Sunday, December 29, 2019

December 29, 2019: My Favorite Things

Here we go again, my favorite moments from the past year around Lake Wicwas - one from each month of 2019.  These are, of course, in addition to...

     Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
     Silver-white winters that melt into springs.... 
          (Rogers and Hammerstein)

Click on a title or the picture to see more about each event.

Flying Squirrel - January 13
These cute little squirrels come out at night, and I only see them in winter when the bird feeders are out.

Barred Owl - February 17
This patient owl came to watch for prey on a snowy day.  It sat on this branch so long that it became covered with a layer of snow.

Bobcat on the Prowl - March 10
We had several visits of the local bobcat last winter including this day where it stayed for quite some time.  There was also a deer killed by coyotes on Lake Winnisquam that week.

Red Fox in a Warm Fur Coat - April 7
This could be the same fox I've seen a couple times this year.  It must have eaten well last winter as it still looked healthy and well fed in April.

Goose Hiding on its Nest - May 19
For the first time I came across a goose nest during a paddle around the lake.  At least two pairs of geese nested on Lake Wicwas this summer, as did two pairs of loons.

White Tail - Mother's Day, May 12
This white-tailed deer stopped by the house to visit Linda on Mother's Day.

Harley and Davidson - June 23
Our two loon chicks hatched during motorcycle week.

Loon Banding - July 7
The highlight of the summer was being able to participate in the capture, banding, and release of our male loon (the father of Harley and Davidson).

Water Testing - August 18
Once again, Dave and Marge Thorpe provided transportation and expertise in collecting samples for annual watering test as part of the Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP).

The Chicks Grow - September 15
We enjoyed watching the loons feed and protect the chicks all summer, resulting in the first successful fledging since 2014.  (Photo by Amy Wilson)

The Eagle Flies - October 6
Eagles are not a rare sight anymore in the Lakes Region, but it's always an exciting event to see these huge, majestic birds.

Dozens of Ducks - November 24
The Lakes Region is a popular stopping point for migrating birds.  In November we had an unusually large flock of mallards stop on Wicwas, and I learned they eat acorns!

Spring is on the Way - December 22
December brought us a little wintry weather, but so far the weather has been pretty tame.  We'll what January has in store for us....

Here's to wishing everyone a happy and safe New Year's Eve as we remember 2019, and anticipate what discoveries we'll find in the 2020s!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

December 22, 2019: Winter Solstice Arrives

Sunset over Oakland Cemetery one day before the winter solstice.

Every year the winter solstice brings one of the most reassuring moments of winter:  The days are getting longer.  As of 11:19 pm last night the sun reached is nadir relative to the northern hemisphere, and from here on out it will rise higher in the sky every day.   It reminds us all that - even if there are many cold days ahead - spring will return and reopen our frozen lakes. 
The first two souls I saw on the lake this winter.

Lake Wicwas has been frozen for a couple of weeks now and on Friday I saw the first two people out on the ice.  After soliciting a report on the ice (thank you HC), and after two days with temps in the single digits and teens, I concluded it was safe for cautious travel and went for a ski before the warm weather arrives.
It's nice to see tracks on the lake again after being vacant for so long.
The skiing was quite good despite a bit of slush on the ice to contend with.

Of course, not all the lakes are frozen yet;  Winnipesaukee will take several more weeks to complete its turnover and freeze all the way across the broads.  Early in the week Lake Waukewan was partly frozen but there was a pair of bald eagles on the frozen area, doing some fishing.  The report (and picture - thanks for sharing Tony!) from a local resident was that the eagles actually cut a hole in the ice to pull out a fish! 
A pair of eagles try their hand at ice fishing.  (Photo by Tony Sabutus)

It's been cold enough that the snow we received on Tuesday has remained light and dry so the animals can still easily paw through the snow to collect the large stash of acorns hidden below.  I came across a section of turned up oak leaves which is a sure sign of some animal in search of acorns.

It could be turkey, bear, or deer, and it's usually pretty easy to determine which by the other signs.  Tracks are one, and these objects make it even easier.
Those are deer droppings, not coffee beans.

Acorns have such great nutritive value that deer feast on them as long as they can get to them.  These deer had plowed around over quite a large area under these oaks trees.  I found a few partially crushed acorns that had fallen from their mouths - not an unusual occurrence as a deer breaks up the hard shells to facilitate digestion in its four-chambered stomach.
A couple of crushed, but dropped acorns.

A deer's first chamber is partially for storage to let them eat more food than they can use in the moment, digesting it later.  Deer have developed quite an intricate system of processing food that they themselves can not digest - they employ the use of Ruminococcus bacteria in their stomach to ferment cellulose (hmm, makes me want to brew some beer....) which breaks it down into digestible products.  Wikipedia has a detailed description of the process here.

Another interesting aspect of deer's food processing is that all that chewing over the years wears down their teeth in such a reliable way that tooth wear is the best method of determining the age of a deer.  A deer will rarely live as long a ten years, but if it does, it's teeth will have worn down so much that it will probably starve to death - or become so weak that it becomes easy prey for coyotes.

There are plenty more cold, wintry days ahead for humans and deer, but every day, the sun will rise slightly farther to the north, and it will climb just a bit higher in the sky.
2:00 pm on December 19th.

I hope everyone has a warm, peaceful Christmas with family and friends where you may be.
Artwork by Desktop Nexus

Sunday, December 15, 2019

December 15, 2018: There's a Story in these Tracks

There's a story to be told in these tracks, but I don't know what it is.  On Monday I noticed a plethora of turkey tracks running along the ice near the shore, and following them I saw that they came from far across the lake.
Co-mingling fox and turkey tracks.
The turkey highway turned right to follow the shoreline.

With the ice being thin, I wasn't about to follow them to see where they came from from, but I did venture out a few feet to investigate a larger disturbance in the snow amidst the turkey highway; I could something occurred where a set of fox tracks collided with the turkey tracks.
Even fox slip and slide on the ice.

The fox had clearly spent some time here poking around on the ice.
Looking for something of interest.

But what's the story?  Who was there first?  I couldn't tell which tracks were on top of the other.  The animals certainly didn't encounter each other as both animals would be extremely obvious on the open lake in daylight (turkey roost at night) and there is no sign of concern on the part of the turkeys - the tracks pass straight through.  I'd say the flock of turkeys just took a path across the lake and the fox happened upon the tracks sometime later.  But why all the interest paid by the fox?  Perhaps a turkey left a dropping there that caught the nose of the fox.  It will be just one more mystery of nature that goes unsolved.

A bit farther along the lake I saw where the fox came up off the lake to leave its marker on the shore.
Several sets of tracks here - a pair, or a repeat visit?
A little scratching and a urine deposit.

It then turned around and backtracked on its tour of the shoreline.  In the track I found some prints on the ice which showed good examples of fox prints with the two toe claws visible.
If you see claw imprints (on left) you can be pretty sure it's a fox rather than a bobcat.

Then a couple of days later I saw the likely culprit taking another late afternoon trip across the lake.

It's looking like this could be a fun winter for fox watching.

Alas, all the snow is now gone.  The warm weather on Monday melted all the snow we had on the ground, but it didn't re-open the lake, so ice-in on December 8th looks secure.
A warm, rainy day on Monday meant the end of tracking, but it provided good skating conditions.

Ice in was a few days earlier than the recent trend line but well within the normal range.  On Thursday, after a couple of cold days I cut a hole about ten feet from shore and found 4" of solid ice.  By Friday afternoon after cutting a few more test holes I decided it was safe enough for a skate within Marion Cove, but no venturing farther out than that.
Good ice for skating on Friday in the cove.

Rain yesterday could mean even better skating conditions.  Winter activities have arrived, but New England weather will dictate whether we'll be skiing, skating, or hiking next.
Standing water on the ice this morning, just waiting for a quick freeze.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

December 8, 2019: Foxes are Clever - and Light

I don't know how the fox knows when the ice will support its weight - maybe they are just so light that if there's visible ice, they are good to go.  But the very first morning I saw ice on the lake, when there were still many open spots along the shore, there was already a set of tracks across the cove.  And the next day, there was our local red fox taking a short cut from its den to its hunting grounds.
A red fox takes the short route across Lake Wicwas.
Looking for a safe place to get off the ice.

Tracks left from an earlier excursion.

Fox are very efficient animals and will take every advantage offered in conserving energy in their travels.

Snow on the ground makes it more difficult for all the rodent-hunters to catch their prey since the mice can hide under the cover of snow, so it's starting off as a hard winter for fox, owls, and the other small-mammal predators.  At least there are lots of acorns so the mice will be well fed and making plenty more little mice - a female mouse can have over a dozen pups in a litter, as many as ten times per year!

The last reported sighting of our loons was on November 18th, and with ice now, it's safe to say that all our loons have departed.  It was exciting to have fledged two chicks this year as we haven't had a successful nesting since 2014, though it's sad to think we'll never know what happens to Harley and Davidson from this point forward.  If we see a new loon or two appear on the lake in four or five years, we can imagine it is one of this year's chicks, but that would be pure speculation as loons returning from the their maturing period on the ocean often return to the lake of their birth, but they will also venture to another nearby lake if their birth lake is fully populated.  It's too bad young chicks can't be banded, but on the other hand, perhaps the unknown is part of the mystique of the loon.

And loons better be gone from Lake Wicwas;  by December 4th the coves were frozen as was the southern portion of the lake.
Lake Wicwas was frozen part way up Loon Point on Wednesday.

On December 5th there was only one section open on the west shore at the north edge of the conservation area where the Red Trail reaches the lake.
Only a small open area the next day (far left in picture).

By yesterday it was down to a tiny circle of water, and after last night's low of five degrees and calm wind, that had closed up.  We won't know if this is the final ice-in until we see if the next two days of warm temperatures opens things up again.

The Lakes Region didn't get snow measured in feet like farther south but we did have a few inches on Monday and few more Friday night.  The first snow provides the fun of knowing what animals have been living around us all summer even if we haven't seen them; I've already seen tracks of fox, coyote, and deer, but this was my favorite animal track this week:
A porcupine leaves its mark in the snow, framed by unknown prior tracks on either side.

It's certainly starting to look like winter around the lakes.
Squam Lake was still wide open on Saturday, as seen through snow squalls from the summit of Mt. Morgan.
Note:  Ice-in was declared as December 8th as it did hold though the warm spell.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December 1, 2019: Hungry Birds in South Carolina

We spent the past week in South Carolina, enjoying a wonderful visit with family in the Charleston area, adding in a few days in Beaufort, South Carolina, and Hunting Island State Park on Fripp Island.  Being migration season I kept my eye for our New Hampshire summer birds that have made their way this far south and I saw quite a few including these three, though there's no way of knowing whether they are migrating or permanent SC residents.
Bald Eagle at Palmetto Island County Park
Great Blue Heron at Hunting Island
Osprey at Hunting Island

Other birds I found were local to the South Carolina shore or its maritime forest including these two along the barrier islands.
Semipalmated Plover on Little Hunting Island
Semipalmated Sandpiper on Isle of Palms

After identifying my second shore bird with the term "semipalmated" in its name I figured I better find out what that means:  a semipalmated bird has webbing half way down its feet (semi and palm) - it seems obvious now.  At first I thought the plovers might be piping plovers, but they are clearly the semipalmated plover based on their coloring and location - piping plovers mostly stay on dry sand in the dunes.

I saw quite a few snowy egrets and great egrets which are common in the lowcountry.  One of the great egrets posed quite nicely and gave us all a good show.
Great egret on Hunting Island

The snowy egret on the other hand was more focused on catching food and didn't seem to pay any attention to us.  It would walk quietly along through the shallow water looking for a school of fish.
A Snowy Egret hunting on Hunting Island

When it saw a school it flew up and over them which caused the fish to thrash around wildly, churning the water up into a froth under the bird.
On the approach

On the attack

It then stabbed down into the water with it's beak, more often than not coming up with a little fish.

All the while these birds are fishing they must keep an eye out for predators, including these guys:
An alligator looking for its own meal

Tic-toc, tic-toc   (or was that a crocodile?)

We had a great visit as always with our wonderful hostess (thank you LG!) providing more great memories, including my favorite nature-moment of the trip:  As I was watching the sun rise over Fripp Island, a long line of brown pelicans flew low over the water in front of the emerging day - another uplifting moment courtesy of mother nature.