Wednesday, November 26, 2008

January 24 to 31, 2008

January 24 on a sunny cold late afternoon in late January when, as far as I knew, there was no particular story to follow, not likely that any of the beaver colonies I've been watching would have broken ice and come out in the cold, we
simply hiked over the ridge looking for tracks to follow. A coyote visited the site on Antler Trail where the deer died, and was ripped apart over a month ago, and left a big scrape and its clear prints.

But its trail led back to Thousand Island Park so we didn't follow that. We saw a grouse hole in the snow -- no tracks to follow. A wing mark suggests it flew off.

There was nothing particularly new along the South Bay trail. I wanted to get down to the north inlet creek, a famous otter route, but not recently. We did see tracks out on South Bay, only one trail, heading our way. So we headed east up into the woods getting away from the mishmash of mostly deer tracks along the trail. We crossed deer trails and then, heading our way, followed a wide porcupine trail that came out of the Porcupine Hotel and went along and then higher up the ridge.

Then we saw some strides suggesting two animals chasing each other.

Where the strides merged there were five prints together. I thought they were small like fox prints.

We decided we were back tracking the animal and hoped to see more clues, but we easily lost the scent suggesting to me that it was more likely a small animal like a fox rather than a deer or coyote. Meanwhile we hit another porcupine trail coming out of the old rocky otter dens on the south shore of the old Otter Hole Pond, now mostly a meadow.

This trail angled up to trees, but I only saw one small pine a bit stripped on top, and the porcupine kept going along the small ridge, down to the meadow, and then up to another front of rocks.

I think the porcupine was changing dens which they periodically do during the winter. We took the wooded pass between upper Otter Hole Pond and the Big Pond -- usually a good area for fisher tracks, but it seemed like we were mostly
following deer trails. At the Big Pond we picked up a definite coyote trail, taking the same route as before, the beavers' trail back into the bush below the dam

It walked briefly along the edge of the pond

and joined the trail of another coyote or two coming up from the stream below the dam and heading off on the flat ice and snow of the pond.

I was flattered to see fresh coyote prints in my old snow shoe tracks. Two grouse flew out of trees as we headed up the valley to the golf course but there were none of the dramatic coyote or fisher trails that often cross the valley.

January 25 It was a bit warmer today, but we lost the sun and a good west wind whipped up. Fortunately a large red oak next to my sawing rock at the land protected me as I cut and split ash. Leslie noticed rabbit tracks around the house, one even went under the house. After lunch I checked for rabbit tracks at the Bunny Bog -- the first place we noticed rabbit tracks in the snow when we bought the land not quite ten years ago. There were rabbit tracks all over, working on twigs and
trunks small


and some quite impressive demonstrations of hunger

The rabbits had been laying low, as far as we could tell. So they are hungry. We saw a bit of red pee.

The great thing about tracking rabbits is that you get the impression that you are seeing both the intake and out-take in one snapshot. The bark eaten seems immediately transformed into the pellet on the snow.

Then I picked up coyote trails and followed them.

There were so many possible rabbit dens, I got tired of looking into all the holes around the sandstone jumbles. The coyotes took me down to Wildcat Pond, where I was aiming to go. The trail got so wide, I'm sure deer joined it.

Of course, I was hoping to see evidence that something happened, other than the usual trot. I saw a spray of pee on a juniper

and then saw something significant, what looked like a very meaningful coyote statement on a mound of snow just above the Boundary Pool dam.

I could get close to it and it looked like the marks of more that one coyote.

I continued down to the beaver lodge, and once again there was no sign that any coyotes went on it, but with so many rabbits, why bother? After an earlier snowstorm, the first of the season, I think, I saw rabbit tracks under the hemlocks on the east side of the valley and speculated that rabbits felt safer from the hawks there. But no rabbit tracks under the hemlocks today, perhaps not enough cover from coyotes.

January 27 sunny this morning with the temperature getting up to just below freezing. We hoped to find some beavers out. Only deer tracks, no deer, along Antler Trail. Then as we came down to South Bay we flushed four grouse, three
from pines and one from the snow under a leafless shrub. We could see the tracks in

and since it snowed off and on during the night, it looks like the grouse just got there, but it managed to leave a nice pile of poop.

Grouse are interesting packs of energy that explode from what seems like the most peaceful out of way corners of the surrounding landscape, pine boughs and deeper unblown snow. Yet it is hard to imagine them finding that much to eat this time of year. Would be nice to, but I'll never get, a photo of them exploding out of the snow. We could only make out deer tracks on the South Bay trail and we even saw one of the deer who looked at us as we looked at her. Then we headed off in opposite directions. We thought we could make out some coyote prints heading up from South Bay but all but the freshest prints were mumbled by the night's inch of soft snow. There was no shouting on the trails today. At Shangri-la Pond, despite the sun and despite the warmth, and it didn't get below 20 last night, there was only one suggestion of beaver activity. Perhaps the heat of activity right outside the lodge melted a cone of snow down to the ice.

The rest of the pond was all white. The yellow lines of beaver stripped trunks only had deer tracks beside them.

But we had to go down and walk around to be sure. Most of the tracks were deer, but we saw enough coyote prints in the deer trails to suggest that a coyote came up again to where the dead beaver had been, but left no tokens this time.

We crossed the East Trail Pond without incident. Usually a pileated woodpecker cheers us along. Leslie got a glimpse of a downy woodpecker. The porcupines keep up their trail along the dam and once again my photo of the arcing trail over the rocks to the east and down to their dens did not come out. I was startled to see extensive stripping of the branches high in three high oaks.

Yet there were no trails to any of the trees. Could I have missed all this activity? Did the oak leaves that fall so late obscure it? Porcupines usually move and eat with such sloth-like speed that I can't imagine them doing all this in less than a month. Heading over the ridge on to the Second Swamp Pond I fell behind a grand porcupine trail, suggesting that there was moving day in this neck of the woods too.

There were tracks on the Second Swamp Pond. Deer likely came to the sides of the pond, but coyotes likely circled in toward the middle of the pond.

We got more convinced that the coyotes were about when we saw circling tracks farther up pond

Then we gingerly walked across the pond -- this has been the best winter for snow, the worst for pond ice -- and saw where coyotes marked and pawed into a small muskrat pushup.

We kept on the pond on our way to the Lost Swamp Pond dam, where there was nothing be seen but snow. No water leaking through the dam. Not likely any otter lurking there. We crossed on the ice and looked up at the active lodge which didn't show any signs of activity

We took the beeline to the Big Pond. No sign of any activity down at the dam, so we checked the spring up pond. On the way we admired the collapsed beaver lodge -- last used maybe eight years ago. There were no fresh tracks on the pond but it looked like there had been some stamping around here by coyotes or deer before the last snows.

At the spring there was a ribbon of open water but choked with weeds and we couldn't see any fish in it like we did when the beavers periodically foraged through here keeping down the vegetation. We saw some tracks behind the upper dam and waded through deep snow to check them out. Old coyote and deer tracks. A coyote checked out the beaverless lodge.

I got to go up the second valley to the golf course which has always been rich with porcupine activity in the winter. I crossed a possible fisher trail on the way.

I would like a more definite trail. Bad things happen to fishers during the winter, like getting run over by the snowplows as they den in the snowbanks along the road. Then I saw another strange trail heading up to the porcupine troughs.

Although it hardly makes sense, I think they are the prints of a porcupine that walked with uncharacteristic daintiness. At least it didn't continue up the ridge, just merged with the troughs that went up to the dens in the rocks,

where the porcupine found a hole through the snow into a low rock den

and then there were gaping chasms, shallow dens.

I followed a trough up the valley -- saw two red squirrels but no porcupines. I did see a trail to a den that had discrete prints like I saw at the foot of the valley.

I admired their feeding patterns -- one sapling entirely done

and another with just one foot bark and one twig stripped.

January 28 gentle sunny day, just below freezing. Before getting to work cutting some dead ironwoods, I checked the Deep Pond. Nothing had opened the ice behind the dam, but I could see that the beaver had been out and plowed through
the snow at least up to its lodge. As I walked around the pond to check that out, I saw a curious trough along the high east shore of the pond, as wide as an otter would make but quite straight and regular and there was no sign of any animal getting up out of the pond.

So I think it was made by the wind parting the snow, just how I'm not sure. When I got over to the beaver lodge I was quite impressed by the enterprise of the beaver. The few stripped sticks and leaves outside the frozen over hole in the ice hardly suggested the beaver's activity.

It plowed through snow, not up on its lodge, as it had been doing, but beyond it

tunneling under a log

and then heading up the gentle slope

veering off now and then to cut small woody plants

and all it cut truly looked bite size. Perhaps a measure of its eagerness to get some vittles back into its lodge.

I looked back to get a measure of how far it had come, about 14 yards.

I didn't notice any cutting back here during the summer and fall. The beaver was saving this convenient food for the winter. After working, as I was heading back for lunch I noticed some curious tracks that came across the road and then through the brush

Cat? Raccoon? A high stepping porcupine? After lunch Leslie tracked this animal to a dead tree up on the ridge next to the lonesome pine. Probably a raccoon. After lunch I headed for Wildcat Pond but was easily diverted by some major rabbit gnawing not far from our house, work worthy of a porcupine.

At the end of Grouse Alley I saw a porcupine trail heading down into the inner valley so I followed because porcupines on our land usually stay on the ridge they are denning in.

This porcupine made a broad straight trail

heading to the ridge to the east, and perhaps it came back, and perhaps the third trail to the right was made by a raccoon,... or a higher stepping porcupine?

I followed the trail up the ridge

and there was quite a jam of trails on top of the ridge, because the deer had widened the porcupine trough with their trails. I looked back and took a photo of the trails coming up the western slope of the ridge.

There was a porcupine trail crossing the ridge and going down the steep eastern slope.

But we see a porcupine operating here every winter so I doubt if this trail was made by the porcupine that came over from Grouse Alley. This was fun. The only disappointment was not seeing a porcupine. I went back down to the inner valley hoping to track a coyote going down to Wildcat Pond again, but I only saw deer trails, and what I think was a raccoon. Here's a photo showing the light touch of the animal without hooves

The coyotes hadn't visited their previous pee marks, and, much to my disappointment there was no sign that these beavers had been out, despite having a pond drenched with sunshine and showing a few small patches of brown ice. I sat half way up the ridge near the lodge and heard some humming from the lodge, a couple of kits complaining for at least ten minutes. I went up the ridge and was treated with crisscrossing porcupine trails and nipped hemlock boughs. At least these porcupines stayed on their own ridge. When I got back down to Grouse Alley I saw a den of that far ranging porcupine with poop on its porch.

January 29 still below freezing at dawn, Leslie saw a rainbow, then light freezing rain, then above freezing and a bit of drizzle. It was 40 when I headed out at 2pm to see what beavers may have come out. I saw a strange brown stain on the snow along the Antler Trail that I think a coyote left. Whether it is vomit, urine or diarrhea I don't know and didn't investigate.

No sign of prancing about it or digging around so I get the impression that the coyote wasn't proud of it. Otherwise there were a few fresh deer trails on the ridge. Down on the South Bay trail a coyote revisited where it had left a poop a week ago. This time there was a scrape in the snow and grass and some pee.

The tracks heading out on the melting South Bay ice were indistinct but shaped like canine tracks, not deer.

Then on the other side of the little causeway there was another scrape in the snow and grass.

Of course deer paw through the snow to get to grass, moss and acorns but not with the force of a coyote, and no pee stains in the snow.

From there to the ridge overlooking Shangri-la Pond I only saw deer tracks. Looking down at the pond I was disappointed to see no sign that the beavers had been out or were about to come out. The only sign that they
were still there was the melting down to mud on the top of the lodge.

It looked like there was an opening at the far end of the north canal but obviously no tracks there and the red oak trunks have not be gnawed.

Perhaps I put too much pressure on these beavers! probably good that they are happy inside their lodge. And while I was grousing about their inactivity I saw the prints of a deer that had gone out to the edge of the rock cliff to find food.

Why do I look for intrepidy among beavers in the winter? The deer are on the edge. Today I did see a fisher's trail in the Fisher Woods

I was tempted to track it, but tracking in soft snow as it melts is no treat, and I still had three more beaver colonies to check. I had the great notion of crossing the Second Swamp Pond on the dam but I soon saw a pool
of water formed by water going through the dam. I also saw beaver stripped sticks floating in the pool.

Ah ha. In other years these beavers have breached this dam to keep a comfortable pool of water open below it. So I investigated and soon saw where beavers had come out of pool into the canal leading to some work in a grove of ash trees that they had first harvested two years ago.

Then they veered off that canal

and up to the fringes of the ash they had cut this fall.

They left some morsels on the trail

and at one spot I could see the impression of a beaver's head in the snow as it nipped a woody plant just above ground level.

In other years the pool they fashioned had been on the south end of the dam, but I was in no mood to get soaked, and seeing this activity, I thought I best check the lodge. There I saw a open hole in the ice in front of the lodge and I soon saw a beaver fill it. I couldn't tell if it was trying to widen the hole or just looking for or rearranging sticks below the ice and nibbling on what it could bring up, probably all three. But it didn't get up on the ice.

It dove twice and reappeared, then dove and went I knew not where. My camera needed a new battery so I only got video of the beaver and then a photo once the beaver was long gone.

The ice of the pond was still safe to walk on, indeed less of a mystery because I could walk on the brown ice not on snow. Unfortunately with the melting most of the tracks were lost. Then as I walked up pond I was struck by the approach of a huge blue cloud, dark blue-grey cloud

and when if got over me, the snow all around took on a bluish tint, rather strange and a bit uncomfortable. If white snow can challenge the black night, how could this blue pall be cast on it during the day? There was nothing new, but melting, at the Lost Swamp Pond. I walked up to the active lodge in the southeast corner of the pond and saw no sign that the beavers had been out.

Then I crossed the spit of land to check the old lodge in the northeast corner of the pond. I had seen two beavers over there. But that lodge was almost swallowed in the snow.

I walked down that section of the pond so I could see the lodge by the dam again. No sign of anything on the ice there. Nor was there any signs of activity on the Big Pond dam. I got a photo of the lodge, where all was quiet and the coyote tracks fast melting away.

Beavers are often slow to respond to a thaw, and it did get down to 20 degrees last night. Perhaps tomorrow they will all be out.

January 31 yesterday we had another wind storm, blow me down gusts, and off and on horizontal snow all day, and the temperature dropped from 40 to 20 rather quickly. The water level rose about three feet on the river and
ice shards jammed our cove

and then the channel

A half our before sunset I took some photos trying to show the sparkle of ice as far as they eye can see to the west,

the jam of ice along the shore

and, playing with contrast, a photoof the pages of the ice book spread out atop the river.

We spent most of the day at the land and were suprised to see that the tracking was good. The wind blown snow wound up in the woods and the quick freeze gave the inch or so of fresh snow enough cohension to hold prints perfectly. It would have been nice to look for fisher trails back
on the island, but when the rabbits are out at the land, tracking is never dull, so much hopping about.

No rabbits on the island, to speak of. I checked the Deep Pond and the beaver had not been out since the snow and freeze

Rabbits had come down on the ice in front of the lodge. No open water there, but there was a patch along the shore not far away, caused by the soaking from the thaw before the freeze. I decided to check White Swamp. One of the local trappers said he pulled his traps since a new "young" trapper over trapped last winter. I thought I saw a fisher trail, very small one, but the fisher started acting much like a squirrel.

Tracks, I saw, were looming big in these conditions. Of course the snow was mostly blown off White Swamp, but there were fresh coyotes tracks in some packed snow that remained.

I headed down to the otter latrine along the shore. Thanks to the Dalai Lama banning the use of otter pelts in Tibetan rituals, the price for otter pelts has crashed, reason for optimism, but I was still flabbergasted to find otters apparently flourishing at the old latrine.

There was a well worn hole down into caves made by rotting roots

and not far away there was an array of fresh looking scat.

A few yards away there was another pile of scat

that looked a good bit older.

I saw otter prints here and there, but more coyote prints. There was enough snow along the shore to show slides, but I didn't see any except from dancing around the hole. The otters here can navigate under the ice to all the food they might want. However as I walked back to where the creek from the
Deep Pond enters the huge swamp, I saw a hint of an otter slide now frozen in the ice.

Wish I had seen three or four slides. So there is a possibility of some wild otter tracking in the next few weeks as it will soon be time for otter mating and mothers separating from their pups. There were no signs of beavers. Later Leslie went out on White Swamp as far as a beaver lodge, and heard a beaver swim out, and saw that the trapper had indeed removed his traps. But, of course, another trapper could show up. After lunch I tracked the same area I did the other day. A raccoon did some digging next to the Teepee Pond

and then made a somewhat circular trail up to the Turtle Bog. There I picked up a coyote trails and enjoyed seeing a little rabbit's tracks cross the predator's trail with impunity

With tracks, space defeats time. The coyotes were not as direct the other day. They moved from one side of the valley to the other, and instead of seeing their marks on the way down to Wildcat Pond, I saw their tracks coming down from the rock cliffs

No sign that the beavers had been out, and no humming. I did see a small porcupine up in a hemlock, not high up, enjoying the pleasant January afternoon

There was also a porcupine trail
crossing the valley but I didn't track it today.

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