Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Frozen Over

Mohican Lake froze over last night, much earlier than last year when we had warmer than normal temperatures through mid-January. Yesterday, ice covered the cove and the channel; today, a thin layer of ice covers the entire lake.

However, the lake hasn't frozen solid. You can see open spots here and there. If the air warmed and it rained overnight, the ice might easily thaw. Nevertheless, today's the day the lake froze, and you can mark it in your calendar.

Compare yesterday with today.

Tuesday, December 4th

Wednesday, December 5th

Thursday, December 6th

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beaver Update

Look what those blasted beavers did in four short days. They've gnawed through half of one of my prize oak trees.

I had to make an emergency trip to Home Depot to buy mesh fencing, which online research showed as recommended prevention. Another night, and they'd have taken it down, or striped the bark completely around its circumference. That would have killed it.

There are two types of oaks on my property, swamp oaks and pin oaks. They go for the thinner barked pin oaks. I won't know until next year how severely damaged it is. I hope it makes it.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Sign of the Beaver

Ticked off about describes me after I noticed that a beaver had taken a 10-year old oak tree from my property, leaving a bitten-down stump.

Beavers have caused a lot of destruction to my neighbor’s oaks, bringing down a sizable tree a couple of years ago and chomping halfway through a couple of others. Mine they've left alone, until now.

I have about 25 mature trees on my property, mostly swamp oaks, but few saplings to continue the woodsy atmosphere after the old-timers kickoff.

This tree I’d been nursing. It had competed successfully with thousands of acorns and hundreds of saplings, and had found ample space and light between two majestic, fully mature, late-in-life swamp oaks. Then some thieving beaver came along and cut its life short.

Earlier this summer, one of my city guests -- just arrived from the train station -- looked out the picture window and pointed out a beaver unconcernedly munching a lily pad, and probably dreaming of the day he (the beaver, I mean, not my friend) could sink his teeth into one of my beloved trees. You bet I’m ticked off.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Swimming in October?

I’ve done the backstroke in October every year since I moved to Mohican Lake in June 2003. In fact, I used to keep track of my final swim of the season. For example, my last dip in 2003 was October 8th.

Last year I jumped in – and quickly jumped out -- on October 19th. Brrr. Today, October 10th, I didn’t simply wet myself, I did the Australian crawl.

The water seems much warmer than in past years but I have no scientifically measured empirical proof, only hazy recollections. If I were more Thoreau-like – or more thorough – I'd be keeping records of water temperature, and noting rainfall, lake levels, and day and nighttime air temperatures, because all have probably contributed to this year’s extra-warm water.

For example, we’ve had little rainfall in 45 days until last night’s deluge, which came in a storm which blew from the south. Also, the lake level has dropped at least a foot and a half since this spring, judging from rock discoloration. This makes the water significantly shallower. Shallow water heats faster and mostly we’ve had hot days and warm nights.

And we haven’t had a frost, only three or four nights in the 30’s. If we’d had cooler nights, the leaves would be more colorful and further turned.

If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. This late fall makes up for a very late spring (which I also only hazily recollect), and I’m loving it. One of these days I intend to take a dip in November. See video below:

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turtles on the Brain

The naturalist John Burroughs observed that if you think “arrowheads,” you’ll find arrowheads in every field. Is it the same for turtles?

Yesterday, I saw turtles everywhere. Was I just thinking “turtles” or was there another reason I spotted so many painted turtles soaking up the sun?

Painted turtles do what is known as basking because they can’t generate their own heat. Either they’ll float just under the water’s surface, or they’ll climb onto a log and bask for hours at a time.

However, too much heat can kill a turtle in several minutes. This probably explains why I don’t see many basking turtles on hot summer days, and why I do now as summer wanes and temps here at night descend to the upper thirties. In other words, seeing turtles everywhere is not psychological; they aren’t Jungian symbols of creative ideas bubbling up from the subconscious. Hah!

By the end of October, these creatures will bury themselves in the mud and survive five to six months without oxygen. Who then can blame them for catching a few last rays? I did the same yesterday when I rowboated across the lake to do my own basking. Even took a refreshing swim, one of the last I’ll take I’m sure before my own winter hibernation.

Did you see it blink or did you blink?

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Please Do/Don't Feed The Animals

I can never pass up a free meal, and neither, apparently, can many animals at Mohican Lake. Once these five-finned, four-legged, or two-winged friends get a handout, they return same time, same place, different day expecting another.

Although I no longer feed the birds or the chipmunks (see "Chippy the Chipmunk RIP" below), that hasn't deterred these creatures from turning up every morning with nosebags. As soon as I get close to the picture window, Nutty the nuthatch lands on the railing looking for sunflower seeds. And once Nutty alights, Chicky the chickadee or Titty the titmouse swoops in for a looksee.

Last year, cottage guests and I took baked chicken on the float for a late-afternoon dinner. The bits of chicken meat that we dropped into the water drew a voracious school of sunfish and blue gill. My guests were so tickled by the experience that they repeated this ritual for the rest of their stay. Weeks later fish would gather when I went to the float to swim. In fact, I had to cover a large brown mole on my back with a band aid because, if I swam at about 5 o'clock pm, fish would pick at it. (Ouch.)

Bald Eagles, too, aren't above scavenging, or even begging. During ice fishing season, the eagles will scoff down fish guts left on the ice by the fisherman. One winter, a full-grown bald eagle stood watch on the ice about 30 feet from a group of fisherman who were periodically throwing it fresh caught fish.

My brother tells this eagle story from one of his summer visits to Mohican Lake. An eagle, perched on the branch of a dead standing pine, watched my brother fish from a rowboat just off the northwest shore near Blueberry Island. He caught a perch, but instead of immediately dropping it in the water, he thought he'd throw it in the air to see what the eagle would do. That eagle launched from its perch on cue, missed the fish by yards, but proved it had probably done that before.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Herry The Heron Eats Crappie

I’ve been trying to get a good shot of a great blue heron catching or feeding on a fish. At least one of these shy and solitary birds has been flying in and out of the cove since this morning.

However, I've either run out of memory waiting for the right photo, or the bird turns his back on me, or he steps out of range, or some noise frightens the bird and he flees the cove. He’s even chased a smaller heron from his territory, but no luck getting the right shot, until it started pouring rain.

I looked out the window during the high point of the storm -- lightening, thunder, high winds -- and here comes Herry the Heron gracefully flapping into the cove, and choosing a spot very favorable to my photographing him from the front picture window.

Perfect time to hunt, too: no motor boats, no joggers, no golf carts or ATVs racing along the shore. Just loud claps of thunder, which, oddly, don’t bother him.

Wish I could say I got the perfect photo of him capturing a fish, but, again, my memory card was full. I even thought I had the best shot of the day, a long view of the lake, with a zoom into the heron.

So I uploaded the video onto my computer, emptied the card, and went back to the picture window. As I did, Herry plunged into the lilies. By the time my camera was positioned, the heron was trying to subdue and gulp down a good size crappie, as shown above.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chippie the Chipmunk, RIP

Warning: This story might make you think twice about feeding the wild animals.

About a month ago, I began putting a row of raw sunflower seeds on the railing of my deck, just in the morning. Even though I’d argued with people like my Aunt Helen, for example, that feeding the animals interfered with nature, I did it anyway because I found it entertaining.

The seed would mostly attract nuthatches and tufted titmice until Chippie the Chipmunk discovered the food source, and would climb the rail and vacuum clean every last seed until his pouches were full. If I knocked on the picture window, or went to the deck and scared him away, he’d keep coming back until he succeeded.

Today it was different. I bought a bag of dark oil sunflower seeds on my daily trip the market. First time I'd purchased special seeds for the birds, first time I'd put seeds out past noon. It attracted dozens of birds, but no Chippie, and even though it was raining, sometimes heavily, the birds came anyway.

About 1pm, I finally saw Chippie, not eating seeds on the railing, but climbing a tree just outside the front porch window. He stopped at my eye level and looked. I think he was looking at me.

An hour passed. I walked through the living room. Something caught my eye. I looked out the picture window. I saw Chippie on another tree, far up the trunk. Suddenly, a very large red-tailed hawk swooped to the tree, grabbed Chippie in his talons, pulled him off the bark, and flew two lots down.

At first I said, well, nature has taken its course, and then I thought, no, if it hadn’t been for me feeding the animals, Chippie wouldn’t be Red’s lunch.

I ran to the next yard, saw the hawk, heard Chippie squeaking. I ran at the hawk, but it flew through the trees with the chipmunk dangling from its talons. Suddenly it started to pour rain. My glasses were covered with water so I couldn't see a damn thing. I didn’t see the hawk anywhere, but I heard Chippie. He squeaked for a long time.

I haven't seen a bird on the railing since the incident.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mountain Laurels Then and Now

We’ve entered the last days of mountain laurel season. Yesterday’s heavy rain and high winds downed many of the blossoms.

I can’t tell you why this plant grows so abundantly here--probably Mohican Lake’s elevation and soil conditions--but the blossoms ring the lake in June.

It's interesting how one flowering season differs from another, in the same way, for example, that one year yields more apples than another, or more blueberries, or more acorns.

This was not an abundant mountain laurel season in terms of the number of bushes in flower. Witness the difference between spring 2005 and spring 2007 as evidenced by pictures taken at about the same distance from the eastern shore at the peak of the season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bullfrog Mating Season

Bullfrog mating season’s in full swing on Mohican Lake, which means that if your bedroom’s on the lake, be prepared for a restless night. You might wake up, as my brother did last spring, and say, “I hate frogs.”

Although the bullfrog is big by frog standards, its guttural croak is much bigger, designed, during most times of the year, to keep predators away, but during mating season, to attract a mate. And the competition is fierce. Who can croak the longest? Fifteen ungodly bellows, one after another, is not unusual. And who can croak the loudest? You can hear the bullfrog’s call a half mile away.

They croak at regular intervals, with a single frog beginning the chorus, joined by dozens, hundreds more trying to drown out each other. This lasts perhaps 20 seconds until they stop, wait 5 seconds, and then begin again. This remarkable cacophony begins at sunset and lasts until dawn, and endures for three long weeks.

Having heard it you’ll come to appreciate Emily Dickenson’s meditation on the same infernal racket:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Listen to the mating call of bullfrog:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Woody the Pileated Woodpecker

Was that me laughing hysterically, or was that the sound of Woody, the pileated Woodpecker, after being chased out of crow territory and across the cove, swooping past my head, and perching on the bark of one of my swamp oaks?

Probably taunting me because he or his mate, Woodina, have put a nice sized hole in one of my live oaks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Musky the Muskrat

In years past, Musky the muskrat would rapidly swim in the opposite direction if he saw me, but yesterday he changed course, circling the cove to swim closer. When I clicked my tongue as if I were calling a dog, he swam directly toward me -- maybe three feet from shore -- then stopped. When I took a step closer, he slapped his tail as a warning and started to swim away until I clicked my tongue again, causing him to circle back. Has someone been feeding Musky the muskrat? I think he was looking for a handout.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ice Thunder

I confess to having read Thoreau's WALDEN POND at an impressionable age, so when I heard ice thunder on Mohican Lake I had some vague knowledge of it. That may not describe the sound exactly, though it vibrates the ribcage the same way a deep clap of thunder does. Maybe "boom" or "resonant crack" expresses it better.

However, no description can convey the way it startles. From the living room it sounded as if something had knocked the house off its foundation.

I kept hearing it, too, so I went outside to listen. Sometimes the boom would start across the lake, sounding ever louder at irregular intervals until it reached the cove. Then it seemed to start in the cove, and roll to the opposite side. At other times I'd hear a single boom.

I assume I heard it because the lake had no snow cover. I don't remember hearing it the winter before when snow covered the ice, and I haven't heard it since a snowstorm blanketed the ice in February.

When I examined the ice, I noticed cracks of various lengths and depths, with some cracks seeming to run the full thickness of the ice, from 8-12 inches, according to an ice fisherman who'd drilled holes in several places. The boom probably occurs at the moment of cracking, or perhaps when these cracked sections of ice rub against or collide into each other.

Expansion and contraction must be the root cause of it. If you were to put a glass of water in the freezer, the water would freeze, expand and break the glass. Wind also might play a part. It seemed loudest during a very windy two day period.

A walk in Central Park that same week further illuminated the mystery. Ice on the pond by Bathesda Fountain had heaved, due to expansion, onto the concrete steps.

Thoreau's observations also help. Here's how he described hearing it on Walden Pond:

"The pond began to boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the influence of the sun's rays slanted upon it from over the hills; it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing tumult, which was kept up three or four hours. It took a short siesta at noon, and boomed once more toward night, as the sun was withdrawing his influence. In the right stage of the weather a pond fires its evening gun with great regularity. But in the middle of the day, being full of cracks, and the air also being less elastic, it had completely lost its resonance, and probably fishes and muskrats could not then have been stunned by a blow on it. The fishermen say that the "thundering of the pond" scares the fishes and prevents their biting. The pond does not thunder every evening, and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering; but though I may perceive no difference in the weather, it does. Who would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring. The earth is all alive and covered with papillae. The largest pond is as sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spider and Ice

A thin layer of ice covered the lake, so I walked out on my dock and, just for fun, rocked it back and forth, heaving the water in waves across the cove and breaking the ice into thin, transparent chunks. I picked some of them out of the water with my bare hands and flung them across the ice where they shattered in a thousand pieces.

The next day I thought I'd do the same thing only the ice was much thicker. We'd had a bitter cold night. From the dock, I noticed what I thought was a piece of lake weed suspended in the ice. As I examined it, I realized it was, in fact, a spider. And the spider seemed to be located underneath a broken slab of ice that somehow had slid under the existing ice in yesterday’s forceful rocking.

I thought it might be interesting to remove the spider, so I began to knock a hole in the ice with a stick. As soon as I did the spider moved. This shocked me. I guessed the spider to be frozen in the ice. Instead, it walked upside down along the bottom of the ice, at first away from the vibration, and then toward the hole and to its freedom.

I looked closely at the spider while it remained under the ice. Its body was translucent and fairly sizeable, and it seemed to have many tiny air bubbles trapped in its legs and abdomen. I figured that the spider had stayed alive using this trapped air.

I continued knocking around the spider and finally brought out a chuck of ice with the spider clinging to the underside of it. Immediately its body color darkened, then very slowly this furry, one-and-a-half inch hunting spider began to crawl toward the underside of the dock from where it must have dislodged the day before.

What a will to survive! It had spent nearly 16 hours upside down under ice.