the egg.  Another sign of distress is when the loon is leaning its head down low trying to make itself disappear.  Please speak up if you see someone overlooking these guidelines.  I took these pictures with a 400mm telephoto lens and then blew them up on the computer - the loon clearly wasn't affected at my distance away, as seen by its head-up position and the fact it was comfortable enough to turn the egg. Nonetheless, I paddled on quickly.

The pair will have to raise their chick (probably only one at this late date) quickly, and there are still many hazards to navigate, but with good boating etiquette, humans won't be one of them!  At least the parents won't have to deal with black flies at this late date.  

A final item of local delight to seek out:  blueberries!  Blueberry season is about to burst out in New Hampshire, and it looks to be a good one as copious rain and hot temperatures are ripening a bumper crop of these delicious, healthy nuggets - find a blueberry bush near you!