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.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fresh Snow, Blue Sky, Animal Wanderings

The snow pie condition that I described last week is now covered by one to two inches of powdery snow that fell during the day on Friday. This, combined with a blue sky weekend (albeit still cold), significantly brightened my mood. If we are to have cold, windy winter days, it feels so much warmer when combined with fresh snow and sun.

The woods come alive after a fresh snow with stories of animal movements. The dogs and I visited a favorite nearby conservation area (Piscassic River Wildlife Management Area).
Saturday morning we ventured farther along a woods road that is gated and rarely traveled by other people. The forest is mostly hemlock mixed with red and white oak--a favorite area for deer in winter. A place where they can paw through the snow to get acorns and where snow depths are kept low by the hemlock cover.
We saw lots of deer sign: many patches where snow and leaf litter were churned up, tracks criss-crossing our path, piles of pellets. And Henna's keen ears and eyes were on high alert. She gets excited in deer country, which is why she is always on leash.
We see deer sign year round and on nearly every hike. It is the wanderings of small to midsize mammals that really emerge after a fresh snow fall. Some of my favorites...

snowshoe hare hopping through underbrush, 

straight line tracks of fox and coyote,
dainty tracks of woodland mice,
walking and then jumping,
maybe to escape the clutches of a coyote or an owl
All the more beautiful in the shadows cast by the low, winter sun.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Cold Spell

It takes only a couple days straight of below freezing temperatures for me to stop complaining about a too-warm, tropical-like December. That sounds lovely now.

After a balmy start to the New Year, this week brings cold, cold, cold. It all started Saturday night with a storm that brought snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, ice, slush, fog. The forecast for Sunday was to warm into the mid-40s by the afternoon. Maybe it would melt. I hedged my bets though and slogged in the morning to clear the driveway of wet, heavy snow. A good thing as the thermometer never got above 34 F. I note now, a few days later, that folks who did not clear the two inches of slush/ice/snow are stuck with an icy driveway for a week.

One benefit from the storm is that birds are flocking to the feeders in big numbers. With the lingering gray sky and muted sun, it is nice to see the bird life: 50+ mixed group of goldfinches and pine siskins, a foursome of bluebirds, juncos, hairy and downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, purple finch and house finch pairs side by side, mourning doves. But where are the chickadees? They seem strangely absent. And the chipmunks have certainly, finally, gone dormant until the next warm-up.

Storm precipitation and temperature fluctuations left behind a pie-like snow cover: an icy sheet on the bottom, a shallow filling of soft snow, and a crunchy topping. But much less satisfying than a tasty pie. Kodi, Henna, and I managed a decent walk in the woods this morning. There is just enough crunchy topping to get a grip and avoid skids and cuts. However, watch the sidewalks, some are still treacherous with a veneer of sheer ice.

The low point temperature-wise will be Wednesday night/Thursday morning: below zero prediction. And windy.