Mid-November is when we can observe many changes. It may be "AutWin" (the time between the leaf drop and the lasting snow cover) prevailing and we have no snow on the ground. Or, it could be when we are wearing the white shroud as we’ll be seeing for the next several months. And, it may also be the time of freeze-up on the local lakes.
I always like to take walks to visit several ponds, swamps and lakes as we get further into this month. On Oct. 29, after we had some mild temperatures, that I noted all of the local ponds were covered with ice. On the next day, a nearly swamp, larger in surface area, also wore this cold cover.
Wondering if this ice coating would last, I went back to visit them often in the next few days. There was some partial opening, but mostly they remained frozen. When we reached the second week of November, the cold intensified and I suspected this freezing would last. A couple beaver ponds still had some open water near the lodges, but in the cold, even that succumbed.
Seeing ice on local ponds and swamps, made me wonder about the nearby lakes. Often these larger bodies of water will vary much in their freezing, any time from early November to early December in recent years. But they average about Nov. 20.
Walking from the frozen ponds and swamps, I next went to see about the adjacent lake. Despite below freezing temperatures of Nov. 4 and 5, I found no ice on the lake — none.
It was quite a surprise when I looked at the lake again Nov. 6 to see an ice covering that I estimated at 90% — just a few open sites.
Checking other neighborhood lakes, I noted similar conditions: no ice one day and a virtual complete ice cover the next day. I paddled here just 10 days before and along the shore I saw dragonflies, frogs and a turtle.
It appears as though I was not the only one who was taken by surprise with this abrupt freezing. When I visited the lakes on both Nov. 4 and 5, I saw others here, too. In a bay were three common mergansers. All appeared to be females (or young). The wood ducks that I have been seeing here this fall were gone.
Mergansers seem to do well in cold water, often seen in open water of Lake Superior in winter, so I was not surprised. With rugged teeth-like bills, they are able to catch fish during their frequent dives. These duck-like birds, about 2 feet long, are hardy. There are plenty of fish here and they appeared to be doing fine.
But when I returned Nov. 6 and saw the ice cover that extended to most of the lake, I was surprised at this cold coating. As I looked out over the lake with this new appearance, I watched as a bird came flying into the bay. It was intent on coming down to a surface of water.
Instead, the amazed merganser found an extended site of ice. I watched it take a long surprising slide. Gathering its composure, the bird took off to find another and hopefully wetter part of the lake.
Unlike loons, mergansers are able to fly up from a small watery site. The trio that I watched are no longer being trapped by ice. They handle cold water well, not ice, and they left to find other fishing locations.