Summer solstice

Longest day of the year?

PhotoPills screenshot showing time/date for equinoxes and solstices.

Today is the summer solstice (in the northern hemisphere). More precisely, the solstice occurred at 5:15am here in the Eastern timezone. The summer solstice is the moment at which the sun has ‘traveled’ to its northernmost latitude, in its annual cycle of apparent movement to the north in summer and to the south in winter. (It’s a great day for those of us with solar panels, because it means we’re getting hours of sunlight!) Read on.

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Green-up day

Our annual ritual.

Every year, since the children were small, we walk up River Road in early May, scanning the roadside brush for trash and debris as part of New Hampshire’s “Green-up day.” It’s a perfect time to do this – after the snow melts and before the undergrowth reappears. (Most importantly, before the poison ivy emerges.) Our kids were always eager participants, scampering down the roadside banks to fetch a soda can or a beer bottle, a cigarette pack or a shopping bag. It was a great lesson in the importance of community service, and the callous disregard of those who feel it is somehow appropriate to toss their fast-food bag and beer bottles into the roadside brush, perhaps imagining the river would wash it away. Today I ended up filling two large trash bags, of the special blue variety designated for this day; read on.

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Snow line

Winter and spring in one scene.

Early spring (late winter?) storms sometimes give one the opportunity to see the dramatic difference elevation makes. It rained yesterday afternoon, hard at times, for many hours. When I hiked up to the top of the Lyme Pinnacle this afternoon – it’s really just a grand hill, not really fair to call it a small mountain – I enjoyed the broad views into Vermont on the west and the hills of Lyme to the east. Most prominent, today, was the vast bulk of Smarts Mountain, with its level summit ridge and its fire tower rising above the trees – all coated in a fresh dusting of snow.

Smarts Mountain – dusted with snow – from the Lyme Pinnacle.
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Blowdowns and pools

Vernal pools appear.

My weekend wanderings through the woods near home allowed me more glimpses of the white-tailed deer living therein – emphasis on the white tail, because I only tend to spot them after they’ve chosen to bound away from me, white tail flashing and leaping through the trees until they fade into the distant brownness of the tree bark and leaf litter. Yesterday I saw them three times, though never with enough time to capture with a camera. Saturday I also saw a big ol’ turkey waddling off into the bushes.

Several of my favorite paths pass by vernal pools – intermittent shallow pools formed by spring rains and snowmelt, on deep-frozen ground not yet ready to absorb the moisture. Not much spring life there yet, but I’ll check again next week. (Last year these pools became active in May.)

So, photographically, all I have to share this week is another “new” thing along my path. It was very windy last week and this hemlock snapped off at the base. When a tree like this falls in the woods; do you think the deer hear it? 😉

The deer, turkey, and coyote

Lots of traffic in my patch of woods.

Yesterday afternoon I took another walk up the hill behind our home, to revisit the curious spot where a deer had met its end (discovered last week). As I climbed the hill, a family of wild turkeys slowly tried to sneak away – not easy now the snow has melted and the crisp, dry leaves of fall cover the forest floor. I noted they were heading uphill away from me, but toward the summit that I would soon reach by a looping path. As I neared the crest, two deer bounded away, flashing their white tails. One paused and turned, curious about me. I was able to approach much closer, allowing me time to capture photographs and video.

A deer paused, after initially running away, to let me take photos and video as I approached closer.
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Ducks and beavers

New arrivals and old friends.

A stroll along River Road, just upstream, brought me an opportunity to see some of the local regulars as well as some unusual migrants – all at the mouth of Grant Brook. Although the winter’s ice has just begun to recede, the critters moved in quickly. We saw some green-headed Mallard ducks, but also a pair of Mallards with vibrant blue heads:

Unusual blue-headed (Mallard?) ducks at the mouth of Grant Brook, Lyme NH

Meanwhile, a beaver zipped by, then dove.

A beaver swims at the mouth of Grant Brook, Lyme NH

See the full gallery for more photos of both.

Wandering the Lyme woods

I never quite know where I’ll go or what I’ll find.

Last weekend’s hike to Holts Ledge emphasized the end of winter/snow hiking, despite the spectacular powder snow I encountered on Kinsman Ridge two weeks ago. That change, coupled with area roads swallowed under a mud season of “biblical proportions”, led me to stay close to home for my hiking this weekend: literally out my back door. It’s a common mud-season opportunity for me, while the trails remain muddy in the mountains and the river is still shedding its winter ice. Today’s outing led to two interesting finds! Read on.

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Smiles and skis

Fresh snow brings out the smiles in everyone.

Friday brought us a wonderful snowfall, 6″ of super-light fluffy powder. Then Saturday and Sunday brought us blue skies and moderate temperatures. Each day I drove out to the edge of town, where a generous landowner maintains (and grooms!) a vast network of cross-country ski trails. The beautiful weather and fresh conditions brought out many other skiers, eager to be back on snow after two weeks of warm weather and (gasp!) rain ruined the skiing. The sky was blue, the wind calm, and the sun glinted off the sharp edges of the fresh snowflakes coating every branch.

A brief puff of wind sprinkles snowflakes into a beam of sunlight.

This landowner (very generous!) even provides warming huts, with a woodstove and amenities like hot chocolate, at strategic points around the trail network.

One of the warming huts along the ski trails

The trails – and parking lot – were busier than I’ve ever seen them, with dozens of people out and about. They ranged the gamut – from young families with eager children, to middle-aged adults shuffling by on their classic skis, to athletic adults skating by at great speed. Everyone was in a cheerful mood, smiling and saying hello as they passed. The many dogs were friendly and excited. It’s all enough to remind you how wonderful winter can be.

Classic tracks on the left, skate tracks on the right.

Eagles on ice

Nothing like a deer carcass to bring everyone together.

As I drove home today along the Connecticut River I noticed a dark object out on the ice – clearly, a carcass of some unfortunate deer. It was already attracting visitors that, from a glance, appeared to include a bald eagle. I dashed home to pick up my camera. When I returned, I found three bald eagles – one mature adult, and two juveniles – enjoying the spoils of this opportunity. Several crows were nearby, but were shooed away by the eagles whenever they came too close.

A bald eagle feeds on a carcass on the ice – and scolds a crow that tries to join in.

It was interesting to see that each eagle looked quite different – even the juveniles looked very different, perhaps of different ages. I also noticed the mature eagle flying alongside one juvenile several times. Family members? or rivals? hard to tell.

A pair of Bald eagles (one immature) flying (and fighting) beside the Connecticut River.

I shot well over six hundred photos, most of them out of focus – on my first visit it was snowing heavily and the snow wreaked havoc on the camera’s autofocus mechanism. But I returned later when the snow stopped and the sun came out. I saved a dozen decent photos for you in the gallery, where you can see each of the three eagles, sometimes together.

Morning after snowstorm

Winter keeps its promise.

Today broke sunny and blue, with a foot of fresh powder smothering the landscape. It snowed hard for nearly 24 hours, and left us with this beautiful, soft powder. As I went out to shovel this morning I was intrigued to see the deer had already criss-crossed the lawn and pawed through the snow under crabapple trees to see if they could find any treats.

The sun rises behind a crabapple tree, under which the deer have been scrounging for apples overnight.
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