Friday, August 14, 2015

Molas, Humpbacks, and Sharks!

Under an incredibly beautiful sky, with perfect temperatures and a light breeze, my nephew Sid and I went on a Granite State Whale Watch yesterday morning from Rye Harbor.
Our destination was Jeffrey's Ledge, about 20 miles offshore, beyond the Isles of Shoals. Not long after passing the islands our captain slowed and gently maneuvered the boat to bring us close to a basking mola or ocean sunfish. What a curious fish.
They appear to have only half a body. Females lay more eggs than any other vertebrate in the world -- an average sized mola may have as many as 300 million eggs. Each egg is tiny, but after hatching it grows into the heaviest bony fish in the ocean. The name ocean sunfish comes from its habit of basking on its side at the surface, in part, to allow birds to pick off the very large number of parasites on their body. They keep their mouth open at all times, chasing their favorite food: sea jellies (jellyfish). To our delight we saw four of these wonderfully odd fish yesterday, each about the size of a large dining table.
We never made it to Jeffrey's Ledge as the wildlife watching was better just 14 miles offshore in an area where recreational bluefin tuna anglers were congregated. We spent several hours among the fishing boats watching three different humpback whales surface for air and then dive to feed. All three whales were identified as Highlighter, #0050, and Quill by their dorsal fin and tale patterns by our knowledgeable onboard naturalist Melanie White from the Blue Ocean Society.
After a while we motored north and farther out to search for other whales and sea life. One minke whale surfaced and in our travels we saw four sleek blue sharks up close. The relatively calm ocean with swells of less than two feet enabled us to easily pick out the small dark fins of sharks, sunfish, and whales. We had not expected to see sharks, so an added bonus to a wildlife-rich day.

We watched hundreds of Wilson's storm petrels--a small dark brown seabird with a white rump--skip across the water picking off small invertebrates just below the surface. These petrels are summering here then head south to Antarctica where they breed in November-December. A greater shearwater lifted off from the water as we passed, flying gracefully on its long slender wings just above the swells. Cormorants, black-backed, herring and ringed-billed gulls, common terns, common eiders, and a few harbor seals were sighted as we traveled to and from Rye Harbor.

What a lovely day to be on the ocean.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mt. Chocorua in August

Mt. Chocorua is a popular hike in the White Mountains, especially on a beautiful Saturday in August. To avoid some of the high traffic, we arrived at the Champney Falls parking area off the Kancamagus Highway by 8:30 am. Surprisingly we were only the third car.
Rainfall has been light of late so we expected little flow in Champney Brook and over the falls. But water flowed continuously over the falls filling the brook below with plenty of clear, cold water for Henna and Kodi to cool off and slake their thirst.
The loop trail leading up and away from the falls back to the main trail has a well-built series of steps--easy in summer and a very different scene in winter.
Although seemingly more treacherous in winter and when icy, summer presents dangers too. As we descended from Mt. Chocorua after lunch, a hiker was running up asking for an EMT and trying to get cell coverage as one of his friends had fallen maybe 30 feet at Champney Falls and was badly hurt. As we continued our descent a rescue crew was hiking in with a stretcher and the parking lot, now overflowing with cars, was also an incident command center. We hope the young man who fell is okay.

We encountered only a dozen or so other hikers on the way to the summit of Mt. Chocorua. A series of switchbacks provides a lovely view north to the High Presidentials; only the tip of Mt. Washington was in the clouds.
It was a spectacular day to be up in the mountains on a high peak: temperature in the mid 70s, no bugs, mostly blue sky with beautiful cloud formations, no haze.
We reached the summit by 11:00 am and by then many more people were arriving. After a snack on top we headed down and over to Middle Sister for lunch, where we enjoyed a quiet and lovely view all to ourselves. Here is a look back at Mt. Chocorua on our way to Middle Sister.
Kodi enjoyed the hike and the scenery.
There was a hint of fall in the air. The weather felt a bit like early September and the hobblebush were starting to turn color.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Garlic Harvest 2015

Last weekend we harvested our garlic crop at my parents homestead. We've lost count how many years now that we've been growing garlic….but every October we plant nearly 500 bulbs and every July we pull nearly the same number out of the ground.
My sister Amy and my nephew-in-law Sid from India pulling this year's garlic crop.

We sort the bulbs into large, medium, and small. The large are saved for the fall planting. The smalls are used first, and the mediums--which make up most of the crop--are dried and used all year long, until next July.
Garlic is a very easy crop to grow. We rely on a covering of straw for weed control and the weather for watering. We spend a day or so prepping the rows and planting the cloves and then less than a day harvesting. And that is it. Easy.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Four Peepers and a Bear Scat

A few times each year we think about moving, to find a smaller house to clean and heat, a shorter driveway to clear of snow, less yard to care for, and where we could walk to a store or the library. These thoughts usually last about an hour or two. In that span of time we remember all the reasons we'd rather not move, at least now yet.

Today--despite the sweltering hot temperature and high humidity--I saw a few things that just reinforced why we are staying put. On my yard walkabout this morning to collect Japanese beetles into a soapy yogurt container, I spotted four different spring peepers. In the morning, the backyard is shaded and heavy with dew, so the tiny frogs sit comfortably on broad leaves and wait for prey--spiders, flies, ants, beetles. They get a bit restless when I loom over them with my iPhone camera, but they usually cooperate.
My next morning "chore" was harvesting veggies from the garden (first remembering to turn off the electric fence): broccoli, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, Swiss chard, lettuce, arugula.
To avoid the worst of the heat, I took Kodi and Henna on our daily walk to a nearby conservation area,just down the road a bit. We always see something there: a family of turkeys, snakes, turtles, hawks, mink, deer, signs of coyotes. This week, including today, I spotted large, fresh piles of dark scat full of berries.
Okay, not the best transition from the lovely collection of fresh vegetables, but I'm interested in animal droppings too. I'm fairly certain a black bear is leaving these piles, a mammal that is not that common in this part of New Hampshire. Kodi did seem a little more alert and turned back before we got too far. It could have been the heat, but I think he smelled the bear.

Four peepers and a bear scat. It doesn't get much better!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bug-Sized Peepers

Spring peepers are small and loud. In spring, a chorus of high-pitched calls from dozens or hundreds of peepers emanate from every wetland, but they are nearly impossible to see. Adult male peepers defend breeding territories of just 4 to 16 inches in diameter--a good indicator of their small size.

Young frogs move away from their breeding pond in summer. These bug-sized juvenile peepers (about one-half inch in size) hang out in our backyard, on the leaves of raspberries, among jewelweed, goldenrod, Joe-pye weed and sedges. And they are as cute as baby pandas.