Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spawning Smallmouth Bass

As soon as the water temperatures reach 60F, the bass and the bluegills start preparing their nests for spawning. The water around the dock is now 63F, and one bass is protecting a nest, but the bluegills are nowhere to be found. 

The fish clears a patch of sandy bottom by fanning its tail.

After the female lays eggs - up to 20,000 - 
the male stays behind to guard the nest from predators. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Animal Tracks

Fresh snow makes it easy to see last night's animal tracks.

When I wake up to a fresh snow cover, the first thought that enters my mind is a snowshoe jaunt looking for animal tracks. The Adirondack woods are teeming with wildlife, but with rare exception it is wildlife that goes unseen.  Most are nocturnal, but you can easily find evidence of all those animals by tracking them, and the best time to do it is after it a fresh coat of snow powder.  Finding tracks is simple enough. Identifying the animal that made them can be a little trickier.

We started our study of animal tracking by taking a few courses.  In Greenfield Center, just east of Saratoga Springs, the Ndakinna Education Center offers day classes on Native American wilderness skills, including animal tracking. It is a most enjoyable and educational session, and winter is the perfect time to do it. (For me it was worth the price of admission just to see Mary, at the instructors insistence, crawling on all fours to smell the urine of a fox we were tracking.) The Wild Center also brings in visiting naturalists for day sessions on their land in Tupper Lake. Last winter we took a course on identifying bear sign on forest trees, and I have not been in the woods since without thinking of something that I learned that day.

Around Bullet Pond we have our fair share of bear, but we are absolutely overrun with snowshoe hare. I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually seen one while hiking, but yesterday if I saw one set of hare tracks, I saw fifty. They were all over the place (or one hare had a very, very, busy night). I suspect the reason is the mix of woodland and forest openings, with lots of fresh shoots in sunny areas for browsing.

It's quite easy to tell the difference between hare and rabbit tracks, especially if they are viewed side by side, which was easy to do yesterday.
Hare Tracks

In rabbit / hare tracks, the hind footprints appear forward of the smaller front feet. With snowshoe hare, the hind feet are enormous, and squared off straight across the four toes (unlike cottontails, where the toes are at an angle.) The large pads allow the hare to stay on top of the snow and outrun predators, and in the Adirondacks there are plenty of those: bobcats, fishers, long tail weasels, coyote, great horned owls, red tail hawks, and, if my neighbors are telling the truth, at least two local mountain lions. In the past, the primary predator was the Canada lynx, but that cat has been extirpated locally (although they have been sighted this winter in Vermont).  
Maple shoots are a favorite hare browse.
Another sign of hare is the browse that they feed on - young branches at eye level. A rabbit's eye level changes with the depth of the snow, so the sign of their feeding might be higher up than you would suspect. It is very easy to spot. When a hare chews the buds off the end of a branch, it cuts like a set of garden shears, and always at a 45 degree angle. (If a deer has been chewing on a branch, it is ripped off very unevenly, as a deer only has teeth in its bottom jaw.)

Yesterday I also found numerous fox tracks, and a pair of coyotes traveling side by side along the trail. All of these are canids, and look somewhat similar - just like dog tracks - except for the size. It is in fact almost impossible to tell the difference between the tracks of a coyote and a dog of similar size by just looking at the tracks. You can often tell, however, by looking at the path of the tracks. Coyotes tend to walk in a dead straight line. If I see canid tracks that are meandering all over the woods, that is probably my neighbors dog, Daisy, not a coyote.
Coyote paw prints, with scat.
Fox tracks look the same, only smaller. They all have four toes, and they usually show the nails. Curiously canine prints show nail imprints and cats never do. Four toes and no nails usually means some type of cat. Five toes (on at least one foot) could be a mink, fisher, skunk, racoon, opossum, or otter. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013 "Ice-In"

It is Thanksgiving Day morning, and the thermometer reads 16F. The first ice appeared around the edges of the pond four days ago, and by yesterday it was frozen across.  Yesterday the temperatures were slightly above freezing, with occasional rain. I expected to see some of the ice retreat with the weather, but instead it continued to freeze across the lake, closing all of the open water by mid afternoon. I took this picture this morning.    

Saturday, November 9, 2013

It was a perfect day for hunting.

They had agreed to meet at 7 AM. There was a time, many years ago, when they would be up at 4 AM and in the woods before sunrise. But not now. Even 7 AM had been a compromise. One of the group had suggested 8.  The thermometer registered twenty eight degrees as he headed out the door, up the driveway to the woods behind his house. They had all been hunting this land together for over twenty years, and they each had their own routine. He had prepared a new stand overlooking a ridge that he liked to hunt, and he decided to take a long route there and "still hunt" - one step at a time - ever so slowly - to the ridge.
It was still early in the season and there was no snow on the ground yet to cover the leaves that had fallen last month, and they crackled underfoot as he walked. The prior night's frost only made matters worse, and every step he took echoed through the woods, foiling any attempt at stealth. Still, he thought, it was a perfect day for hunting. The crisp morning air felt good on his skin, and he wondered if he should shed a layer of clothing as he climbed to the top of the ridge.
It was a short hike to the stand, less than half a mile, and he decided to quicken his pace since he was making so much noise. The quicker he got there and sat down, he thought, the better the chances of seeing a deer that morning. He came to the big cedar that he used as a landmark, and he left the main trail and cut through the woods to the stand.
As he surveyed the woods around his stand he tried to detect which direction the wind was blowing. It was almost perfectly still, but he sensed the slightest current of air on his face, coming directly from the north. He was happy at that discovery; he would be downwind of any deer that crossed below the ridge. The sun had barely risen above the eastern horizon, on a southerly arc behind his back. This too was to his benefit, and he had positioned the stand to take advantage of the morning light. The surrounding woods had been carefully trimmed to open lanes of view to any deer that meandered through the forest. The woods had been logged thirty years ago by the prior owner and all of the hardwood had been cut down. All that remained of the oak were the stumps, standing like moss covered tombstones among the pines.
He propped his rifle against the cedar next to his seat, and he began his annual ritual. He sat on a hemlock stump that served as a hunting bench. He knew all of the surrounding trees by their bark, and he tested himself each year during deer season, trying to identify the tree without looking at the leaves. He knew the crocodile skin of a young hemlock, and the wild cherry like scabs of an older one. The blistery smooth skin of the beeches stood out from everything else. Horizontal lines on the bark marked the balsams that peaked to form the spires of his cathedral in the woods. He sat cross legged on the stump, and strained to hear a sound, any sound.
A whiff of smoke told him that the wind had changed, and he wondered if it was coming from his wood stove, or one of his neighbors' on the pond. It didn't matter. It was still a perfect day for hunting. He looked at the hunting pack that he had hung near his stand. The leather LL Bean cartridge case was worn from years of use. He wondered if Bean still made them. He had not looked at a hunting catalogue in years. He wondered how old the ten 32 Winchester cartridges in the case were.
He heard a crow fly directly over the treetops. He knew it was a crow by the sound of its wings, there was no need to look up. A blue jay squawked in defiance. It was the only sound he had heard in a while.
He was startled by the sound of a shot. He was surprised to hear a shot that close, but he thought it might be too far away to be either of his hunting companions. He was surprised by his feelings. He hoped it was someone else's hunting party that had shot at the deer. He didn't want to ruin his morning with dealing with a deer. Field dressing, dragging it out of the woods, hanging the deer, and then deal with the butchering? No, that is not what he wanted to do. That is not why they hunted these woods. In twenty years of hunting this land, none of them - ever - had fired a shot. He didn't want to change that right now. Because it was a perfect day for hunting.    

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Red Spotted Newt

I spotted this salamander  while I was swimming yesterday, on a submerged log in two feet of water. It appears to be an adult red spotted newt ~ the adult aquatic stage of the common forest dwelling red eft.  

The red eft is the juvenile stage of this amphibian which returns to the water as an adult salamander, and can live over ten years. (or until a bass spies it sitting on a log)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tree Climbing Water Snakes?

As we were canoeing around the pond today, Mary noticed what looked like a snake in a downed cedar tree along the north shoreline. A closer look revealed not one, but three water snakes sunning themselves. 

There are three snakes in the photo. Two snakes are coiled up together in the lower right. One more single snake can be seen in the top left. The cedar had fallen into the water giving the snakes easy access to the sunny perch.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nesting Eastern Phoebe

One of the wonderful - and unanticipated - features of a log home is lots of nooks and crannies for nesting birds. Rare is the year that we do not have a robin's nest tucked into a cross section of log beam somewhere. This year brought a first - a nesting eastern phoebe - located immediately outside of our front door. 

One of the very recognizable habits of this "flycatcher" is that when it leaves the nest (which is anytime we open the door) it flies to a nearby low hanging branch in the woods, where it perches and furiously bobs its tail. 

It should take two weeks for the eggs to hatch, and then the birds will typically lay a second clutch of eggs - Double Clutching?