Wednesday, November 26, 2008

January 10 to 15, 2008

January 10 yesterday we had a spectacular wind storm that raised the river's water level a good three feet and kept us inside watching the waves. Then the temperature dropped, but just below freezing. It was calm in the morning and slowly warming, sunny and only stray patches of snow. The trails were drier. Antler Trail required no fording like it did three days ago. We saw several deer scatter, couldn't get close to any of them. Of course, the pleasures of tracking were gone but some animals served notice of their presence. The base of a red oak
trunk had a girdle only a few inches off the ground.

If Ottoleo hadn't told me that he saw a porcupine under the nearby outhouse I would have bent over to see if we now had a race of mighty mice. The creek coming from the second swamp danced down the rocks

and floated South Bay a steely gray.

There was a little ice still out there but very hard to see. Even the East Trail, which goes up a hill, was relatively dry. I don't like January thaws but they can be exilerating, but when they end so soon, and the dripping and soaking stops, I get depressed feeling like I am transported back to November. We hoped a few beavers out in Shangri-la Pond would dispel the gloom. But none were out. We sat on the ridge above the lodge studiously waiting. The beavers seemed to place no
premium on having an opening in the ice in front of the lodge. Then I studied their cache. It looked to me that branches and logs I could see were closer the lodge, but I couldn't tell if, with higher water, logs floated closer, or whether the beavers
had been dredging under the ice.

I studied the channel too, first suspecting that the flow of water down from the north kept the channel open. Then I saw that the channel to the west was partially open too. The beavers' backs bumping the ice probably kept those portions open.

There was still a hole in the ice behind the dam despite the flowing water over and through the dam. No hint that the beavers had any inclination to make the dam higher

and there was still a pool of water below the dam, convenient for harvesting cattails. With the fuller pond, water now lapped up to the two large red oaks they have been stripping.

And the beavers seem to be ignoring the paths they used during the deep freeze, heading to the northwest, and instead were venturing up a trail to the northeast, putting a black mud stripe on one downed trunk.

They venture up into the upper pools where they had been cutting trees just before winter hit.

They had cut more of the red maple at the foot of the trail to the dead beaver, but that carcass still had the log over it. The body continues to collapse. The trunk no longer clunks its head. Perhaps the carrion beetles are feasting on the insides of the body. All we can see is the slow nibbling of the scales in the back foot

and more substantial nibbling into the tail.

We took the high road to Audubon Pond, weaving past clumps of bouyant lichens.

There was less debris from the wind storm about than we expected and we had to stretch our memories to distinguish the fresh windfalls from the old. The beavers certainly got no favors. As we approached Audubon Pond from the northeast the beavers appeared to have almost no breathing room in their lodge.

But when I got closer I saw room enough, holes in the ice around the lodge, and recently gnawed twigs on the ice.

Continuing around the pond to the west I saw that the beavers are taking advantage of the high water to cut trees back along the north shore, where they had been cutting trees before the park people lowered the pond two feet at the end of the summer.

The sun was too bright to get a good photo. As we went around the pond, the ice talked to us once or twice. The pond is mostly frozen over still. We went down to the otter latrine over looking South Bay and there was nothing new there, nor did it seem like the beavers had been back to work on the willows. I got a photo of how far the ice had been beaten back by heat, wind and waves.

It was getting warm now, and we heard a chickadee belt out a fee-bee song, and saw an eagle swim low over the bay.

At the land we had to put tarps back on woodpiles, and a dead elm had been blown over convenient for sawing, up next to the Teepee Pond. I could navigate Grouse Alley today, water was no longer flowing and the inner valley was
getting back to normal. Water was back within the banks of canals and ponds. There was still snow here and there. Indeed I saw that I was following a turkey trail.

And the remaining snow around the Boundary Pool showed me that the beavers had been there or at least one came up to cut a nice sapling.

I saw other prints on the side of the pool which gave me the impression that one beaver at least did a good bit of investigating. I can't tell if they went up on the ridge there -- didn't see any fresh work on the lower part of the
ridge. The Boundary Pool dam showed no signs of being built up

and judging from the width of Wildcat Pond where the canal runs into it

there is a big leak in the dam below. The beavers show no inclination to back up any of the water coursing through their ponds. The hole on the west side of the pond, that they used so much the last month looks neglected, no piles of new work here. I miss the mystery of black holes in the snow and ice.

I got half way up the ridge enough to see the lodge that looked like it had more mud on it.

And the beavers are still working on the large birch that blew down when its crown was thick with dark green leaves. Took a while for the beavers to notice it. Now it seems to be a main meal.

I could see some logs on the ice where the old cache was and couldn't tell if they had just been hauled in, or hauled out from the ice below.

It got cold enough last night to allow the pond to keep some secrets.

January 12 sunshine today and in the 40s. I headed up the golf course a little before 2pm and then down the first valley to the Big Pond. All the snow is gone and about where I saw the coyote pee in the woods below the cliff I saw
nice pile of coyote poop.

Why here? Was this a male pooping over the pee of the female I saw? I approached the Big Pond on the trail the beavers' had made in the snow -- now it just looked like the old trail from the fall. Had they been on it?

Not easy to tell. The pond bottom seemed a little muddy. Then as I walked along the dam, I was teased with grasses either pushed up or washed up on the dam. And on the ice behind the dam there was a nice collection of cattail stalks that
could have been blown up on the ice, but I saw enough green morsels to convince me that a beaver had been munching on them.

Water was flooding over. I charted a course and made my leaps without getting too wet. I was rewarded by the sight of two fresh otter scats

black, laced with scales and little goo, too.

I stepped back to capture a photo of the latrine and the positioning of the scat suggested to me that an otter perhaps came up from or was going down to South Bay.

I could check on that later. I headed on toward the Lost Swamp Pond, not before gazing into all the open water of the upper Big Pond, even using my spyglass, in hopes of seeing the otter in case it had just arrived from South Bay.

I saw a spindly sapling in the water at the corner of the pond and followed a trail up to the nearest trees, but saw no fresh beaver cutting there. Then as I continued up my usual trail it looked used to me.

At the end of it, I was amazed by the beavers' fresh work. They cut down an elm and nipped a pine

had a white oak hanging, and a little farther they were stripping a large poplar

even fashioning huge poplar logs

Could they carry those back 50 yards to the pond? Then at the end of that poplar I saw that two more big ones had been cut down.

The ends of the poplar trunks had been trimmed, stripped, a log almost cut. This work is well off the same corner of the pond where coyotes celebrated their kill of a beaver. Obviously that death struck no fear in the beavers. I think I am beginning to understand predators. They do not hunt at all the
way human's do. The bobcat I saw in September taught me that. He swaggered down the valley next to the beavers' pond cackling with an energy that startled me. The beavers knew he was there. One slapped its tail. When the bobcat left the beavers there continued, and continue still, to go about their business as if the bobcat didn't exist. The coyotes walk down that valley the same way. Right in the middle. And on the Big Pond, I could see in the snow that they paraded up and down the pond. When I found the beaver remains, I saw no evidence of stalking by the coyotes. The only stealth involved was hiding the remains of the beaver. The predators survive by having a large enough territory to encompass the territories of the many animals they can eat. Those animals are loyal to their territory. The prospect of battling
their own species if they fled to where other beavers lived outweighs the threat of predators. At least the animals I try to watch don't seem to have a concept of hunting at all like the human notion. They do not sneak about, just as their prey does not cower. They trust in their habitat to provide the energy to fuel the complete circle of their life. Of course, we get in the way of it, though no sign of coyote hunters yet this year. The Lost Swamp Pond was mostly frozen over but in such a big pond there is plenty of open water. I studied a black lump in a small patch of open water beyond the lodge in the southeast corner of the pond

And I saw two beavers in patches of open water in the northeast section of the pond. I saw one of those beavers go under the ice. I waited to see if it would go to the lodge near the dam. It didn't, only joined the other beaver up in that corner of the pond. So they could be staying in the old lodge up there, or they could have crossed the slight hill of land that divides that end of the pond. Before going over to the dam to get a better look at the beavers, I checked for new otter scats at the mossy cove latrine and saw none. But I did see what looked like a new scat next to the old scats left beside the dam by the otters who toured the area two weeks ago.

Of course this was close to the dam, just like the scats I saw at the Big Pond. The ice was a bit broken out in the pond there, but everything was so smooth from melting no way could I picture otters sliding over it.

I also noticed a dead frog in the water, probably fooled by the thaw to come out of hibernation.

Then I checked on the two beavers in the open water along the shore.

Both quite placid and oblivious to me. I also suspect that there might be a beaver in the Upper Second Swamp Pond. It too was mostly ice, but there was a rim of open water behind the dam. I only saw one sign of a beaver, a bit of mud pushed up on the dam

Other than that, nothing else, and muskrat could have pushed up fresh grass. I walked down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond and not too far down from the upper dam, I saw the stump of a freshly cut sapling

I scanned around for other work, saw none, and all the trails I briefly explored seemed to be deer trails. Then as I pondered the meager diet these beavers seem to have, I was startled to see a flotilla of stripped logs, blown a few yards from the lodge, lapping in the water at the edge of the ice.

This is one of my favorite sights and it's usual a treat of March or early April. There was plenty of open water, more stripped logs, and evidently little remaining cache around the lodge.

A beaver was out at its usual spot behind the dam -- imperceptible in the shadows of the photo below.

As I was heading off to the East Trail Pond, I saw a beaver dive under the ice then find a channel that led back to the lodge. At the same time a beaver surfaced in front of the lodge and swam down to the dam. No reaction at all when the two beavers swam past each other. I should have stayed and studied this do-see-do, but it was getting dark and I wanted to see beavers in Shangri-la Pond. Approaching from below the dam, I had to be careful not to alarm a beaver in the cattails, but no beaver was out. I continued on the trail up to the upper pond, as
it were, where, before the snow, the beavers had been cutting trees. I had to reacquaint myself with what they had done so I could tell if, during this thaw, they returned to that area. One small tree that had been cut down but not fallen on the ground looked like fresh work, but I can't be sure

I walked down to the end of the canal and saw no obvious evidence of what the beavers had been doing, but there was plenty of stripping and cutting to be seen. Meanwhile, something is getting at the fur of the dead beaver

No evidence that a beaver had gnawed on the trunk that killed the beaver. I took photos of the surrounding work for future reference so I could better tell if beavers come here again. I was also struck with the pink of the granite wall
of Shangri-la canyon and the photo I took came out pretty true. What a nice place to worry about beavers.

I walked back around the pond and then up to my vantage point on top of the dam to take photos of the pond in its thawed state.

Without ice and snow there was no way I could tell what the beavers had been doing, and since this is a quiet lodge, I could sit and worry that the beavers had gone, the colony broken by the death of what I suspect might be the
matriarch. But the lodge looked too snug to leave

and then as I walked upstream I could that this beautiful pond had more water than when the beavers moved into it in mid-summer

and water was open along the shores, and uppond, more possibilities for the beavers.

It was getting dark when I got dwn to the little causeway on the South Bay trail where otters interested in the Big Pond were wont to scat. No scats there tonight.

January 13 below freezing but sunny in the morning and clouds were on the way so we went for a hike, reverse of what I took yesterday. We crossed the ridge on the Antler Trail and then headed up to Shangri-la Pond. The porcupine had
gnawed more around the trunk of the red oak by the creek. No sign of any work up in the trees. Maybe it is injured and can't climb. I think Ottoleo said he saw a small porcupine here.

No beavers out, but the pond had iced over and we could see where they had been swimming under the ice. Most of the bubbles were in front of the lodge

Not so many where the cache had been and a trail near the dam

and most interesting, it looked like one beaver at least went up pond to the west

From up on the ridge we couldn't see if there were bubbles under the ice of the north canal, and once I got down there it seemed clear that the ice was thin, perhaps kept that way by the beavers swimming. I could tell they had been up there because there was more gnawing on the red maple, even mud up on the cut.

The dead beaver lost its nose and one ear

and the mice continue to dine on its tail.

We headed for the East Trail Pond, hearing but not seeing the pileated woodpecker. We flushed one sparrow as we walked along the East Trail Pond boardwalk. The Second Swamp Pond was frozen over, not as many bubbles under the ice, but we could see where a beaver broke some ice behind the dam. I was most interested in seeing if there were bubbles under the ice of the Upper Second Swamp Pond and toward the south end of the dam there were, but not big; muskrat could have made them. Boatmen were swimming up toward but not into the bubbles.

Up at the Lost Swamp Pond dam, I didn't see any bubbles under the ice behind the dam, nor was any ice broken, so I don't think beavers are staying in the nearby lodge. I saw some more scat, up on a clump of grass so obvious that I would have seen it yesterday if it had been there.

So I think it is new, and there was a little pink seed with a green sprout coming out of it -- can't account for that.

Meanwhile Leslie was noticing many dead frogs under the ice

She saw one that had lost a leg, but there wasn't the ruckus around -- no ice broken, for example, not many bubbles, to suggest that an otter had anything to do with it. So why the dead frogs at the foot of this slope?

Don't know. We continued around the pond to look for more scats, but saw none. Not much new at the poplar works down near the Big Pond. I did notice the many small dogwoods cut along their trail back to the pond. We went up the big rock to get to the golf course. There is often a porcupine here but I didn't see any signs of one. Up on top of the rock we were surprised to see some snow and a finger of ice sticking up from a frozen puddled in pock in the granite. I kept saying there
was grass in the middle but Leslie couldn't see it, and she was right as always

Mystery. And then another one when we walked down the third fairway hill on the golf course. Just at the edge of the fairway, just out from some bushes was a dead raccoon. I took the opportunity to get a photo of its back footpad

but more interesting were porcupine quills stuck in its other back foot

and a few in its nose

Perhaps it died after a run-in with a porcupine!

January 15 we got about two inches of snow yesterday, beginning in the early morning. Wet snow that promised good tracking this morning, but then we got another inch of snow last night, and it got down to 20 degrees last night so the added inch was fluffy dry snow. All to say, almost all the tracks were smeared, save for the deer roused as we headed off on our usual rounds. There were tracks around the circle of snow covered fur from the deer we found dead there a month ago. Probably deer tracks. We couldn't be sure of coyote tracks and I didn't think
we saw a fisher trail. Leslie did. We heard the pileated woodpecker as we walked along the South Bay trail, and we followed a deer's tracks all the way down the trail. Few tracks crossed the trail. We checked for a porcupine under the outhouse,
but no tracks there and no new work at the base of the nearby red oak. We saw only deer tracks on our way to Shangri-la Pond. There was a new wrinkle there. A beaver broke out from under the ice near one of the old lodges. But didn't venture far from the hole, at least after the snow fell. It left one nicely legible print by the side of the hole.

From the bubbles under the ice that we saw two days ago it looked like a beaver was swimming from the active lodge up in this direction. There was a good bit of open water in front of the lodge, and what looked like impressions in the ice where a beaver may have climbed up.

But there was no sign of much nibbling, and there was open water at the cache and no sign of any freshly collected branches. There was no open water behind the dam and only open water at the lower portion of the north canal and the
upper part of the channel to the dam.

So as we walked around the pond we didn't expect to see much beaver activity, and we didn't see any. However, the carcass of the dead beaver was gone. Unfortunately it was taken away before the snow fell. That is, there was no
sign of it being dragged from under the trunk.

However, there was a circle of tracks in front of the trunk and what looked like a squirt of pee.

So? We would credit a coyote for taking away the carcass, save for one other wrinkle. A thick rotten trunk that fell blocking the East Trail had been pushed back, so there were other humans on the trail before the snow fell. Did that
person also see the beaver and clear that out too? That's a bit of enterprise given that the carcass was getting a bit stinky. On Sunday, two days ago, the blood from where the nose was ripped off was visible, which might have excited scavengers. I assume given the cold weather that the meat on the bones was still worth checking out, for a scavenger. Anyway, the beaver is gone. Strange how we miss it. The end of a story, but only the first part. We still have to see how the other beavers react. The beavers did not come out to gnaw on the red oaks, but on one of the red oaks I could see where an animal that came from where the carcass had been jumped up on a log -- fisher? fox?

We headed for the Second Swamp Pond to see if the beavers there had been out. I haven't been down to the dam for a while so I checked that out -- no sign of beavers out and the dam is almost topped.

A good bit of water flowing behind the dam -- probably unable to cross it without getting soaked. On the way to the lodge, I saw that a beaver had opened the ice at a little canal around the rocks from the lodge, but didn't get out on land after the snow.

We checked the lodge and saw some bumps in the ice over where the cache had been.

There was absolutely no sign of anything disturbing the ice behind the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. Interesting sightings were spare enough, and enough sun out, that I almost started taking photos of the mice's scurrying tracks over the snow, then we saw something interesting next to the Lost Swamp Pond dam. It looked like an otter came out, sniffed where some old scats were and retreated quickly back into the pond.

Arguing against this interpretation was the absence of the usual ruckus and ice breaking that otters leave behind, just one unruffled hole behind the dam. And there was a small slide off the main slide, but we think that was made by the otter's tail, not a mink.

The main slide was much too large for a mink to accomplish.

An otter has no reason to slide in the snow or on the ice of the pond. What it is after is under the ice. I walked over to the lodge.

In some years otters put a hole in the ice on the east side of the lodge that you can't see from the dam, but not this time.

I walked around the west end of the pond. No other signs of otters, and no sure sign of open ice around the active lodge in the southeast corner of the pond. The temperature was warm enough now to get snowfleas out -- about 25 degrees, and that is warm enough for beavers. I had hopes that one would be out among the downed poplars in the woods around the Big Pond. Three deer were browsing down there but no otters. Coyotes had been on the ice, taking their usual trail.

There was a good bit of open water behind the dam, but no sign that anything used it

Until I got to the south end of a dam and saw that a beaver had parted the ice, probably as it was forming last night,

but only went about five yards along its trail and then turned back. No coyote nor fisher tracks up the first valley to the golf course.

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