Sunday, January 28, 2018

January 28, 2018 - A mid-winter celebration

This week we celebrated a life milestone (which will not be revealed) with a trip to a warmer climate for a few days.
Delnor Wiggins State Park
Yes, it was a trip south to savor a taste of summer at the beaches and wetlands of southwest Florida.
Corkscrew Swamp
Of course a trip anywhere must include a stop or two to sample the local flora and fauna, and this one allowed opportunities to look for some of our summer friends who travel south for the season.  Several migrating birds that spend summers in New Hampshire were spotted, including yellow-rumped-warblers and ospreys.
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Osprey returning from a fishing trip

The warblers were catching insects in the Corkscrew Swamp, while the osprey were fishing in the  waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  We didn't see any Great Blue Herons, but we did see several of it's smaller cousin, named of course, the Little Blue Heron.
The Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) is about half the size of the Great Blue Heron
These were fishing in ponds and estuaries, and were quite successful in their endeavors.

Another similar bird that appears to be a mash-up of two of our favorite summer birds - the Common Loon and the Heron - is something called the Anhinga.
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

The anhinga is a diving bird shaped somewhat like a loon, and it fishes like a loon although it doesn't catch fish with its beak, rather it stabs its prey spear-gun style with that long, sharp beak.  At breeding time, it nests like a heron, building a nest of sticks in a tree.  We were fortunate enough to be near the nest at meal time, which was reminiscent of the feeding of the Great Blue Herons seen up at Arbutus Hill Pond in Meredith last summer.

There were also many beautiful animals that have no counterpart in New England, including 'gators, Snowy Egrets, and the ungainly, yet wonderfully elegant, Brown Pelican.

Snowy Egret near the Naples Pier (love those yellow slippers)
Anyone want to mess with me?
A brown pelican glides low over the gulf waters

We also found some other friends that are smart enough to travel south with the other animals for the winter.
Thanks M&N for everything!
We knew we had picked a fine time to be away from central New Hampshire just by watching the weather reports of snow, ice, and freezing rain.  Learning that we had lost electricity for a day just added to the picture.  When we returned the result of the weather was evident, as the lakes had reformed into frozen icy glaciers.  But it didn't take long to see people out taking advantage of whatever New England doles out.
Fat biking on Lake Wicwas

These two were moving along quite nicely on what are called Fat Bikes:  bicycles with low pressure tires (3-10 psi) in the range of 3 to 5 inches wide that can ride on a variety of soft surfaces such as sand and snow.  Evidently they also have soft enough tire composition to provide traction on clear ice.  If anyone recognizes this couple, I'd be happy to send some pictures to them.
Later that day there were some other two-wheeled vehicles out on Lake Wicwas.
A faster mode of two-wheeled transportation

A couple of short videos:

They're also a little louder than fat bikes.  These high-tech machines have spikes mounted into their tires so they have no problem with traction on ice.

The snow surface is rock-hard at the moment, and with no snow in the immediate forecast, ice sports may be the activity of the week.  There certainly won't be any animal tracking, as I had to really stomp on the snow to break through the crust.  But until new snow falls, we'll enjoy the ice:  next weekend brings the New England Pond Hockey Classic to Meredith Bay, and they will be loving the current conditions in the Lakes Region.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January 21, 2018

It was another week of variability on the lakes.  Right after the rain froze everything up there were a few days of good skating on large areas of smooth ice.

Active, year-round lake enthusiast Harry Clymer went to check the ice quality on that first, frigid, frozen day, and declared it acceptable for skating.

The ice was quite nice in some places, even good enough to make a trek all the way around the lake if one was willing to brave a few rough spots.  It enabled quite a few people to get out on the ice as shown by tracks etched in various locations around the lake.

In mid January the sun is still setting far to the south - even though the days are lengthening - and it painted long reflections on the ice as it set behind Arbutus Hill to the west.

Then on Wednesday things changed as snow returned - a peaceful, gently falling veil of snow through a still sky that obscured all color, conceding only shades of gray.
Nothing but gray

The next morning's sunrise revealed that all had been tucked back under its pristine white winter blanket.
Morning sunshine on pristine snow

Thank you all for your feedback on your winter squirrel sightings, and for the offer to send some of yours our way.  It seems they took you up on your offer, as this week we had many gray squirrels back around the house.  Perhaps the impenetrable ice layer is keeping them from their food stores so they are looking elsewhere.
They're back....

Gray squirrels live above ground in a tree cavity or in a giant nest of leaves high in the branches of a sturdy oak tree.  Red squirrels - which are still absent from the feeders - live under ground, so are more accustomed to digging down below the snow and ice, and likely still have access to their subterranean food supply.  But if we have a long winter we will see them arrive at our feeders as spring approaches.

A trip around the lake after the snow fell betrayed the nighttime travels of a number of winter predators out on the hunt for sustenance - including any squirrels foolish enough to venture onto the lake.

Multiple animals used this passage between Loon Point and Point Island
 The track on the right was made by a coyote as shown by this clear paw print:
Note the well defined toenail imprints
 Later, another set of tracks:
A bobcat trail 
This bobcat followed the northern shoreline for over three quarters of a mile.

Over on Blake Brook I found a few old otter slides, ones that were made before this last snow.
An otter takes advantage of a beaver lodge to get a start on its luge run

I'm happy to have the change back to snow, though it was nice to have a chance to get a few skating strides in this winter.  Plus it made for some different winter landscapes for us to enjoy.
A lone skater sets off as the sun sets slowly in the west

Sunday, January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018 - Where are the Squirrels?

Where are all the squirrels this winter?  At this point in most winters there are scads of squirrels scampering around the woods and raiding Linda's bird feeders.
A red squirrel on alert

Squirrel acrobatics
But this year I had seen none until just yesterday when the very first gray squirrel showed up to check out the corn in the squirrel feeder and take a drink from the bird bath.
Time for a drink

A possible reason for their scarcity is the bountiful crop of both acorns and pine cones this summer, so their pantries are well stocked and they're staying close to home to eat.  But I'd be interested to hear if others have noticed a deficit of both red and gray squirrels this year.

I hope people got out to enjoy the silky-soft snow the cold weather provided before the rain hit on Friday.  I spent some time on the skis in Meredith's Community Forest this week (thanks for the invite BG!) and the conditions were perfect - soft snow, and no foot traffic had been on the trail.
Red Trail in Meredith Community Forest
Perfect skiing conditions

The Red Trail is ideal for skiing, and though it's open for snowmobiles, none had been on most of the trail.  The snow pack was deep enough to allow plenty of exploring off the trails as well.
Deep snow pack means you can explore just about anywhere you want

At one point we found a well situated weasel den under a large rock with fresh tracks leading from it.
A weasel's hatchway to the world

Recent tracks leading from the den

There were loads of animal tracks throughout Community Forest, in stark contrast to where I've been in the Lake Wicwas area where tracks continue to be far and few between.

I also took a ski trip up to the Drake's Brook Ski Trails in Waterville Valley which I discovered last winter are groomed, and I was thrilled with the quality and amount of groomed trails there - both skate and classic.
Groomed tracks for skate and classic skiing
If you're a skier I highly recommend the area;  there are miles of groomed trails with excellent maps and signs throughout the trail network.  The trail head is on Rt 49 in Waterville Valley, 0.5 mile south of the intersection with Tripoli Road.

But then on Friday, the world changed again - as New England is wont to do - and skiing came to a screeching halt.  The temperatures rose some 60 degrees from the lows a week ago, from -10 to 51 degrees.  And then it rained.  In 24 hours we lost 14 inches of snow base.  Of course, that didn't last long, and today the high was back down to 16, and tonight we'll be below zero again.  Looking at the positive side, at least we didn't have to deal with the two feet of snow that two inches of rain would have brought, and we did get the roofs and ice dams cleared out.  (Though some areas had to deal with serious and dangerous flooding.)  And with the lake absorbing all that rain, skating was the activity of today, and will be until the next snow arrives.

And I thought we were going to be skunked with skating this year.  One never knows what New Hampshire has in store for us over a winter.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

January 7, 2017 - A Cold Week

I did my best impersonation of a bear this week.  While whining about having a cold, I basically slept and lazed around the house all week, looking out the windows at brilliant sunshine, pristine white snow, and crystal-clear blue skies amid the freezing temperatures.
Another beautiful January day - Photo by Linda Powell

And of course, one day of snow drifting down - at least until the winds picked up and it turned into a good-old New England Nor-easter.
The Bomb Cyclone in its early, gentle phase
We ended up with almost a foot of snow in the Lakes Region.  It wasn't a bad week to be stuck inside as it was a little cold for most outdoor activities anyway;  we've been 12 days in a row where the low temperature has fallen below zero.
January 3rd

Compare that to last winter when the coldest temperature recorded all year was -2.9.

Even my friend who usually hikes the high peaks in the Whites wisely settled for a little warmer trip up Mount Monadnock, and even there people were dressed like they were making an assault on Mount Everest.
Mt. Monadnock doing its Everest impersonation  -  Photo by Doug Jansen

So there wasn't much outside-time for me this week, but still some observing through the windows, and although I didn't see the whites of its eyes, we did have our first visit from the bobcat as seen by tracks in the snow, first leaping into the yard under the bird feeders and then wandering around checking out each of the feeding sites.  Based on the traffic pattern I don't think it caught anything, but I'm sure it knows there are good prospects here, and it will be back.  I'm hoping I'll get a sighting or two this winter.

All the cold and snow brought out the birds in force, taking advantage of easy food supplies to build their energy levels up enough to keep warm.  The feeders have been brimming with a full complement of winter visitors.
Thursday was a busy day at the feeders

A reader noted recently that in addition to the white pines, the hemlock trees also had a bumper crop of cones this year (thanks HC).
Cones thick on the hemlocks in November
And still on the trees in December

I had noticed that after a snow storm it only takes a day before the fresh snow is peppered with the scales of tiny cones under the hemlock stands.
Shards of hemlock cones paint the snow black
I don't know if it's birds or squirrels eating the seeds in the cones;  I wouldn't be surprised if it's both.

He also related from decades of observations on hemlocks on his property, that 30 years years ago the hemlock trees had large crops of cones every year and that isn't the case now, and he questioned why.  Poking around a little bit I found only that hemlocks are very sensitive to pollution in general, and road-side salt in particular, the later of which may be having an impact.  Air pollution in our area hasn't degraded much in the past few decades, and the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (an invasive species killing Hemlocks in much of North America) hasn't impacted New Hampshire in a significant way (yet).  It can't survive temperatures below -22 to -25 Fahrenheit, so these cold snaps do have their benefits.  With the increased application of road salt over the past ten or twenty years, that's the best possible reason I have to offer.
Another cold day with hardy people enjoying weather that sends Wooly Adelgids packing for southern climes

With a forecast for warmer weather, and me being on the mend, I hope to be back out the prowl myself next week, acting more like a bobcat than a bear.