Sunday, June 24, 2018

June 24, 2018 - Welcoming Party

Someone recently commented to me that they have seen a lot sheep laurel around the lake this year.
Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
Sheep laurel is a low-growing shrub with a delicate pink blossom that blooms over several weeks depending on light and water conditions;  you most often see it along shore lines and among blueberry bushes.
Sheep laurel is often seen along the shoreline
The flowers measure about a half an inch across

What I didn't know about this plant until Linda saw a post by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, is that sheep laurel has evolved an unusual defense mechanism to fight off both plants and animals that might like to attack it.  The most unusual trait is called "allelopathic", which means its roots give off chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants, especially conifers.  [Ref:  New England Wildflower Society]  That seems like a pretty good way to keep away competitors for light and water.  It is also poisonous to livestock including sheep and cattle, thus the source of its common name of "lambkill", and another good survival trait.

Sheep laurel is a particular problem for blueberry fields, as it has stronger rhizomes and sprouts faster than blueberries; it has to be actively managed in commercial blueberry fields.  [Ref:  US Department of Agriculture]
Sheep laurel growing amidst blueberries

Early one morning this week I took a long walk along the lake and through the woods; it was a beautiful, peaceful morning with birds singing all the way, including a rose-breasted gross beak in a thicket beside a field, which I rarely see, and even then far too deep in the branches to get more than a glimpse of it.  I saw no other creatures on the whole long walk.  Until that is, I came right back to my own yard, where I found someone waiting to greet me.
Just lumbering along, looking for breakfast
Mr. Bear was wandering down the road, and I noticed him (I don't really know if it was a him or a her, but there were no cubs) far enough away to watch for a minute.  But as it approached the house I decided it was time for him to skedaddle.  All it took was for me to make a little noise, and it quickly took notice of me - bears have much better ears (and noses) than eyes.

Then just a little motion on my part, and he high-tailed it out of there!
On the retreat

But look at the size of those feet. 

And you certainly wouldn't want to tangle with those claws.
Large claws.  Big ears too.

Bears are omnivores and will wander all day, consuming anything they come across, from berries to bees to carrion.  Which brings me to turtle eggs, which they will also gladly consume.  Has anyone found holes dug in sand or soft soil near the water?  I saw that much of the bare ground on Smith Island was dug up and looking rather like a mine field. 
A reptilian moonscape

Here is the likely culprit, courtesy of the eye and camera of Amy Wilson:
A sunning snapping turtle.  Photo by Amy Wilson
A big mama, but she sure isn't digging any holes to lay eggs on that rock!

Finally, a loon update:  At last report, there are still two nests with an unknown number of eggs being incubated.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

June 17, 2018 - A Historic Moment at Wicwas

First, the good news:  the loons have nested!  The nest was first seen by the keen eye of Amy Wilson, with a couple of suggestions from Dave and Marge Thorpe, and as Amy had her camera with a good telephoto lens, she was able to catch a couple of pictures from far away without disturbing the loon on the nest. 
A near ideal nesting site.  Photos by Amy Wilson

This year they selected a well hidden spot, with good overhead cover from the sun and predators - unlike last years nest, right out in the middle of a cove - so it will not be marked with signs.  But if you do happen to come across it, move away quickly, as just a short time with the parent off the nest leaves the eggs vulnerable to being over-heated, under-heated, or taken by a predator.  Also, if you notice a loon acting strangely, such as flapping its wings, calling loudly, or coming up close to someone's boat, it likely means the boat is near the nest, so please ask them to move away from the shore.
Just showing off a few weeks ago, but it's they type of display use to attract threats away from the nest
And here is the momentous event:  as far back as anyone can remember (and there are some people that have been on this lake for a long time) we have only had one nesting pair of loons on the lake.  This year, for the first time, there is a second nest.
Nest number two!

Again, it was Amy who found it.  This nest is much more visible, but Henry Stevens, biologist for the Loon Preservation Committee, will be at Wicwas tomorrow, and he will determine if this nest should be marked.

After so much loon drama on the lake the past three years, there hasn't been a chick that survived since 2014.  I'm hoping that the rogue loon that has been part of the problem - and has been on the lake again this summer - has found a mate and now will be too busy taking care of its own offspring to harass the other pair.  But first-time parents don't have a lot of experience, so that scenario may not play out.  At any rate, the general rule of thumb is that each loon pair needs 150 acres of lake, so Lake Wicwas is large enough for two nesting pairs to share.  I'll keep everyone up to date with the status of a pair of pairs!

In another exciting moment this week, the quick eye of Neil Crimins caught this good size black ambling along Loon Point this past week, looking for unsecured garbage cans or a stray bird feeder.
Bear Alert!  Photo by Neil Crimins

He also caught sight of doe with a very tiny new fawn!  Keep your eye out and maybe you'll see one too.  Send me a picture if you're lucky enough to get one.

I was away for much of the past week enjoying a visit with family in South Carolina who live in a beautiful spot near Charleston, and are very gracious hosts.  They brought us to a raptor rehabilitation center in Awendaw, South Carolina called The Center for Birds of Prey, which has eagles, hawks, kites, and many others birds on site, and even does raptor demonstrations.
American Kestrel
Great horned owl coming in for a landing

Little baby kestrels (corrected, I think)

I highly recommend a visit if you are ever near the Charleston area.

Back at Lake Wicwas, the only raptor I saw this week was an osprey soaring over the lake one morning.
Osprey on a fishing excursion

But I did see another handsome couple the same day, happily enjoying a sunny morning with a brilliant blue sky.
A happy a pair of mourning doves (Is that an oxymoron?)

There are lots of pairs on the lake, and hopefully, a couple of new baby loons will soon join them.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

June 10, 2018 - A Chipmunk Epidemic

The season of regeneration is here and new life is flourishing all around us.  I don't need to point out the chipmunk epidemic that's happening this year - they are everywhere, by the dozens, chipping at us from the woods, zipping across the roads, and popping out of every nook and cranny.

Remembering back to last fall, there was a tremendous mast crop including abundant acorns and white pine cones, both valuable food sources for many rodents.  Every chipmunk in New Hampshire must have stuffed its pantry with enough food to support multiple litters of many little 'munks.

The birds are also hatching now, the most visible of course being the Canada geese.
Six little fluff balls out for a swim
They grow quickly - here they are just five days later

Even the week before last I saw a different goose family (is that a gaggle?) crossing Meredith Center Road and the chicks were already over a foot tall.  I always keep my eye open for the wood duck family, which I rarely see, but this year I got lucky.
Seven little wood ducklings, all tucked in behind mom

Amphibians are not very visible in their mating season, but they sure are audible.  On those warm spring nights the lakes are filled with calls of frogs and toads looking for love.  Have you heard a creaky door slowly opening and closing continuously around the lake?  It was probably the mating call of a pickerel frog announcing its availability.
Pickerel frog

You can hear the voice of the pickerel frog inviting a mate over for a visit by clicking here.

Loons are now into their prime nesting season.  Some pairs, including the pair on Pleasant Lake, laid their eggs almost two weeks ago.  Our Wicwas pair has been working on finding a nesting site, but I'm not aware they've settled on a home for the year.  Seeing a pair poking around close to shore is a sure sign they are searching for nesting sites.

They have no other reason to venture close to land as they can dive safely for fish in deep water.

Building up a potential nesting site with one loon on watch

We again have a third loon on the lake, but all seem to be sharing better this year;  we'll see what happens as the summer progresses.  As in previous years, the Loon Preservation Committee has a live loon-cam at a nest on an undisclosed lake in New Hampshire - all we know is that it's within an hour's drive from the Loon Center.  There is a lot of great information on their website, and there are some amazing videos if you look back through this year's video highlights.
A frame from this year's loon-cam

Even the butterflies are procreating;  I caught a couple of Tiger Swallowtails having an intimate moment.

More butterflies are on the way!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 3, 2018 - Lady's Footwear

After last week's journal entry I received a couple of reports of moose sightings around Meredith, including a female (cow) with two calves right along the northern tip of Lake Winnisquam.  Jane Gregoire caught a great picture of the whole family, early in the morning on April 28.
Three moose with Lake Winnisquam in the background.  Photo by Jane Gregoire.

The other moose sighting was out on Meredith Neck.  It's great to have a network of nature watchers on the lookout for wildlife - keep those reports and pictures coming!  Here are two beautiful photos taken on Lake Wicwas by Larry Feig early one calm morning.
West shore of Lake Wicwas.  Photo by Larry Feig
Harris Conservation Area.  Photo by Larry Feig
It just seems that mornings are the best time to be out watching for rare sights - thanks for sharing!  

This time of year it seems that everyone has a Lady's Slipper story in their life.  Recently someone was telling me about the memories they have of their father whenever they see one of these lovely flowers.  
Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

My own first memory is from my mother, pointing out a lady's slipper on a walk in the woods, and telling me I should never pick this rare flower.  She also explained that one shouldn't even try to transplant them, as they require a specific micro-climate in the soil, and they are unlikely to survive if transplanted elsewhere.  A couple of years ago I came across an article in Northern Woodlands by Susan Shea about her first encounter with a lady's slipper.  She described a camping site in Vermont that was surrounded by them, and then provided a wealth of information about these native orchids, including their unusual method of pollination.  The unique blossom of the lady's slipper has its petals fused together, forming a pouch with a hole in the center through which a bee enters.
The petals connect, forming a pouch

As the bee passes through the narrow blossom on the way to the exit holes on the top, it is forced to brush against the flower's female part, where it deposits any pollen it had collected from another flower.  Then, as it passes out the exit hole, the flower's male protrusion rubs against the bee, depositing its pollen to be shared on the next flower the bee visits.  There is however one major flaw in the system:  the lady slipper doesn't produce any nectar, so bees quickly learn to ignore these flowers, meaning only a small percentage of them get pollinated each year, a factor in their sparse population.
An unknowing bumblebee looking for nectar

Here is another unusual challenge for these plants:  their seeds have no starches to help them germinate and grow (compare that to, say, the large nutritive-content around an apple seed).  When a successfully pollinated lady's slipper seed is released, it must land on the ground and come in contact with a specific type of fungus that will work with the seed to allow it to absorb nutrients from the soil.  (See blog entry from October  2016 for more about how almost every plant in the forest is dependent on fungi.)  Fortunately, you can grow them in your garden without disturbing wild plants, as nurseries have learned how to propagate them, so you can purchase seeds commercially, along with special soil containing the proper fungus.

But somehow I have the feeling it's not an easy (or quick) plant to grow.  In the wild, the whole process, from seed dispersal to flowing plant, takes at least 10, and as many as 17 years.  So when you see these beautiful flowers in the wild, know that they have worked long and hard to get where they are.

Loon update:  The pair is now actively looking for a nesting site;  keep a wide distance if you see them near shore.