Thursday, November 27, 2008

January 8 to 17, 2007

January 8 More rain and high winds from the south, and once again in the 40s. The rain stopped before noon and the sun was breaking when I headed off to South Bay a little after 1pm. The wind didn't quit, only moved over coming from the west. I checked the otter latrines, even the New Pond knoll. I paused to photograph the beaver's high cut on the one of the willows along the shore.

One big beaver is doing this, I think, and this cut from above is a new style, I think, though I best check my old notes. As for otter signs, I saw nothing though the large and juicy scat at the latrine over the entrance to South Bay, that I first saw there on the 5th needed some study.

I decided that something had scraped up part of it. The liquid parts still look fresh.

I sat a bit on the rocks studying the grey waves rolling down South Bay, and thought about that mammal that swims out in the cold water and climbs the rock to make his mark, perhaps a nice life, but not easy. I continued on the trail out to the Narrows and then the sun came out in earnest. It looked like the beavers had cut more of the shadbush on the slope. There definitely was fresh work down along the shore: a willow freshly gnawed, and another tree cut and a large log well stripped in the water.

The willow cut here was lower. The nearest lodge that I know of is across the channel tucked behind the rock of Murray Island. Going up from this work is trail to the shadbush on the slope.

I continued on to the Narrows and noticed that the beaver tasted the bark of the trunk that the chain saw crew cut, and took only a little off the limbs.

The brief gnaws left striking signatures of beaver discernment, or iconic signs of how distasteful are chain saws and all their work.

I checked here for otter scats too and saw none. Then I captured the view toward Eel Bay, all ice free on this winter day.

I varied my route to Audubon Pond, the brilliant sun inviting me up on the high rocks. I soon fell to my knees down to the lush lichens, blooming white

not the dry crunching white of the hot, dry summer but soft, buoyant, succulent white, thick stalks simply amplifying the complexity of all that life can suck out of the moist air.

Then there were rocks to study. Up where the lichens were green the granite sported marble veins.

I shouldn't say rocks because this mass of granite was all together, though a protean rib was broking apart, ageless granite on the make

giving birth to thunderbolts just waiting for some god to spread the seeds of a new island.

Pardon the words. The feet felt the real poetry. What a privilege to walk down such granite.

Down at Audubon Pond, the beavers kept up the hard theme, cutting down another bitternut hickory,

and I went out to check the shag-bark hickory they cut down a month ago, and saw that they had stripped the
limbs off it.

They seem to have done less work on the downed ash trees, but there are so many it is hard keeping track of that. No signs of otters here either. The wind kept the birds low but I saw two sparrows and two blue jays and a gull perfecting its lowering glide to pick a morsel off the bay. Ottoleo saw an eagle while out rowing, crossing the channel. Without any ice the eagles are not concentrated into our neck of the river as usual.

January 10 finally a typical winter day, except that there was no snow. Plus as the temperature dropped into the teens last night, perhaps lower, the wind kept blowing so only the very end of the South Bay coves were frozen. And
unfortunately there were no signs that otters had been about to crack and rough up the ice. Yesterday Ottoleo reported seeing a fresh gooey scat at the old dock latrine. We searched for it, but couldn't find it. After checking all the other latrines along the South Bay shore, and seeing nothing new, I took Leslie up onto
the ridge to see the rocks I saw on my last hike. She enjoyed them and she always has an eye out for plants. She marvelled at the shadbush atop the ridge

sporting a perfect crown. We made a date to come back in the spring when it might be full of blossoms.

We walked down the rock and along the Audubon Pond embankment, nothing but a few bubbles from muskrats under the ice. Most of the pond was ice free. So I was surprised when we got to the Second Swamp Pond to see that it was completely iced over. It too is rather exposed to the wind.

I walked along the dam and saw no new otter or beaver signs. I did see bubbles coming out from the muddy bump on the dam. The bubbles were small and packed closely together, probably from a muskrat.

The Upper Second Swamp Pond was frozen as far as I could see and it was iced over behind the Lost Swamp Pond as well.

I was struck by a black otter scat in the latrine beside the dam. It was so black it struck me as new, but it seemed like a good bit of the goo had settled out of it.

I could be a good scientist and make careful notes and diagrams about the scats, but I hate to abstract data. Better to keep the image of the scats, aided by the camera, in my mind. I'm not after the scats in themselves, but am trying to connect the dots in a broader space and time to try to see the otters themselves. So doubt keeps my mind and imagination churning more than certainty does. The only certainty should be the animal itself. Keep the signs suggestive. That said, when I get desperate for a sign of otters, how I'd like some certainty.
I continued around the pond, imagination churning, and I thought it strange that the west end of the pond was ice free. I tried to imagine an otter keeping it open.

No scats on the north shore however. But at the mossy cove latrine, a bit of dirt had been pawed up where the otters had done some digging. I latched on an old scat and tried to breath some life into it. But couldn't quite manage that. Tracking in the cold hard winter without snow is tough work. The Big Pond had some suggestive ice patterns but absolutely no hint that otters had anything do with making them. As we approached the pond, we saw a deer coming down the ridge on the other side of the pond, until it saw us and threw its tail high and pranced up the pond. Leslie led the way home via a deer trail and a stately glacial erratic that she discovered on her hike up this way the other day.

Then we went over the rocky ridge to the golf course and home, and saw a flock of cedar waxwings in some cedars at the edge of the golf course. Oh yes, on the way to the Second Swamp Pond, I saw some fox or coyote poop, that was tinged with something pink -- fungus?

Never seen that before.

January 11 Cold last night. At the land the ponds froze over and could bear a little walking on. It warmed up in the afternoon and I thought there was a chance the Thicket Pond beavers might get out on the ice, so at a little after three I headed for that pond. Taking our new route over the ridge to the South Bay trail, I flushed a small deer. There were smooth sheets of ice at the ends of the South Bay coves. I walked up to the old dock, where there was a hole in the ice, but no sign of anything using it. When I got up on the rock overlooked the Thicket Pond from the southeast, I heard two beavers gnawing in the thickets. I could also see bubbles under the ice. There was a southwest wind, so I went over to the north shore the pond and sat on a rock over there. I continued to hear the gnawing, but didn't see any beavers. There was open water below me where the pond is evidently fed by a spring, but no sign that the beavers had been there.

Eventually I was able to focus on the lodge in the middle of the pond mostly hidden by the thickets of the button bushes. Then I saw rippling water which looked to be a few yards from the lodge. I decided to walk out onto the spit of land between the two arms of the pond. I thought of crossing over some downed trunks, but decided they were too rotten. There was open water between the trunks and a trail of bubbles under the ice.

Clearly the beavers have been operating under the ice and finding holes, if not making them. But none out while I was there. So I walked around the northeast canal and then out on the spit. From that vantage I finally saw a beaver out on the ice, mostly concealed by the thickets.

I heard another beaver and it sounded like it was finding open water on the opposite, the south side of the lodge. I walked around the eastern edge of the pond, noticing places there the beavers had made a hole in the ice

and the work they found up on the shore.

The work on this spit of land is most convenient to the lodge, and the beavers are taking advantage of it.

I found no openings on the south shore, but trails of bubbles under the ice. One trail came out of a bit of slope where beavers could fashion a burrow.

When I got near the dam, the wind was at my back, and I heard a beaver plunge into the water. Then I heard some tentative gnawing nearer to me, but no sounds to suggest that a beaver was going to swim under the ice down to the dam and break up some ice to get a look at me. At 5pm I could still see, but night does not linger at this time of year, so I headed home.

January 13 another rainy day, but not too much rain. There was a little bit of icy precipitation this morning, and then a gentle cold front moved in during the afternoon, revealing the sun, dropping the temperature into the low
twenties. The forecast is for seasonably cold and then below zero at night in a few days, after a possible major snow storm. So we went directly to Thicket Pond. I want to get a good feel for how the beavers are using the pond before everything gets frozen over and hopefully snowed over. We had a quiet walk to the pond, no birds, no deer. The creeks are still running. With the wind from the north, we approached from the south and from the ridge of rocks in the southeast corner we didn't see or here any beavers. Leslie walked slowly down the south shore, and I walked around the pond to see where there were holes in the ice. The hole that I saw that was clearly being used was along side the red oak trunk that fell into the southeast end of the pond from the spit of land. I could see the muddy water in the open hole and then a series of holes in the ice curling back into the thickets toward the well concealed lodge.

Stepping back, I could see that there was plenty of bark left on the trunk

Comparing the photo of the trunk in the entry for the 11th, you can see what the beavers had gnawed in the last two days. Other than at the spring I saw no large patches of open water, and none of the few smaller holes here and there looked like they had been used. The open water between the rotting tree trunks that I saw the last time I was here was now lightly frozen over. There were bubbles under the ice behind the dam, but no holes in the ice. The mud of the dam was frozen. Leslie was half way up the south shore and appeared to be looking at something. She was standing over the burrow in the bank that I noticed the other day, and reported that as she walked along the shore, a beaver swam out from the burrow

and then cracked some ice around the lodge. She also saw a fox crossing the dam, evidently staying ahead of me. It pays to spread out a bit. As I stood there another beaver swam out of the lodge. So I got the camcorder ready. We heard a beaver dive into the water near the lodge and I kept looking at the ice at my feet and over toward the tree trunk on the other side of this spur of the pond. I heard ice crack over near the trunk and then I saw a beaver climb up on the bank and up to the remaining bark of the red oak trunk. I moved over to get a better view and
while I couldn't get a clear view, I could see what the beaver was doing.

It curled up over the trunk and then climbed over it and gnawed the bark from the other side. Two or three times it went back to the water, but I couldn't tell if it was wary of our presense, or was dropping something into the water. Other than that, it appeared quite comfortable out in the afternoon sun. We heard another beaver in the open water near the lodge, but it didn't swim under the ice to the hole and come out on the shore. The beaver we were watching went back into the water and appeared to climb up on the ice not even half way back to the lodge. And then it, we assume, got back under the ice and then out of the hole and back up to the trunk. Of course, the two active beavers might have crossed paths and we were seeing the second beaver. We were too far away to tell. The sun didn't
counter the chill of the north wind, and we continued our hike. I hurrieed up the South Bay shore to check for otter scats. I didn't see any new scats at the latrine above the old dock, but there was much open water around the dock

and a swath of ice across the bay, about 50 yards wide near the open shore, and 100 yards along the point. I noticed as I walked along that the outer edge of the ice was ragged but no obvious otter action on it. There was nothing new at the docking rock latrine. Then at the latrine about the entrance to South Bay, I saw a neat pile of the tubular type of grey scaly scat that I've grown accustomed to seeing this fall

There was not much scratching in the grass, no great trail, but I could see how the otter made its way.

Then I searched for another scat to assure myself that the otter family was still intact. And about a yard from the other scat,

I found a smaller one, not as grey and tubular and a bit icy.

So I got my assurance. As I walked away from the scats I took a photo looking toward the west, which in a normal winter would soon be solid ice well out into Lake Ontario 20 miles away.

All open water today. I walked down the bay to catch up with Leslie. I paused to take a photo of the edge of the ice. Now that I knew otters were still around, I could read more into the broken ice, but certainly no definite impression of otters on it.

Meanwhile, Leslie finally found the squirt of loose gooey scat that Ottoleo reported seeing.

At least we think that's the scat, as it doesn't look that fresh. I'll have to send a photo of it to him.

January 16 we finally got a winter storm. Early predictions of 9 to 12 inches faded away, and yesterday we got about 2 inches of snow, followed by a few hours of sleet and rain, that seemed to bulk up rather than beat down the snow. The temperature did not get much above 25 degrees. Then last night we got a quarter inch of dry snow. All totaled we go about 3 1/2 inches of interesting white stuff that doesn't blow away and that isn't that slick. It was easy to walk through, a bit too dry and icy for perfect tracking, but it promised to show me everything. Today the temperature rose from 9 to 15 degrees, perfect as long as I was out of the wind. I saw two deer as I went up the TI Park ridge and up on the rocks saw that one fancied the thick lichens I had been fancying.

Despite the sleet and freezing rain the deer had no trouble pawing down to things to eat. Most of the tracks I saw on the ridge were from the squirrels, but other animals seem to avoid this ridge. Down on the South Bay trail I expected more. I was disappointed that no porcupine crossed the path as in the two previous winters. Going around the bay, I picked up a fox trail. Of course I was looking for otter slides. Water continues to rush out of the creeks, keeping fingers of water open, so otters can still easily get under the ice of the bay, but the
snow on the ice was inviolate, pristine, sparkling. It extended well beyond the point but not quite to the docking rock. From the latrine at the entrance to the bay, I got a nice photo of the fresh winter scene.

Yesterday evening I walked out on the Yacht Club dock and saw that the wind had blown slush all along the south shore and even then when it was still in the 20s the slush had mostly frozen solid extending 50 yards out into the bay. But
on this north shore the ice appeared light and the icy water trembling with uncertainty. Freezing energizes the water as it stills it solid. Of course I studied all the angles in the slush, hoping I could discern an otter's progress through it. Still no slides. On shore I had to be satisfied with that fox trail, and took a bit of pride in the fox going right where I was heading, though with a veer down to the water, perhaps for a drink.

I also got a whiff of its scenting, though I didn't see any stains in the snow. I went out to the point and sat on a rock enjoying the open water. An immature eagle flew in from the south and circled high over head.

I kept hearing a roar to the north, and had the cross thought that some fool was dredging along Eel Bay. Then as I continued along the trail to the Narrows, I was soon face into the roaring north wind. I checked the recent beaver work curious to see if a beaver had climbed out on the snow in the night. None had. The wind pushed slush into the Narrows and it had frozen in a jumble. I picked up a coyote trail out there, but it wasn't going my way. But as I walked east to Audubon Pond, I kept crossing a coyote trail that went from ridge to ridge, evidently checking every possible den in the rocks. No sign of beavers having gotten out on the ice on the pond. Along the embankment I began backtracking what I first took as a raccoon since there was a series of two prints side by side. Then I saw that they were fox prints.

One fox was probably following another, part of the preliminary touring that leads to mating. When the foxes crossed the ice, they had broken the neat two by two pattern.

I decided not to check the Thicket Pond beavers, since beavers usually let things settle before getting back on the ice. Going to the beaver ponds would be exhausting enough -- with so little snow this year, I was not in my usual
mid-January shape. Going south of the Beaver Point Pond meadow, I finally crossed a porcupine trail, coming from the Porcupine Hotel.

It wasn't fresh, and the porcupine went out and back. I crossed the overblown trail of a smaller porcupine beside Otter Hole Pond, and saw some of its fresh work. I expected to see fisher tracks here, but didn't. Of course, the Second Swamp Pond was frozen and snowed over but there was a bit of open water behind the dam -- so much water is still flowing through these ponds. The foxes had been out there and I was tempted to see their scuffing, but I assumed I would see the same at the Lost Swamp Pond dam. But, the only fox trail up there skirted the
lodge by the dam and then headed down the flowing outlet creek. Otherwise, there was absolutely nothing shaking on the pond, which didn't diminish the pleasure of seeing it in its winter coat.

And I noticed that not only has all the rain we've had kept water flowing through the pond, water is still seeping from springs in the pond bank keeping patches of water open. Otters would have an easy time getting under the ice. The Big Pond looked as quiet. I sat a bit wondering what the muskrats were doing. I went home via the first valley coming down from the golf course. No porcupine trails there as usual. Usually by this time, mid winter, a porcupine makes a den out of a tree at the top of the valley -- been like that for three or four winters. Not this year, though something, not a porcupine, had pawed into the hole knocking down some rotten wood.

I had been barreling through this strange winter well enough, but this snowfall reminds me of what I've been missing. In a few days I should be able to walk on all the ponds, and at least get an angle on the beavers as I wait for
otters to come back to the ponds, well knowing that they didn't come back at all last winter, which was a normal winter. I'm also hoping to get out in the boat, but tonight it should get down to minus ten, so the river might have other ideas. We also went to our land, and not much happening there either. We noticed some iced ferns

and on looking closer, we saw that the cold had curled the polypody

Despite the cold, the spores seemed to be blushing.

January 17 minus 13 when Leslie woke up. I saw minus ten. We walked around the headland on the way to get the mail and there was too much ice on and still forming on the river to think of venturing out in our boat. So we set off in the early afternoon, when it was almost 10 degrees to check the tracks on the pond. Heading up the golf course we crossed fox tracks, deer tracks and then dog or coyote tracks. Then at the rock heading up to the woods, we hit a nexus of turkey, fox and porcupine tracks and I had to get my camera out. The turkeys tracks were not in their usual swarm.

The porcupine, evidently a small one, walked along the edge of the rock, apparently coming over from the rock across the fairway.

I followed the trail up the side of the rock

and there was the little porcupine up in a small tree, out on a limb, nibbling the bark.

Then we headed into the woods for the real tracking. We went down what I call the second valley to the Big Pond. At the top of the valley there was a torent of raccoon tracks, going back and forth and dividing. It looked like more
than a raccoon or two did it, but snow has a very loing short term memory.

This valley is famous for porcupine trails, but we didn't find one until we got to the bottom of the valley, where coming out of the jumble of granite below the beautiful canyon, there was a slide in the snow.

It almost looked like a mink's slide, except it was horizontal, and minks usually slide down. Plus I could see lines in the slide, probably from the porcupine dragging its tail.

I was disappointed that there was no evidence of porcupines in the low rocks just above the Big Pond.I usually see them here every winter, but this was my first trip to the rocks this winter and the snow has been on the ground but a few
days. The snow brings the beauty out in every tree trunk and we were startled by the ferocity of one hickory trunk.

The Big Pond had grey depressions in the snow, highlighted by a coyote trail.

There were at least two coyotes, and three places where one of them at least seemed to have been down on the snow.

Not the coyotes only had an eye for each other. They seemed quite interested in the old beaver lodge on the north shore, which I think the muskrats have been using since the beavers moved up the watershed.

Despite the cold, thanks to the insulating icy snow, the ice of the pond wasn't that firm. But I had to at least go check the upper dam. I was surprised to see that there was a high hole in the dam, letting water from under the ice flood out.

Then I looked up and saw a beautiful new beaver lodge on the south shore of the pond. I eased along the ice and admired the classic lines and cache of the lodge,

save that the collected branches and logs seem more on the ice rather than sunk in the water around the lodge.

Last winter the beaver lodge, on the next pond up, also had the cache on the ice. But that was a small pond and most of the cache was dogwood twigs. This cache had some sizeable logs on it. I expected these beavers to be way up pond, and am pleased that it is so convenient to check on them. We took the surveyors trail to the Lost Swamp Pond and saw plenty of squirrel tracks, but no rabbit tracks, and this is the only place where we ever see rabbit tracks in the snow on the island. The ice of the Lost Swamp Pond was rather soggy so we walked down to the west end of the pond and eased across the ice there. No tracks on the pond. I went down to the Second Swamp Pond dam, not really expecting to see otter slides. I can't picture otters venturing out as ice is forming on the bays and parts of the river. I
expect them to venture around their territory once the ice is set and there's a comforting layer of snow on all of it. I checked the tracks I saw yesterday, probably coyote, not fox, and then heard a lot of zee-zeeing. I looked up and saw a few robins and a flock of puffed up cedar waxwings.

They were probably attracted by the water streaming below the dam, and didn't seem to mind me. More bodies the warmer the waxwings seemed to be thinking. The robins flew off. We walked through the woods back to the Big Pond and paused briefly on our little perch admiring the ice, the grasses, the sky, the pines and the dark cedars.

We went back up the first valley and back on the golf course saw that the porcupine had moved on.

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