Thursday, November 27, 2008

January 25 to 31, 2007

January 24 we had four inches of lake effect snow yesterday, so we headed up the golf course on skis. Cold sunny day with not much of a wind. We made it up the ridge into the woods -- I fell back once. Then we eased down the valley,
slowly. Could have used another two inches or so of snow to better cover the downed trunks and branches. We crossed one fresh porcupine trail. No big parade of raccoon tracks today. I tried to follow my new trail down to the pond above the Big Pond where the beavers now have their lodge, but I missed a turn and wound up in a beaver pond further upstream to the southeast. There was an old beaver lodge, with a hole dug into it. I didn't get my camera out because I was on thin ice, and indeed when I got to the canal of another pond, I busted the ice and got my skis wet. To get down to the pond where I wanted to go, I had to bust through a good bit of high stalks. When I got there I hoped to see Leslie down on the Big Pond, thinking she had taken our old route. But she tried to follow me and was hopping mad when she caught up to me. Only fox and deer tracks on the pond. The fox came over the dam well away from the creek and left some poop and a squirt of pee on a beaver cut log sticking up out of the snow.

I managed the trail over to the Lost Swamp Pond better, though Leslie refused to follow and went the old way. Coyotes had danced around on the Lost Swamp Pond, two of them I think,

leaving several circles of their stomping

and more intriguing, what looked like a belly slide or lie down, by one of the coyotes -- trying to submit to the other coyote?

Over along the shore of the pond there was a busy fox trail, I think made by one fox following another.

There were some points where there was pawing in the snow, as if one of the foxes was after something, not like the coyote stomping.

Of course, we wanted to see otter slides, but no such luck. My theory is that in a few days or a week, the mother otter will once again take her pups through their territory before she tries to separate from them. So I'll be
patient, and a bit anxious. There was a little hole of open water behind the Lost Swamp Pond dam. Certainly otters could easily get under the ice. We got down to the Second Swamp Pond where we saw bird tracks out in the middle of the pond -- a few feet of bouncing around. We couldn't see why. I saw mink tracks along the north shore down the otter latrine there -- an old mink route over the years. There were deer tracks along the dam. We continued down over Otter Hole Pond and then Beaver Point Pond meadow and down to South Bay. We want up the South Bay trail far enough to see that otters had not come down through the snow on the bay. We saw coyote tracks, deer tracks, fox tracks, and going in and out of the old dock at the end of the bay were tracks that looked like a porcupine's trail through the snow, but I think they were made by a raccoon or two.

We heard at least two pileated woodpeckers, one hammering loud and clear and the other war-hooping and cackling. No eagles or hawks to be seen. Back home I walked around so I could the rock on Goose Island that the otters visit. There were tracks there, but not left by otters -- probably mink.

January 25 we went to the land, too cold to work, but we got some wood for the stove and enjoyed the fresh snow. There were no tracks down on the Deep Pond. So we narrowed our focus, or rather saw things we should have seen long before,
like a vireo nest hanging at eye level in a sapling right on our usual trail up the ridge from the Deep Pond to the Third Pond.

At the Teepee Pond a small flock of tree sparrows were feasting on vervain seeds

and they evidently cut the small stalks and then get the seeds in the snow.

Meanwhile a small flock of chickadees was in the large hemlock just off the pond. We went up to the Bunny Bog and there were indeed bunny tracks and poop and I even saw where they had a den in the rocks, but I left my camera in the car and didn't get a photo. The Turtle Bog was quiet. A coyote, or dog, walked up the ponds, veered toward the beaver lodge but didn't go on it.

Evidently its nose knew that the beavers were two years gone.

January 26 we had another cold day, with light snow on and off adding another inch or two to what we had. The snow ruined the black ice forming on parts of the river, but despite nights below zero and just a light north wind, the ice has been slow to form on the river, testifying, I think, to how warm the water is thanks to our late winter. There is also the high water level to consider, a bit over a foot higher than it should be. Sounds silly to say, the higher river seems closer to the wind. If it was a foot lower it would be more settled, more prone to freeze. Or so I'll think until one cold night locks the river up. Ducks are getting a bit closer to us, but the golden eyes and mergansers are still staying upriver. A few mallards have come into our cove. An immature eagle seems to be paying attention to our neck of the river. We've seen it fly over, but not where it is roosting.

Janaury 27 Although I think it has been too cold for any beavers to venture out on the ice, with a promise of it getting above 10 degrees this afternoon, with light snow, I hiked over to check Thicket Pond. I was surprised at how few animals had been out in the snow. Only a few deer have mosied around and, thankfully, still marked the easy way down the ridge on my new trail to South Bay. Of course, I hoped to see otter slides coming off South Bay, but only ice fishermen were tracking around out there. The hole the beavers had at the end of the canal along the north end of Thicket Pond had frozen over.

I have another way to keep track of the beavers here, a red oak they had started to gnaw. I walked up to it and saw that the cut was a tiny bit larger

but one could have done that the warmer day I first noticed the cut, before it got bitter cold that night. The light snow did warm me up and I decided to go back via the Second Swamp Pond, not expecting to see signs of beavers or otters. This is good porcupine territory. Coming down to the East Trail Pond I saw an old porcupine trail going down to the dam. I walked around the rock pile on the east side of the pond, sure that there would be fresh porcupine trails there. There was a fresher trail going up the ridge from the rocks

I followed it over the ridge where the trail seemed to get fresher, but then it smudged out. I certainly didn't see any porcupines.

There was no activity on the Second Swamp Pond, not even around the dam. There is still a little stream of water, open water, below the dam but no sign that anything came for a drink.

I angled through the woods so I could go through a grove pines which I thought might prove a refuge for deer, and sure enough I saw three deer move from me through the pines.

Nothing warms a cold winter day as seeing deer in the woods, so I stayed in the woods as long as I could all the way home, still sure that I would see a porcupine too, but I didn't.

January 28 a little more snow last night. We got to the land in the late morning, about seven degrees, which we deemed too cold for work -- and it was a sunny day and we hadn't walked around enough. I walked down to the Deep Pond and saw striking prints coming from the pond and crossing the road.

They looked more catlike than canine, so the debate began: bobcat or fox? I'm more familiar with the latter. The direct stride up the ridge didn't seem fox like to me.

We back tracked the animal across the pond, and, of course, as the snow gets deeper trails reflect that depth more than the particular characteristics of the animal.

I continued along the trail and just before the animal got to the pond, it scatted. The poop was uncovered, unfeline, but I read that bobcats only cover half of their scats.

Finally I saw how the animal veered to mark a dead tree trunk. That seemed foxlike.

So? I think it was a bobcat, Leslie thinks it was a fox. Up at the Third Pond I saw juncos wrestling with seeds in the snow

and a little beyond that commotion I saw where a deer banged its hoof down into slush.

Then we hiked around and through the Hemlock Cathedral where we flushed three deer. There was only evidence of one porcupine during the whole tour, and the trail was not fresh.

I also revisited the Teepee Pond where juncos were all about

and getting the vervain seeds that the tree sparrows were getting the other day.

I went up to the Bunny Bog to see if the rabbits used a den where I saw fresh tracks the other day. No. One hopped right by it.

Up on the rocks there were tracks with poop among the low stickers.

It got above 10 degrees and a pileated woodpecker seemed to appreciate it, climbing to the top of a tall tree. The ravens were yodelling in their fashion.

January 29 minus 8 when we woke up, sun and little wind. The night before I predicted we'd see our maximum extent of ice this morning and on our round about way to pick up the mail, I tried to get photos of it. Strangely there was ice in the main channel and a broad swath of open water over Granite Slate shoal.

However the tongue of ice extending out from South Bay which has been developing this week didn't go that far out into the river, though it was much wider, hardly call it a tongue now.

The tongue looked weak though. Off the headland there was open water and it even looked like there was open water off Murray Island.

Of course, we looked for tracks and were amazed to see fox or coyotes go onto docks and prancing around them. Then behind a rock pile there appeared to be a considerable scuffle. I suspect this is the parade done by mating foxes, showing off their territory, But who knows -- would have been amazing to see the animals making this tour in the moonlit night.

After lunch we went off on skis to take a tour of the beaver ponds. We saw one deer on the golf course and a few deer tracks but the turkeys had been all over leaving their typically entertaining trails.

We followed deer trails into the woods, and then going down the second valley crossed three fresh porcupine trails. We took our traditional route to the Big Pond and I was disappointed to see no signs of porcupines around the low rocks along the pond. Coyotes had been on the Big Pond checking the old lodge on the upper north shore, principally used by muskrats now, I think. There was a squirt of urine on top, but no digging into the lodge.

We went down to check the muskrat pushups, where I last saw muskrats on this pond. A coyote paid its respects but didn't dig into it.

The Lost Swamp Pond show a little more coyote activity. Here too they, and probably a fox, checked the active lodge.

There was a bit of scuffling in the snow, but without the full choreography.

Meanwhile Leslie was entranced with one of her favorite trees, a white oak, but a unique kind of white oak.

I went over the slight ridge to the northeast end of the pond and around the old lodge there was a good show of coyote stomping.

I think the lodge had been dug into long before. These coyotes showed no curiosity about the dam and lodges down pond, just old fox tracks there. The ice in all these ponds is gently collapsing, but there are no holes in the ice.
Perhaps a warmer, snowy day will prompt the beavers to break out. We took the same trail we broke the other day down to South Bay, and went up the South Bay trail. There was no shortage of tracks. Every ten yards a mouse left tracks across the trail and then back, and there were several coyote and fox trails on the ice just along the shore.

I went up as far as the latrine over the entrance to South Bay. No otter slides, but such a beautiful day is conducive to patience. Meanwhile the west wind picked up and back at home all the new ice we had admired in the morning was
drifting by our dock in pieces.

January 31 two more below zero nights and there is more ice on the river. Today the broad shield of ice coming out of South Bay and across to the channel held up in a brisk west wind, even as the temperature rose into the high 20s. Golden eyes have moved en masse down on the channel side of Goose Island working the open water, floating down and flying back up, and helter skelter when an eagle flies over. Perhaps we will have Lake Winter after all, if the ice survives the next three days in the 20s -- another cold spell predicted for after that. I headed
off to check on Thicket Pond at 2:30pm, to see if the warmth brought the beavers out. The snow remains white, though garnished with seeds from the trees, shrubs and grasses. I flushed a small deer, and was flattered to see that deer have taken my trail. I took a slight detour off my new trail, though still following a deer trail, and lucked onto two antlers, side by side in the snow.

Both are four points, matching pair, though deer antlers seldom match. These had impressive width, well furrowed at the base where they were a dark, fertile brown.

There was still a speck of blood on the bottom, so these were just dropped, and serve as a sign that at least one big buck survived the hunt. Down on the South Bay trail I saw what appeared to be mink tracks and a mink scat left right in the middle of the trail.

I walked on and had to do a double take thinking there were more mink tracks, but I got a hold of myself and remembered squirrels, who do bunch up at this time of year -- minks don't, and whose tracks are wider with shorter hops than a

I've been looking for porcupine tracks crossing the trail and today I saw a porcupine trail veering off from the path well worn by me, skis, deer, foxes,

but I can't say I saw the porcupine cross the main trail. I thought of investigating this but knowing that if a porcupine begins working the trees along the trail that I will soon see it, I pressed on. Again, no otter slides. I really didn't expect beavers to be out at Thicket Pond. yet, but wanted to see conditions on what might be the eve of their emergence. The hole they had used was still snowed over,

but I could see open water through a crack the size of a pen hole, and it looked like a fox had peed out on the snow above the hole.

This seems like a natural bit of advertisement but I don't recall seeing the like before. Breaking out from the bottom, the beavers probably won't notice it as they slosh up over it. There was no open water where the spring is and no open water behind the dam, I sat on the downed red oak, on the stump of a cut limb, a ringside seat but all remained quiet. I walked over the ice of Meander Pond, where the beavers had treated me to much activity last winter, and all was quiet there. The foxes showed no interest in the lodges now abandoned by the beavers. No
tracks delayed my progress to Audubon Pond and there I walked on the ice to speed me on my rounds. No sign of beavers getting out to return to their recent ash tree work. The ice seems to be collapsing making it grey especially near the lodge.

Just off the point near the bench, where I know the beavers have a burrow, there was an intriguing grey depression in the ice, a likely place for beavers to poke out from under the ice if all they wanted to do was sniff the air.

There was a similar hole in front of the bank lodge on the west shore. While walking on the pond, I felt a pancake of ice under me collapse, a most exhilerating elevator decent of two inches. I remained dry. A porcupine was more
careful about getting its feet wet and crossed the ice by going over the wooden bridge in the southwest corner of the pond.

Because I was so close, I checked the latrine above South Bay. I've been seeing many acorn raising squirrel holes in the snow, and finally saw one I had to photograph.

No otter slides, but I got a good view of how serious the sheet of ice is, though rising water greyed the ice along the shore and way out in the channel.

I looked for openings in the ice along the shore that might invite otters, but all seemed tight despite the wet condition of the ice.

Last year we had a cold December that gave us early ice, then a warm January and early February that let holes of open water form all along shore of South Bay, and I frequently saw otter slides going in and out of them. I was disappointed only seeing one otter slide, and that only on Goose Island, for all of this January, but I've known otter families to stay put in a good beaver pond for up to five weeks. Hopefully, the family I watch has found a good pond somewhere. On the way home I saw a distinct print on the trail, two distinct prints, that did not seem like they were from the same animal that then stepped up making a mushy trail I usually attribute to foxes.

We need more snow to wipe the slate clean, so to speak, Tracking is getting surreal. Above the old dock at the end of South Bay I saw my first large patch of grass. For having so little snow, just about seven inches, we certainly were lucky having it stay around so long. An animal still goes under the dock and out the other side, and I still think it is a raccoon, but I can't be sure.

Beautiful sunset tonight. Goodbye January.

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