Sunday, May 26, 2019

May 26, 2019: Pick your Season

It's that time of year where you can find whatever season you want in New Hampshire.  You can go to the beach on a warm May day, search for spring wildflowers in the forest, or head to the mountains for a bit of winter.
Snow pack at 4000' on Mt. Tripyramid

There are still two feet of snow even at the lower peaks in the White Mountains just 20 miles north of Meredith. 
Tree wells show the snow depth

As I hiked the loop trail over the tripyramids I found dozens of purple trillium in bloom around 1500 feet elevation, while higher up they were still developing.
Purple Trillium

Around Lake Wicwas I see mostly painted trillium which are also blooming now, though I have seen some purple trillium on Meredith Neck.
Painted Trillium

There are also goldthread, fringed polygala, and many others booming now, as we are in peak spring wildflower season. 
The pretty and delicate Goldthread

Fringed Polygala

The polygala seem to be having a good year with large patches of them in many places - perhaps they enjoy the cool weather we've had.  With all the new vegetation available in the forest I haven't seen deer lately.  The does are probably eating well and staying hidden as they are getting close to birthing their young.  But many signs can be found so we know they're present.  Footprints of course are a definitive sign.
Deer footprints in sand along Chemung Rd.

But browse is also evident.
Black cherry browse at chest height

Deer don't leave a clean cut when they browse, as unlike rabbits which make a clean cut just like a knife, deer tear off the branches with their teeth.

Deer scat this time of year is often different from the small hard pellets one usually sees because the lush diet available now provides much more moisture than winter food.
Spring scat shows their changing diet

And finally, you might still find areas of dry leaves where the deer rustle around looking for acorns. 

I followed this path for a little bit looking for confirmation that it was deer (turkey and bear will also search for acorns among the leaves) which I found shortly.
Typical deer scat

This has a fall appearance to it, so I guess that closes the loop and means that you can find all four seasons right now!

Lastly, a reminder there will be a guided bird walk this coming Saturday, June 1st at Page Pond in Meredith.  Click here for details.  I'm hoping to see some new birds, maybe even a woodcock or a grouse!

And, I just heard that our eagle eye loon spotters have determined that the loons have nested!  I haven't seen the area yet, but our great team just put signs up this morning since it's in a high traffic area.  Please keep your distance - at least 150 feet away, and we'll hope for loon chicks in late June!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019: The Beginning of a New Loon?

At least one pair of loons has returned to Lake Wicwas, and fellow nature observer Tom Crane had a once-in-a-lifetime loon experience.  As is so often the case, it was a matter of curiosity rather than purposely looking for something.  Tom had grabbed his field scope to identify something that was flashing near a marsh on the lake - it turned out to be just a rock hit by the sun and waves.  But then he noticed a pair of loons in the area.  Tom tells the rest of the story:

"I happened to notice the Loons swimming close to the edge of the marsh, and thought that unusual, so I turned the scope on them and watched as they kept looking around the edge of the marsh.  I soon found out why.  The female climbed up on a hummock by the edge of the marsh. The male climbed up behind her soon after, and they proceeded to mate!  The male slumped down on her for a few seconds when they were finished, and then climbed slowly back into the water.  The female lay there for a couple of minutes, and then climbed back into the water.  She caught up to the male who stayed nearby, and they swam very close together for quite awhile after.  It was very interesting to watch, and only by luck I saw it."

This observation was relayed to John Cooley at the Loon Preservation Committee who provided some additional information on the fertilization of loon eggs.  He said there can be a period of two weeks (or even longer) when loons will copulate repeatedly before the female puts down the eggs.   His understanding is that the eggs descend and are laid in the nest within one to three days after fertilization, but it’s a process - the egg and shell have to finish forming and hardening as the egg descends.  He's not sure just how long the period is between copulation and when the eggs descend, but he does know of cases where the loons are seen copulating occasionally and climbing on and off the nest for at least 2 weeks before eggs are laid.  It is also unknown whether both eggs (loons almost have two eggs) are fertilized with a single copulation, but considering that the two eggs are predictably laid within a day of each other, he guesses that is likely the case.

 So perhaps Tom witnessed the dawn of the next generation of Wicwas loons!

I did get my first look at the happy couple, assuming this is the same pair.  I haven't heard about a second pair on the lake yet.

The Canada geese are on their nests already.  I saw a funny little stick protruding from a hummock in the lake, and as I came nearer, it disappeared.  It took a close look with a long lens to see that mother goose was laying low on her nest with head down in the branches, waiting for me to pass by.
Look at all that soft fluffy down ready to keep new chicks safe and warm

The water in the lakes is so beautiful and clear this early in the season - before the pollen and then algae and other debris arrive - that you can see far down to the bottom.  Here it was really quite shallow, but I could see the genesis of this year's aquatic plant life down on the bottom.
Lily pads emerging from the bottom of the lake
One can also see fish nests, especially bass and sunfish as they start to breed.  Bass get very aggressive and easy to catch as they will attack most anything, and since the females are full of eggs, the catch-and-release season for bass in New Hampshire is now in place.  It starts on May 15 and runs through June 15. All largemouth and smallmouth bass must be released during this season to protect spawning fish.  Also, only artificial lures and flies may be used - no live bait is allowed during this time.

Back on land, the cool weather has put a damper on the spring wildflowers as well as all the tree growth.  The oaks usually have large blossoms on them by now, but this year they barely have leaves started, and the Trailing arbutus (or mayflower) are still in bloom in late May.
Trailing arbutus
The weather is sustaining a long flowering season for trees and shrubs though, including forsythia and shadbush.
Shadbush (Downy serviceberry) in bloom on Smith Island

Here is one new item I will keep an eye on this spring:
It's a crows nest - I've never seen one before.  It's hidden well, tucked in against the trunk of a white pine and well below the top of the tree to provide good cover from above.  In prior years I've heard crows yelling at me in this area so I figured a nest must be near by, but this spring a couple of noisy crows led me right to it.  I doubt I'll see the beginning of any baby crows way up there, but I'll be on the watch for nest-predating hawks and the dramatic defense of the offspring by the owners.

Is it any wonder the animals think of love in such a beautiful spot?

A scene that surely encourages romance

Sunday, May 12, 2019

May 12, 2019: Happy Mother's Day!

Did you get your fiddleheads yet?
Fiddleheads push up through warming soil

The ferns have been pushing up through the spring earth, and though I don't harvest them myself, Picnic Rock Farm has had them and they've been awfully good.  And fiddleheads are highly nutritious, packed with vitamins, anti-oxidants, iron, manganese, and copper.  It's a short season, so if you want some you need to act quickly.

The fern above is a cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea - how appropriate for it to have "mom" in its name), which is not the preferred fern to eat;  that would be the ostrich fern (Matteuceuia struthiopteris) which has much less husk that needs to be removed.

Another plant growing rapidly is the aspen which has the largest leaves right now, and based on the abundant flowers is probably a major source of pollen at this point.
Aspen burst out leaves and flowers early in the season

Other trees have only buds or small leaves, which provides an opportunity to see birds flitting around in their branches, eagerly devouring the early insects after their long flights from distant wintering grounds.
Only buds and blossoms on this tree
A yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) hunts amid bare branches over the lake

Another nature-watcher had a visit from one of our most vibrant song birds, the scarlet tanager.
Scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea)     Photo by Anne Crane.

This beautiful bird probably just returned from its flight across the Gulf of Mexico, having spent its winter down in south America.  Ann noted it's the first time she's seen a scarlet tanager at the lake.  Thanks for sharing!

If you pass by the dam at the outlet of Lake Wicwas you are likely to see a Canada goose on patrol.
The gander patrols its nesting grounds

I'm pretty sure there's a nest there along the shoreline based on the way it stood its ground (water?) as I paddled by, protecting the female which would be on the nest incubating eggs.

It was nice to get out on the water again for my first excursion of the year.

Though sometimes you don't even have to leave your house, as nature comes to you.
A lone turkey struts down the road
Linda watched this young deer right through the window.

One or two more warm days and the landscape in the Lakes Region will transform quickly from bare branches to the lime-green of early summer.  Only a short window remains to get out and enjoy the world before the onslaught of biting insects arrives.

To all the mothers out there, I hope you have a special day!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May 5, 2019: More Friends Return

More of our friends are returning home from their winter haunts, some that came by car or plane, and some that flew back on their own wings.
A Great Blue Heron on the wing
Many others joined the herons, buffleheads, and osprey back in New Hampshire this week including Wood Ducks and Ring-necked ducks.
A pair of Ring-necked ducks at a rest stop in New Hampshire

Mr. Ring-necked.  The neck ring is rarely seen, but the white beak line is distinguishing.
Mrs. Ring-necked also has a white beak line, though it's more subtle.
Ring-neckeds don't breed in New Hampshire, but "of all the diving duck species, the Ring-necked Duck is most likely to drop into small ponds during migration."  [REF:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

The handsome wood ducks do nest here, and they made their first appearance of the year as well.
Mr. and Mrs. Woody

As you can tell, it was a good week for ducks - lots of mist and rain.  But at least it was calm.  One morning a few ducks heard me and decided it was time to move on, and all I saw were the markings they left on the runway after takeoff.

Earlier in the week in a rare dry moment I did catch a pair of ducks in flight.

The coloring of the two birds makes me think this was another pair of ring-necked ducks.

And although there were loon reports even before ice out, I had my first sighting this week, but no pictures yet.  Based on the behavior of the loon I saw, I'm thinking this is the rogue loon that has spent the last few summers all alone in Marion Cove.  We are all anxious to see if we'll have two pairs of nesting loons return for a second time this year.

I'll give you early notice of an event the Meredith Conservation Commission is hosting in a few weeks.  On June 1st at 7:00am there will be a guided bird walk on the recently protected Page Pond property along Barnard Ridge Road in Meredith.  The walk will be led by Matthew Tarr, Wildlife Specialist for the UNH Cooperative Extension.  Of course there are no guarantees, but I have observed a wide range of birds in the diverse environment of wetlands, fields and forests on the property, and with Matt's expert guidance, I expect we'll see plenty.  You can find more information on the Conservation Commission website.