|Mt. Passaconaway from Mt. Whiteface; Mt. Chocorua is in the distance|
Hiking these two mountains this week I was thrilled to come upon a large quantity of moose droppings on the trail leading up to Mt. Passaconaway. In fact, on one half-mile stretch I counted 64 piles of scat right on the trail, some being quite large (and fresh).
|A lot of of moose poop|
It was nice to see signs of a good moose population close by the Lakes Region, even if not quite within the formal boundary. I used to see moose regularly in Meredith around Lake Wicwas - sometimes up near Arbutus Hill Pond, sometimes swimming across the lake, and sometimes right on Chemung Road.
|Chemung Rd, 2011|
|Wading through the marshes|
|That's a big animal|
The moose activity I found this week was at an elevation between 3200 and 3300 feet; it's likely they are now favoring the cooler environment to the north and at higher altitudes as the climate becomes warmer. I recently read an article by Kristine Rines in the May/June issue of the New Hampshire Wildlife Journal about the decline of moose in New Hampshire. Over the past 17 years, the estimated population of moose in the state has declined from over 7,100 to 3,200, and the biggest cause is shorter winters which allows more ticks to attack and weaken moose. Research done by collaring and tracking moose shows the impact of shorter, warmer winters: collared moose calves were found to have mortality rates as high as 80% when winter arrived late, versus 30% when there is an early snow and dry fall. Considering that our winters are already 3 weeks shorter than they were just 30 years ago, and getting worse, it doesn't look good for our local moose population.
When I first heard of the tick problem, I couldn't understand how a tiny tick could kill a giant moose. (Note: these are "winter ticks", Dermacentor albipictus, not the wood ticks or deer ticks that bother humans and domestic pets.) But biologists studying moose harvested by hunters have counted ticks in the tens of thousands on a single animal.
|Winter ticks on a moose's neck|
Now I get it. They not only kill calves and adults, but they weaken females enough that it lowers their reproductive rate. One helpful factor is that the state tracks moose populations and reduces hunting permits based on the population in each wildlife management area (WMA), and will stop hunting altogether when a threshold population is hit. Already, hunting has been stopped in two of New Hampshire's wildlife areas - how long will it be before it's stopped state-wide?
Around Meredith, I still expect to see moose again, but it may be a rare event. We can only hope that other species don't have the same fate, although there is concern that we may lose the loons to a warming climate as well. But not this year! Our loons are back on the lakes and hopefully focused on finding a good nesting site.
The nesting season is looking a lot better than last year's rainy spring. The lakes are already at their summer levels and having been rather dry (the past two days meager rainfall notwithstanding), perhaps the black flies won't torment the loons as much. We're keeping our eyes open for signs of nesting activity already.
And if you're out and about (with your tick repellent in hand!) keep your eye open for more flowers. The lilacs and colombine are blooming now, and I saw my first Lady's Slipper on Wednesday.
|Pink Lady's Slipper on the Harris Conservation Area|
|Columbine along the trail on Red Hill in Moultonborough|