Sunday, February 24, 2019

February 23, 2019: Meet Pete

My brother Glen, who lives in Canterbury, sent me a great video of a porcupine this week, just plodding happily through the snow without a worry in the world (click here to watch it).  With that level of self-protection, there isn't much a porcupine has to worry about.  Sure, the occasion fisher - if it's really hungry - will go after a porcupine, but other than that they're pretty much untouchable.  Many a dog will try, but invariably ends with nothing but a muzzle full of quills.

Glen sees this guy quite often, saying that he comes out to help him when he's working on the wood pile.  So he's named him Pete.  Sometimes he finds Pete lounging on the walkway where the stone has absorbed the heat of the sun.
A nice place for an afternoon nap.  Photo by Glen Powell.

Other times he's curled up, napping beside the foundation, enjoying the extra warmth emanating from the ground and the house.
Curled up under the deck.  Photo by Glen Powell.

Or perhaps he's just hanging around, lapping up some snow-melt from a sunny, southern-exposure snow field.
Completely vunlerable, yet unconcerned.  Photo by Glen Powell.

He reminded me that I hadn't been out to Porcupine Ridge this winter to check on our local porcupines, so I took a snowshoe out to see if they're still around.  It was right after a fresh snowfall, so I knew any tracks would have occured just the night before.  (That's the tradeoff with new snow - you know tracks are very recent, but there also aren't many because they've all been obliterated.)  Sure enough, I found plenty of tracks just from last night leading into (or out of) various little caves and crevices among the boulder field on the ledge.
Fresh tracks reveal a porcupine hideout

I enjoy finding these little porky hideouts, but I always make plenty of noise as I approach.  The only time I've had a close encounter with a porcupine was on a winter hike in Homestead Forest in Ashland, and I wasn't even looking for animals.  I was just walking along the trail, approaching Devil's Den, when out one popped from under a rock right beside the trail.
A well worn porcupine path on the trail in Homestead Forest

He was as startled as I was, but he just turned around slowly and went back to his hideout.  If you haven't been there, Homestead Forest is a really neat area (owned and protected by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust) with 3.5 miles of trails, old homesteads, nice views, and Devil's Den - a giant boulder field.

You can find directions, a trail map, and pictures by clicking here.  But if you go, watch out for Pete's nephew!

Thanks for sharing Glen!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

February 17, 2019: The Patience of an Owl

I was outside one morning this week taking care of a few things before a bit of snow was expected to arrive, when I heard the distressed calling of birds.  Many of our local aviary residents have a variety of calls to communicate with their flock, with the chick-a-dee having the most diverse and complex vocalizations of them all.  From the gentle dee-dee of a warm spring morning, to the harsh tzeee of their warning call, they talk among their flock quite a bit.  Other birds have even learned to use their calls as a warning to escape from a dangerous situation.  Hearing these cautionary signals I took a look around to see if I could find what they had found.  It didn't take too long.
The barred owl (Strix vaira) is New Hampshire's most common owl, and one of the largest

This beautiful barred owl had selected a perch high in a maple that gave it a bird's-eye view of both the front and back yard feeders, and the birds didn't like it.  Neither did the squirrels, none of which were any where to be seen.  I would venture a guess that the rodents didn't even see it fly it, but took note of the birds' warning.  It was interesting to note that the chick-a-dees didn't depart, rather they hung around calling, and even approaching the owl - not mobbing it or directly harassing it, but letting the owl and everyone else know they were aware of its presence.  So Mr. owl just sat there, watching and waiting.

After a time the birds became brave enough to return to the feeders.  It's a good indication that owls don't usually take a bird in flight the way a kestrel might, or birds at all for that manner; owls this large prefer terrestrial targets like mice and squirrels where they can silently swoop down for the kill.  Perhaps you saw in the Laconia Daily Sun this week two pictures that Margaret Higginbotham took of an owl on Chemung Road in Meredith that had caught a gray squirrel right in the road.
Photo by Margaret Higginbotham

Now it's possible it was just opportunistically taking advantage of road kill, but I think that's unlikely since the squirrel looked pretty un-squashed as the owl flew away with it.
Photo by Margaret Higginbotham

I wonder if it's the same bird.  Or maybe its mate, as barred owls mate about now.  The female will lay a clutch of two to four eggs which hatch in March after a four week incubation period.  Once the eggs are laid the male brings food to the female which stays on the nest.  I checked back on our bird a bit later, and it was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to strike.  It would turn its head from side to side on occasion, sometimes looking straight at me, but never appearing overly concerned.

On a gray day, sitting in a tree with bare branches, it blended in nicely with its surroundings - I never would have seen it without the smaller birds' warning.

Then the snow came.

Still the bird sat quietly, letting the snow build up on it, just adding to its disguise.

It kept its feet pretty well covered up from the cold, but at one point I caught a glimpse of talons.

Being nocturnal and at a distance, it's hard to know if it was awake or sleeping (perhaps with one eye open a bit?) but it swiveled its head back and forth on occasion, so it wasn't asleep the whole time.
Are you sleeping?

I saw it a few more times over the course of the day, and it was still there five hours later at last sighting.  But the next time I looked it was gone.  I saw no signs of an attack in the snow, nor any squirrel tracks around, so I don't if know it found a meal and left, or just decided it was time to move on.  But it sure was patient.  Then again, what else does an owl have to do all day?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

February 10, 2019: 40th Great Meredith Fishing Derby

Another beautiful but cold day for a winter event.  This was the 40th Great Meredith Fishing Derby which brings anglers from all over New England to try their luck in any of New Hampshire's lakes.  The headquarters is at Meredith Bay, and by Saturday there was already a nice set of trophy fish on the leader board.

The largest was an 8.3 lb cusk, but larger fish will replace these as the derby progresses
Rainbow Trout

The temperature yesterday was in the 20s with full-on sun and blue skies, but the wind was howling at 20-30 mph with gusts up to 50, which made for a cold day out on the ice.
A fully extended flag indicates a wind speed of about 35 mph or higher

Meredith recorded a wind gust of 56 mph while Mt. Washington recorded their highest wind speed in over a decade at 148 mph (click here for story).  Neil Crimins, an avid Lake Wicwas fisherman and Association board member, sent me that information.  Neil was fishing at Center Harbor on Saturday when one of those 50 mph wind gusts send their tent and all their equipment literally sailing down the bay.  It took them the better part of an hour to collect all their gear, and since the blast snapped a couple of tent poles, they moved into the lee of an island for the rest of the day where they fished, watching other people's gear blow across the lake on its way down to Wolfeboro!  (Thanks for sharing Neil!)

Due to the thaw earlier in the week, the ramp onto Meredith Bay was closed for vehicles so there weren't nearly as many bob houses on the bay as usual, but still there was a nice variety of size and shape houses out there.
A ski hut
A Ski-doo castle
Central heating and lots of windows
Those guys were sure bundled up, but one happy fisherwoman was out enjoying the day, doing it the old fashioned way, and she wasn't bothered by the cold!

We saw a group around a really large hole, using a seriously strong line, indicating they must be after some pretty big prey.

We waited to see what they would come up with.

Now, that's a nice catch, and two at once!

This is something a lot of serious divers have on their bucket list, and Central NH Divers gives them a chance to try it out in a well-supervised situation. 

They have to stay down at least 15 minutes for it to count as a dive.  And it doesn't matter how much insulation they have on, it's still cold.  How do they warm up after a dive?
Thawing feet in a bucket of hot water boiled up by a propane burner

There will be more action today, including picking winners until 4:00, so there's still time to experience the event if you haven't been there yet.

All around New Hampshire we experienced another crazy week of weather:  warm, cold, wind, snow and ice, but with some gorgeous days as well.
Melt-water on a 50 degree day in February
After a beautiful Monday, the lake surface thawed on Tuesday, and then froze up solid again on Friday when the cold air blasted in, causing fog to settle in the valleys and freeze onto the trees.
Super cooled fog freezes on the trees at higher elevations

The big casualty of the this week's weather was the Sled Dog Championship in Laconia which has been cancelled due to snow loss in the start area and icy trails elsewhere.  But the ice is still solid on all the lakes which bodes well for other lake activities.  The Meredith Fishing Derby was the main event this week, with Winnipsaukee the featured attraction, but people are fishing everywhere, including right here on Lake Wicwas.
A lone bob-house, seen from the White Mountain Ledge before the thaw

Sunday, February 3, 2019

February 3, 2019: Polar Vortex Visits New Hampshire

It is certainly winter now in North America with the infamous Polar Vortex rotating down from the arctic to give us the coldest weather of the season.  NASA posted a neat video of the vortex as captured by weather satellites - it's worth watching the two-second clip.
Click here for video

New Hampshire didn't get the intense cold that our friends in Iowa and Michigan saw, but we had a few cold nights.  The coldest night here was Thursday into Friday morning, and there was a strange occurrence that night.  When I went to bed it was a balmy 2 degrees, and in the morning, around 6:30 it was just about zero.  But when I checked the minimum temperature recorded over night, the thermometer had recorded -11.2 degrees.  I didn't believe it.  The low usually occurs just before sunrise unless there's a weather change moving through, and that wasn't the case;  I doubted it could have warmed up ten degrees before the sun even came up.  So I went to check the data recorded at Laconia airport.  Sure enough, the overnight low there was 1 degree at 3:00 am, rising to 2 degrees at 7:00 am.  Still, my thermometer had never lied before, so I dug at little deeper.

Weather Underground ( has many certified weather stations all over the country, so I thought I'd check out some closer to Lake Wicwas.  I found a station on Corliss Hill, one on Lake Winona, and one in New Hampton, just west of Lake Pemigewasset.  All three showed the same thing:  a significant drop in temperature after midnight, and then a massive increase of ten to twenty degrees in one hour!  The most extreme event was at Lake Winona which went from -18 degrees just before 7:00 am to +5 degrees at 8:00 am - an increase of 23 degrees in one hour!

I've never seen anything like that.  Perhaps geography was a factor.  Up on Corliss Hill, less than half a mile away but 200' higher in elevation, the increase occurred earlier in the morning, between 1:00 and 2:00 am.  But elevation alone doesn't explain why Laconia airport didn't see the event at all, as the airport is at the same elevation as Lake Wicwas.  Perhaps wind shading played a role.  Lake Winona, like Lake Wicwas, is located east of a steep ledge that rises several hundred feet above the lake.  At any rate, it's the most dramatic temperature change I've seen absent a strong front moving through.  Here's what the usual overnight change looks like, from Corliss Hill, Friday night into Saturday morning.

But it's been great to have a nice cold stretch after the last storm to keep the snow light and dry.  Linda decided (on the coldest day of the year) to take a trip up to the White Mountain Ledge.  Admittedly, it was a beautiful blue-sky day.
So we took the snowshoes and trekked through the fresh snow up to see the views.  We had to break the trail the whole way, some of which hadn't been broken out for at least two storms, other parts had only the most recent snow to break through.

We were shielded from the west wind by the hill, and the hard work (plus lots of layers) kept us warm.
She's not cold!
On the trip we saw a few tracks in the snow:  deer, ermine, even those from a snowshoe hare which I'm always excited to see since it doesn't happen very often.  (I couldn't get a decent photo as the tracks were in the shade of hemlock trees.)
You can barely make out the hare track in deep snow -
each track is an amazing six-foot leap from the prior track.

I did note a lack of fox and coyote tracks along the way, though we do have a fox that trots past our house every night, so they are around.  On the first day after the last storm we noted that there wasn't a single squirrel that made its way to the bird feeders, but on the second day they arrived.  There's no doubt about what is the center of attraction in our yard on a cold winter day.