Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Voice of the Lake

December 22, 2009
Moreau Lake

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 to four hours.
HDT, Walden

In the midst of the holiday busy-ness, both at home and at work, I drop it all for a few hours and go to revisit the ice of Moreau Lake.
It's 10 am, the bright sun is beaming down on the clear black layer of ice that so recently sealed the lake.

But it's not a complete seal - because all at once I hear a wierd woooooooom noise - it's the lake talking!
At times the sounds alternate from different sides of the lake - a regular conversation is going out there. Other times, it's just a short woooot. Then silence.
The ice is flexing in the sun, and the silence is broken as the most awful craaaaaaakkk! sounds travel from one cove to another.
I stand transfixed to hear the voice of the Lake.

The booming sounds call up images of a gargantuan owl - an alien raygun - or as Dave describes it, whales under the ice.
Beneath the clear ice, I see no ice-whales, only minnows swimming in the sunlit shallows.

The crackling noises make it seem as if a huge pane of glass is breaking into unbearable pieces. But somehow it all holds together.

The cracks themselves resemble silver curtains, or knife blades.
They intersect - or avoid each other

Water expands as it freezes, and along the beach are groaning pressure-ridges. There's no one else around. Just the lake talking.

As if the sounds of the lake were not entrancing enough, in the coves where water-lilies grew, there are hundreds of frozen bubbles. Maybe thousands.

I really don't know the science behind it all - the whoops and the bubbles. But something tells me they are an evanescent treasure, one that may not be here tomorrow. Fortunate me! to have been here today. If I didn't have to go to work this afternoon ... I'd spend the rest of the day stretched out flat on the ice, looking into these scenes more marvellous than any holiday store-window.

Like clouds, they evoke all sorts of images:
A UFO coming in for a landing.

Stacks of flapjacks.

Northern lights.

The fingerprint of the night air.

One cove was filled with bubbles "like silvery coins poured from a bag," as Thoreau describes them at Walden.

While I am gazing at bubbles, I hear the sound of a vehicle coming along the park road. Ben, the Park’s SCA intern, arrives at the beach. It is his task today to check on the ice-thickness. Moreau is a popular spot for ice-fishing, but no one is supposed to be out on the ice until it is deemed safe.

As he walks a short distance out on the clear ice, comes a huge snap !
and there is a new crack forming before our eyes. I watch it extend from beneath Ben's boots -- eerily, without any further sound -- ten yards in either direction.
It spirals along in fluorescent hues, casting rainbows on the sandy bottom.

Nevertheless, Ben proceeds to use the blue hand auger to drill into the ice.

Once through, water gushes gently up through the hole, and then you can measure the thickness of the ice.

He samples several spots around the edges of the main lake, and in the back bay.

It's about 4 inches deep close to shore, and in a more sheltered cove, about 7 inches.
Neither of us wants to go measure the ice in the middle!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eagle Watch

December 19, 2009
Hudson River

This Saturday morning was the first of this winter's Eagle Watches conducted by Moreau Lake State Park.

I'll tell you right off, that despite 4 pairs of eyes watching, we didn't see any.

But as they taught us during Turtle Monitor training at the Lake George Association, it's just as important to record what you DON'T see, at least for research purposes.
It's a little early in the season to see them.

Two days ago, when I was scouting out this part of the river, the park naturalist, Gary, spotted an eagle right down on the beach at the Moreau Lake. (I of course, was on the wrong side of the mountain at the time!) It had apparently been attracted by a dead Canada goose. So we know they are in the area.

We drove over to the river and started a series of timed observations, beginning at the Lower Boat Launch.

Just Thursday, the water was wide open.

After two nights of temperatures near zero, the same stretch of river was now iced-over from shore to shore. (see previous blog to compare). This morning was cloudy and very cold, and the breeze didn't help. It always seemed to be coming from the direction we needed to look toward. I scanned the treeline with binoculars, as a cold tear rolled down my cheek.

Gary, completely at home in the outdoors, led the way as we stopped at several spots along the river over the next two hours. He didn't seem phased by the cold or the wind.

I was OK, having found the right combination of thin but warm long underwear, wool and warm boots to keep me cozy. Watching for eagles is not in any way aerobic, and so you don't build up any heat.

After two hours, we were ready to head back to the park office with its fireplace.
Better luck next time.

Ben, the SCA intern, was bundled up tight - but he was still cold. (Which is to be expected when you have recently moved from a more southern climate.)

Dave, the Environmental Educator, who grew up in "Lake-Effect Snow" country west of here, somehow managed without gloves.

Three of us had scarves wrapped around our faces, in a vague effort to keep our noses warm.

We looked more like bank robbers than naturalists.

I prepared to take a photo of Dave against the beautiful lower river valley,

and as he turned away from the wind, I said "Smile !"

"I am smiling," says he.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scouting Along the River

December 17, 2009
Along the Hudson River

Thursday the 17th, I had a single day off from work, intending to go early to Moreau Park for the first Eagle Watch of the year. Unfortunately, the watch got re-scheduled to the weekend.

Nevertheless, I headed over to that part of the Hudson River, where bald eagles can be seen in the colder months of the year.
At the Park, Eagle Watches are conducted throughout the winter. It's an opportunity to observe local wintering Bald Eagles, and sightings are officially reported. Before the river completely freezes over, eagles can be anywhere in this area - and they have quite a range. It's not until winter really locks up the river that they appear here with some regularity. Those spots of open water by the dams are what seem to attract them. They will feed on fish, and also on deer carcasses. In the summer, most return north to Canada. (For more info about bald eagle migration -- and other seasonal phenomena -- see the excellent website Journey North at

Since it was so sunny today, I thought maybe I'd do some advance scouting of the Spier Falls section of the river. It would be a treat to be out in the late afternoon, when I am usually indoors at work.
There are two boat launches in this pondy section of the river, with Spier Falls Dam between them. First stop: the Lower Boat Launch.
At 2:30 pm, the sun was already sinking behind one rim of the river valley.

But what a valley it is!

Looking downriver, the steep flank of West Mountain rises high as the river zigs and zags past steep hills.

The river was still wide open, with shelves of thin ice on the edges. The river is slower to freeze, due to the current and the varying flow-rates caused by the dam.

Ice was forming in the brook that oozes down to join the river. At first glance, it's difficult to tell what is solid, and what is a reflection.

At the Upper Boat Launch, which is a mile or so above the dam, the river takes a sharp bend. There's a small cove to one side, and you can see up and down the river easily from here.

In midwinter this is the prime spot for seeing bald eagles -- but alas, if they were there, I didn't see them.

I spent some time admiring ice crystals along the shore. The ice is slowly, inevitably, taking over.
All the drama of a glacier, on a small scale.

The sun sank ever lower, and a cold shadow crept across the river.
Suddenly, one last beam of sunlight shot into the cove, and lit up this pine like ... a Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Turning to Ice

December 12, 2009
Moreau Lake

Today turned out to be a bright and sunny day, with some messy weather being forecast for tomorrow.
I didn’t hesitate to change my plans, and decide that today was the day to take a long walk at Moreau Lake. We’d gotten eight inches of snow just a few days ago, but snowshoes weren’t needed. Most of the way, my path was packed down from previous walkers.

I stopped first at Head Cove, which was just beginning to freeze over.

The ice told of a beaver’s swim to shore …

.. where he left webbed-paw prints in the snow.

I continued around the lake. It was cold but not windy, and so the more bearable.
The Big Lake was wide open, while the Back Bay was covered with a grey layer of ice.
Here you can see both in a panoramic view. There's a little causeway separating the two.

There are beavers in the Bay, too. Next to the lodge, a stash of tender branches poked up above the ice.

As the sun sank toward the horizon, the Bay ice began to whoop. (Dave calls it “the song of the ice-whales.”) It’s eerie and comical at the same time.

Circling back along the Swimming Beach, I saw hundreds of Canada geese along the Sandbar ...

... enjoying the last bit of sun for the day.

I met just one other walker today, and his companion.
(I don’t believe that stuff about people getting to look like their pets, do you?)

The Big Lake is open, but about to freeze, any day now.

I’m fascinated lately by the transition from water to ice. At times the line between “liquid” and “solid” becomes blurred, as if there is another state of matter between those two.

Before leaving, I took a long look, savoring the view of open water.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just SUET !

December 9, 2009

Overnight, we received a fresh batch of snow. Now we seem guaranteed a White Christmas, (which is the norm here in upstate New York -- unlike where I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, where I remember many a brown December and January.)
The flakes were still coming down at a good clip in the morning. They were fine, but light – around eight inches’ worth.

Just the other day we put the suet feeder out on the little balcony of our apartment.
That is apparently against The Rules here, but for sheer entertainment value, we can’t resist.
Sitting at breakfast at the old oak farm table, and watching the feeder through the big double window, is better than TV.
We call it “The Bird Channel.”

Despite the snow falling thickly, one bird after another came for a visit. When the snow eased up around lunchtime, there was not a bird to be seen. Maybe they were off somewhere digesting their greasy brunch.

Here’s a gallery of patrons at the Meadowbrook CafĂ©:

Those without reservations had to wait in line…

…while the Waitress prepared their table. (That’s my mom, playing in the snow!)

The Northern Juncos were first to arrive.

They seems a generally optimistic bird.

Then the woodpeckers – by the size of the beak, I would guess this is a female Hairy Woodpecker.

I like how they use their tail to brace themselves.

A single Black-capped Chickadee came for a drive-thru visit.

Then some Tufted Titmice had a turn at the suet bar.

Finally, we had a return visit from a Carolina Wren.

As she hopped around at different angles, you could admire her beautiful wood-grain feathers.

Compared to the smiling Junco, this chick looks positively pouty.
“Is that all there is?”