Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring Sightings

Apologies to my friend JoAnne for the blog title photo of a garter snake. She's not keen on snakes, but I always enjoy my first snake sighting of the spring. This one was catching a patch of sun in a woodland that we visit often.

The vernal pools are full of quacking wood frogs. We noted a few roadkill spring peepers on our early morning walk today with Kodi and Henna on Bald Hill Road. Otherwise we haven't yet noted a huge amphibian movement in southeastern New Hampshire. Tomorrow night promises to bring some major movements given predictions of heavy rain and temps in the 40s. It will be a good night to stay off the roads to avoid running over frogs and salamanders. Better yet, head out on foot with a flashlight and help as many as possible across roads.

We spent much of the weekend stacking two cords of red oak, pausing now and then to watch a pair of broad-winged hawks soar overhead, and to absorb the beautiful sunshine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phoebes, Peepers, and Possums

It's been a long haul, this winter, that seemed to end just last week. The deep snows were nice for snowshoeing, following wildlife tracks, keeping subnivean mammals safe from hungry predators. What I seem to remember though were the persistent cold temperatures, roof ice dams, a lot of shoveling, and helping my parents navigate three months of icy steps and paths.

With great relief the last of the snow piles are melting away. Spring peepers fill the evening air with their chorus of loud peeps. A pair of phoebes returned a week ago to begin again a nest under our deck. The first of the warblers--pine warbler--has returned to the pine trees in our yard. Bluebirds are singing from the field edges along Bald Hill Road. Red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows sing from their territories around wetland edges. Tree swallows soar overhead. This emergence and re-birth in spring is a blessing to us all.

And then there is the Virginia opossum, which prior to 1900 did not occur in New England. Now they live here year-round, despite some difficulty serving cold temperatures. So, when I saw four opossums together last week in my parents backyard, I was surprised. It was a very cold winter. Also, I think of them as solitary. But, they breed from January to July and I watched one big possum chase a smaller possum so assume they were in a mating ritual. The other two were big and hung together nearby in a thicket. Maybe they were still a family unit that had not dispersed. Here are the two that were just hanging around.
Opossums are odd creatures: the only marsupial in North America; the young, born the size of a lima bean, crawl into their mother's abdominal pouch where they continue developing; they have 50 teeth; they can play dead; and they survive by eating just about anything. These four were living on birdseed and suet in my parents yard. As much as I am not sure they are suited to this climate (except that it keeps getting more suited to them), it's fun to see these unusual animals among the other spring sightings. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mt. Chocorua on a Calm Winter Day

My nephew Reid visits us from Chicagoland every February for a winter hike in the White Mountains. In past years we've climbed Mts. Kearsarge, Pierce, Hedgehog, Tom, Field and Avalon, and Major. On Friday and into early Saturday we kept checking the weather, noting the forecast for cold temps, high winds, and another snowstorm. We passed on our first choice--Mt Moosilauke--given the exposure to winds and opted for Middle Sister or Mt. Chocorua depending on conditions.

Saturday morning the roads were clear of snow and ice and the sky relatively bright as we drove north on Route 16. We checked the Piper Trail parking lot, but in winter the Forest Service does not plow its lot and the other option was private parking for $3. We drove on to the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) and the popular Champney Falls parking area. The lot was filling up by the time we arrived at 9:30, but most hikers were heading only part-way to the Champney Falls, a very popular ice climbing site.

We started the hike in microspikes as everyone else was doing the same. Later in the hike we realized that many people were in spikes or in bare boots when they should have been snowshowing given the trail conditions. The trail to Champney Falls is a moderate grade and was well packed. Beyond that point we shifted to snowshoes as fewer people had ventured up and the snow was soft. A bit of blue sky lingered until noon. That, as well as almost no wind, surprised us. We were expecting a cold, windy hike. Higher up, the trail follows a series of switchbacks, which makes the climbing easier. Just in time for lunch we took a very short side trail to a resting spot with a great view.
A view of the Moats from our lunch spot en route to Mt. Chocorua.

A north-facing panoramic view from our lunch spot
on the north slope of Mt. Chocorua (Photo by Reid Snyder)

Snow was at least two feet deep in the woods. Reid stands nearly on top of a trail sign.

Kodi has been on many winter hikes with us. He loves the cold and the wind and rolling around on hard snow. This was Henna's first big winter hike. She did well, despite being tethered to one of us the entire way.

We emerged above treelike and climbed a short way to the ridge just below the summit. Here we switched back to microspikes to tackle the wind scoured rocky summit. Srini offered to stay back with the dogs while Reid and I hiked the relatively short distance to the top of 3,475' Mt. Chocorua.

Reid and I are standing on the summit looking down at Srini--a black speck in the distance beyond the three hikers below. It looks farther and a little harder than it was, although a good call not to take the dogs up.

We've done fewer winter hikes in the last two winters and I realized on Saturday how much I missed getting out for long wintry hikes in the mountains. The crisp, clear air; long views through hardwood forests; soft snow underfoot; snowshoe hare tracks among dense fir and spruce; beautiful ice, rock, and snow.

We passed only a half dozen other hiking parties (not counting the ice climbers), which was light given that Mt. Chocorua is one of the most popular destinations in the Whites. The woods were still and quiet and beautiful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Emerald Ash Borer

I had not thought much about the emerald ash borer--an invasive beetle from Asia--until I visited my brother west of Chicago a few years ago and saw all the dead ash removed from formerly tree-lined neighborhood streets. The emerald ash borer (or EAB) is a minor pest in its native place: a vast range that includes northeast China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, and the Russian Far East. But after it was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, it has chewed its way across 22 states including most recently in New Hampshire, killing millions of ash (white, green, and brown).

Emerald ash borer
(Image from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources shared via Creative Commons)

This metallic green slender beetle is 1/2 inch long. The adults, which live only 3 weeks after emergence starting in late spring, chew ash leaves with little impact to the tree. The larvae are the killers. Female borers lay dozens of eggs, sometimes a hundred or more, in the tree bark. After hatching, the creamy white, legless larvae burrow into the inner bark and begin feeding on the tissue between the bark and sapwood, disrupting the flow of nutrients and water in the tree. They leave s-shaped feeding galleries filled with sawdust.

Ash trees infested with emerald ash borer,
indicated by s-shaped larval feeding galleries filled with sawdust.

The emerald ash borer is now considered the most destructive forest pest in North America. Its relentless pursuit of healthy ash trees shows no sign of stopping. Once infested, ash trees die within 3 to 5 years.

EAB was first discovered in Concord, New Hampshire in March 2013 and subsequently in Bow, Canterbury, Loudon, Hopkinton, Salem, and Weare. As a result, three southern NH counties--Hillsborough, Merrimack, and Rockingham--are under quarantine, as is all of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The EAB quarantine prohibits the movement of any hardwood firewood, all ash wood products, and ash nursery stock out of the quarantine area unless certain conditions are met. The recommendation for firewood is to use it within 5 miles of its source. Lots more information on EAB is available at nhbugs.

There are native wood boring beetles, but they usually feed on already dead or dying trees, unlike EAB, which feeds on large, healthy ash. There are also some EAB look-alikes--check out these. Since emerald ash borers feed on healthy trees, it often is many years before their presence is detected. One of the first signs is the result of woodpeckers feeding on EAB resulting in "blonding" of the bark.

Molly Heuss, NH Department of Forests and Lands Forest Health Specialist,
showing blonding on ash and extensive EAB larval galleries beneath bark.

Everyone in New Hampshire can be keeping an eye out for emerald ash borer. The goal of reporting its presence and of the quarantines is to slow the advance of the beetle. Whether this is enough to stop the emerald ash borer from killing all the ash in North America is unknown.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Great Horned Owl Cam

Hat tip to Mary Holland at Natural Curious for this link to a live great horned owl nest cam in Savannah, Georgia: great horned owl cam

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (at hosts several cool bird cams including this one called FeederWatch as well as being a source for tons of information on birds.