Sunday, March 29, 2020

March 29, 2020: Turkey Trots

March came through for us with one more late winter snow, and as March snows tend to be, it was beautiful.

Morning breaks on the fifth day of spring.

We are now past the spring equinox so the sun is bright and high in the sky which baths the pristine world in a softness that January just can't deliver.

Mountain streams are flowing with snow-melt.

March skiing in the Ossipees

It also means the snow doesn't last long especially when it falls on bare, warmed earth.

Just a few hours of late March sun has already taken its toll on the snow.
Shannon Pond in Moultonborough.

On the still-frozen lakes however, late snow can set back ice-out quite a bit.  Before the snow fell the lakes were getting soft and dark and absorbing much of the sun's energy, but the fresh cover of bright white will reflect the sun's rays for several days and greatly slow the process.  At this point we are probably looking at an average or slightly early ice-out in the Lakes Region.

The nice soft snow also rejuvenated the world of tracking.  In one short wander around Lake Wicwas the day after the snow fell we found the tracks of at least eight different animals, all of which had traveled by in just the prior 36 hours:  deer, fox, turkey, otter, mink, squirrel, mouse, and mole.  The most entertaining of these was a set of tracks left by a flock of turkeys taking a long stroll to enjoy the pretty spring day.

A flock of turkeys passed this way.

A hen (female) and her brood (chicks) will join other families in large flocks in the fall and winter and cover a range of 4 to 5 square miles searching out the best food supplies as the seasons change.  [Ref:  NH Fish and Game]  I always get a reminder of turkey history when I refer to one of the more unique NH wildlife books, Hilbert Siegler's New Hampshire Nature Notes written in 1962;  it is completely silent on turkeys.  That's because there were no turkeys in 1962 after being hunted to extinction in the state (which is called "extirpation").  A first attempt at reintroducing turkeys in 1969 failed, but a second attempt in 1975 was successful, and today there are 40,000 turkeys in NH, the maximum carrying capacity of the state.   There is a nice historical article about the turkey reintroduction in the March/April 2020 issue of the New Hampshire Wildlife Journal.

Right about now the Toms (males) are attracting their harem with impressive gobbling and bold plumage displays - mating will take place in April and nesting in May.  By June we'll be looking for cute little turkey poults running around, eating up tics, ants, and other annoying insects.  Thank a turkey!

But they best keep a careful lookout - the foxes are making regular patrols of the local area, still using the lake for travel.

The fox is still making its daily excursion across the softening lake.

I was a bit surprised to see people out fishing on Lake Wicwas yesterday, even if they were staying close to shore.

The last hurrah of ice fishing.

They told me there's about 6 inches of ice (that's near the boat ramp).  That seems about right as there's still open water only close to shore.

Open water is expanding, but only at the edges.

But every day we make progress - first the snowdrops, and now crocuses.

Perfect New Hampshire juxtaposition:  flowers with a snow shovel.

There is even a little red appearing through the melting snow pack.

An over-wintered partridgeberry, just waiting for a partridge or turkey to gobble it up.

Time may be passing slowly, but each and every day, we move forward.
Snowdrops keeping the faith.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

March 22, 2020: Fox Are Still On The Ice

I may be done on the ice for the winter but the fox still trust the ice enough to use it for a short cut to the other side of the lake.  One morning after a cool night, this healthy looking red fox came trotting across the lake and stopped at the shoreline.
Hmmm, do I want to go up here?

It seemed to know the ice at the shore is treacherous, as it decided not to go up on land there, but work its way along the shoreline.

It soon found an area where the gap from ice to land was small, and due to the cold overnight, the open water had a light skim of ice over it.
This looks better.

The fox studied the situation carefully.

Appearing solid, it carefully tiptoed over it, quickly bounding up onto dry land without so much as getting a toe wet.
One small step for foxkind

And soon it was on its way, probably back to its den to sleep the day away, hopefully with belly full of mice.

Most foxes have mated by now, so if this was a female she may need enough food to develop up to 12 pups - though more typically half that number, depending on food availability and other factors.  With a 50 day gestation period, the young are typically born in the April to May time frame.  Friends who live on the north end of Lake Wicwas had a fox den near their yard a couple of years ago and enjoyed watching the young pups play together in the early summer.  I've never had the opportunity to experience that, as foxes like warm, south facing slopes to build their dens, and we don't have that exposure near by.

In addition to cool nights we had a few light snowfalls, one that provided some tracks including this nice gray squirrel sample.
Gray squirrels are another fox delicacy.

Farther north the snow accumulated enough to refresh the mountains' coat of white.
The Lafayette Range is white again, as seen from the summit of Mt. Flume.


And the fast track of storms blowing through have made for dynamic atmosphere conditions with interesting clouds and sunsets forming as warm and cold air masses bump into each other.
Three different layers of clouds formed as the temperature rose 20 degrees in a few hours. 
Fog on the ice, low clouds above the trees, high clouds on top.

The cool weather and snow slowed, but didn't stop, the process of the lakes returning to liquid form.  Cracks are opening in the ice with ice flows starting to break away.

Meredith Bay is opening up more each day, but it still has a ways to go.


We enjoyed fine waterside dining with take-out lunch in our car overlooking the bay, and then went for a walk to a waterfall we haven't visited before in Plymouth.
Rainbow Falls in the Walter-Newton ConservatConserion Area in Plymouth.

With so many things closed down we're spending even more time outside with nature - it's nice that the forest is still open for business.
The Sky is still open too.


If I see you on the trails, I promise I'll keep my distance.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

March 15, 2020: They're Coming Back

I heard the first one this past Monday while riding a ski lift in Lincoln:  the pretty sound of a warbler singing its spring song on that warm, sunny day.  I recognized the song but couldn't name the bird.  It seemed awful early for a warbler to be that far  north, so when I got home I looked up what the first warblers are to return in the spring.  As soon as I saw the list of early birds, I knew what it was:  the yellow-rumped warbler.
A male yellow-rumped warbler.

Looking at the Cornell Ornithology Lab range map for the yellow-rumped it's easy to see why it arrives so early - it winters just south of the Lakes Region in northern Massachusetts, and just east on the Maine coast, so it's a quick jaunt into New Hampshire.  Other warblers such as the common yellowthroat and chestnut-sided winter in Central America.  They are on their way north but will need a few more weeks to complete their journey to New Hampshire.  Back home in Meredith I heard several more yellow-rumped warblers and was able to locate one high up in a tree, too high for a photo; the picture above was from last May.

Many warblers are insect-eaters but the yellow-rumped also consumes berries which has allowed them to adapt to a more northerly climate than most warblers.  Since the range maps are probably rather old I won't be surprised to see yellow-rumped warblers wintering all the way up to the Lakes Region in my lifetime as species migrate northward; there are plenty of berries still available here.

On the subject of berries and seeds, I recently read an article by Anne Krantz and Mary Tebo Davis published by the UNH Extension Service titled "Henry Thoreau and Shagbark Hickories".  The article describes the giant shagbark hickory trees Thoreau noted on a trip from Concord, Massachusetts to give a lecture at the Amherst, NH lyceum.  Some conversations with a couple of friends who live in that area led to them share photos of shagbarks on their property (thank PS and JW) that may have been just saplings when Thoreau rode by on his carriage.
Shagbark hickory along a property boundary in Hollis, NH.
Photo by P. Smith.

That reminded me of a tree with similar bark I had seen right close by in Meredith.  So I to a walk to see if it is one of these trees, and sure enough, there's a shagbark hickory right here on the shores of Lake Wicwas.
The shagbark hickory is aptly named.

That thick, shaggy bark serves as fire protection for the tree.

A mature shagbark Hickory, according to Thoreau's journal, could produce 12 bushels of nutmeats - that's a good food supply for our wild animals.  They don't produce large crops every year, and there was speculation that Thoreau's report may have been on the high side.
The crown of a shagbark hickory.

I've made a mental note to look for nuts under this tree over the next few autumns.

But spring comes first, and winter is quickly losing its hold.  That 60 degree day took a toll on the snow pack as well as the ice which is down to 13 inches of soft, porous ice - I think yesterday will be the last time I'll be on the lake until ice-out.  As openings around the lake edges expand, the first waterfowl have arrived.
Ice peels back from the Wicwas shoreline.

Ducks and Geese at the Wicwas outlet.

As more water opens up there are signs of river otter coming ashore.
A fisher latrine near an open spot in the ice,

The otter's diet is clear from their scat; it's composed mostly of fish scales.

And as mentioned last week, maple sugar season has arrived in the Lakes Region.  Soon we'll see the plumes of maple steam from the local sugar houses - and smell the sweet fragrance of spring in New Hampshire.
Sap buckets hanging on sugar maples at the  Remick Farm in Tamworth frame Mt. Chocorua.

Wasn't it nice to have just a little bit of normalcy this week?

Sunday, March 8, 2020

March 8, 2020: Life on the High Ridge

While I'm waiting for a March snowstorm to come along and revive the skiing and snowshoeing I've been doing some spring hiking, including a nice trip in the Ossipee Range.  It was the first time I've hiked the High Ridge Trail between Mt. Shaw and Mt. Roberts in winter, and it was beautiful.  Once you get to the ridge you're in for a long, mostly flat hike along a ridge dominated by hardwoods, which in winter means bare branches, so the sun streams through, the blue sky shimmers above, and there are teasing views to both the east and west.
The High Ridge Trail in winter.

On this particular day moisture from a freezing mist had coated the trees with a thick layer of ice.
Ice on the high branches that caught the clouds.

Frosted spruce on the Mt. Robert's ledges.

As the mid-day sun warmed things up and a breeze began to blow, the trees started shedding their jacket, dumping it on the ground and throwing chunks of ice at me.
Ice chunks sparkle in the sun.

I don't typically wear a helmet when hiking.

I felt like I was in the land of Oz with the trees of the Haunted Forest hurling crystal apples at me.
The haunted forest.

There had also been a thin layer of snow that fell late in the storm which left a substrate perfect for seeing what animals had been on the ridge.  I saw the usual tracks of deer and fox, but also the less common snowshoe hare.
Hare tracks along the ridge.

And then, near the highest elevation, I came across these bird tracks in the snow.

They came and went, in and out of a stand of spruce trees.
Back and forth across the trail, in and out of the spruce.

That gives a big hint as to what kind of bird it might be - a spruce grouse is my bet.  I didn't see a grouse, but I did hear a couple as they flushed from spruce trees and startled me with their distinctive loud wing beats.  Here's a picture I took of a spruce grouse on Moat Mountain near Conway in July 2018.
Grouse can be very curious - and bold.

Spruce grouse are found only in coniferous forests, and almost always in spruce trees.  They eat mostly spruce needles, preferring branches higher up in the trees where there are younger, more tender needles, but they will forage on the ground as well when there is food available there.  [Ref:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

Back down at lake elevation, some animals are ready for spring.  While out on the hunt for stonewalls this week I came across plenty of signs of spring creeping closer. One welcome sight is chipmunks scurrying all around on the frozen snow. I didn't get to see them for long because there are little hidey-holes everywhere in the snow, and they duck into one as soon as they see me. But here's a shot of one of these cute guys from a prior year.

The chipmunk's winter activity is similar to that of the black bear: neither hibernate but rather go into a state of minimal activity known as torpor.  So on a warm day in mid-winter either may emerge to look for something to eat. Chipmunks out and about are a good indication that bears are also active, and after hearing reports of bears raiding bird feeders on someone's deck up on Please Road, we decided it's time to bring in the feeders.  Birds, bears and chipmunks will all be able find natural food sources, including these little nuggets:
I found quite a few beechnuts in the snow.

Beechnuts are prized almost as much as acorns by chipmunks and bears alike.

It seems as though the lakes are starting to rouse as well - the ice is giving in to the spring sun where exposed banks are warming up.

Current running under the ice does its damage also.  The water flowing towards the dam means this is always the first part of Lake Wicwas to open up.
The view from the dam at noon today.

All the bob houses are gone from Meredith Bay and the winter debris has been removed by wonderful volunteers - thank you! - before it could go into the lake and sink to the bottom or wash up on someone's shoreline.
An empty Meredith Bay before the flow from the Waukewan Canal opens it up.

There's also a not-so-welcome sign of spring arriving, at least in the southern part of the state:
Word that tics are out was provided by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust and UNH.

Warm weather forecast for this week means tics will be moving our way, so it's time to get out the tic protection gear.  If winter is over, I can live with that, but this is New England, so I'm not ruling out a March blizzard and one more chance to get on the skis.