January 2 yesterday we went to the land, but an inch of snow covered all the otter scats around the Deep Pond. There were no otter slides covered or fresh, so despite all their activity these otters present a mystery. No signs of them at the Teepee Pond. The ice on that pond is now firm enough to walk on and Ottoleo and I carried over two piles of cut logs.
A warmer morning and a brighter gray and a little more fresh snow made for good tracking. We crossed South Bay and crossed some coyote tracks. Nothing had visited the docking rock, but surrounded with ice and drifted over with snow it's probably not that much of attraction. We walked up on the South Bay trail and were soon following the coyote tracks. Then I saw a streak of porcupine pee not only at the base of a maple tree but going a foot or two up the trunk.
Of course we kept studying the South Bay ice sheet, which had grown another 50 yards or so. Along the shore we saw a curious stripe coming to and going over the melting ice there, which might have been an otter slide, but not convincing enough to even take a photo. Then we got a view of the low rock below the otter latrine and it was correographed by otter prints.
There were two fresh scats on the flat next to the downed willow, where they had left four scats back on December 27.
The new ice covered with fresh snow soon attracted all our attention and we tried to decide how many otters came in. We couldn't walk on the ice, and finally after studying the slides through my monocular and then my camcorder, I decided that all three trails were coming in.
We looked for slides going out, but toward the edge of the ice, we saw a swirl of slides that was impossible to interpret, save that the otters did catch something to eat and were excited about it.
There were two large lines melting out on the bay.
Could the otters have followed that route, or did they simply get under the ice and swim back under the ice to South Bay, or they could have gone along the melting ice along the shore. We continued around the Narrows and I alerted Leslie that this is where I saw a perching eagle, perhaps a golden eagle. Just then she saw an eagle perched atop of a pine tree.
I had my camcorder out, and then my camera. It flew off and Leslie got a good look at its markings. We decided, after consulting guide books, that it was an immature bald eagle. The glare made it difficult to see any color, and I saw this eagle at a different angle than the other eagle I saw that looked so brown. This is a holiday and not only were there many ice fishermen on South Bay, but two people walked along the Murray Island shore of the Narrows. Their dog started barking at two deer. The poor things slogged through the ice and then swam across the Narrows. I saw them as the ran up to the high ground of Wellesley Island, a mother and doe, both soaking wet. The ice in the Narrows was broken up and revealed nothing about the otters. The low rock along the Narrows was crisscrossed with otter slides and prints, and a few scats.
I could see three slides coming down at one point
and I thought that there were large prints and small.
I am pretty sure the otter with two pups that I've been tracking since June made this visit. Two other curiosities, the sun came out a bit, and we haven't seen that for a while,
and it looked like the otters scatted on the slick ice face of the rock's gentle slope.
I've never seen otters making a point of scatting at such a slippery spot. Of course, it might have been an accident of their obvious excitement. I had wanted to check the scats near the willow, but Leslie and I got to talking and walked by them on our way to check Audubon Pond. On the slope up to the pond we crossed a fisher's trail. I had seen tracks in the same area the last time I was here. These appear to be small fisher tracks, a female's. On our way back down to the South Bay trail we crossed deer tracks some with a bit a blood in them --
perhaps from the deer who had to struggled through the ice in the Narrows, We continued around South Bay just to make sure that the otters didn't swim under the ice and go further into the bay. Only notable things we saw were snowfleas, one mosquito like insect, a spider,
and hairy woodpeckers chasing high in the trees. Back at home, I rowed around Goose Island, and didn't see any otter signs. A mink left tracks on the large rock off the island. Eight mallards were foraging around the island until my
circular ways drove them off heading toward South Bay. We have seen a lone goose out here, but I didn't see it today. A mink walked under our dock. I'm not sure what to make of the otters returning to the South Bay latrine after six days. Since they
didn't visit Goose Island, I suspect it is a measure of how productive their foraging is at other points along the ice free islands, rather than a measure of how farflung their range is. However, I've always thought that the otter family resident in the beaver ponds I watch also have beaver ponds on other islands that they go to. And it makes sense that the otter family visits those ponds periodically just as they visit the Lost Swamp. At this time a year any night when the temperature drops to zero fahrenheit and the wind stops, the shallow bays that the otters forage in can freeze over for the rest of winter. All to say that otters must be nimble at this time of year until they find the safety of a large beaver pond.
January 3 Sunshine. We went to the land first and while there were no signs of otters, there was light enough to get a photo of the otter scats left by the dam.
There is ample open water behind the dam but it really didn't look like the otters used it.
There should be some scar left on the ice and snow by them. There were plenty of fresh tracks from foxes, turkeys, raccoons,
and, for the first time here, possum.
The possum seemed much interested in a hole into the ice in front of the old beaver lodge below the knoll, but I think it only got a drink. The tracks went up the knoll. The turkeys, raccoons and foxes went along the edge of the frozen
pond and then up the inlet creek where there was open water. On the other side of the pond, a bird tried to get some bites out of the frozen fish parts left behind by the otters.
Up at the little pool at the head of the inner valley, it looked like one of the fawns learned how slippery ice can be.
At the other end of the pool a muskrat coming from the Teepee Pond
found a hole in the ice.
Tracking was also good in the beaver ponds on the island, many raccoon tracks going down to the Big Pond and turkeys,
foxes and coyotes going across the pond. I noticed coyote tracks perpendicular to each other. One coyote decided to follow the other.
I did look for more colorful things to take photos of and I tried for a few minutes to capture a pileated woodpecker climbing a tree -- so long since I've seen that brilliant red cockade in the sun! - but every time I snapped the
camera, the bird ducked behind the tree trunk. Then along the surveyor's trail through the woods between the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond, I saw more red. At first I thought it was a dead rabbit but instead stood over the severed head of a small deer.
The jaw seemed so chewed up, I have to assume coyotes did all the tearing and crunching.
Not that there were coyote tracks around. Instead I saw bird tracks. I had noticed a chickdee in a bush as I walked up, and I put two and two together, stepped back and got some video of the chickadee picking at the deer skull. But I was on the wrong side, the furry not the bloody side. So I walked back to get a better photo, but the chickadee flew off and didn't come back. The temperature was about 30 degrees and the wind died down, so I had an easy walk out to the Lost Swamp Pond lodge. I looked for holes the beavers might have used to get out along the edge of the pond, but saw none. I also checked one of the new muskrat mounds, there were fox tracks going by it
-- evidently not sniffing or marking for the mound which leads me to believe that muskrats must not be using it. The beavers had been out beside their lodge.
There was a circle of clear ice with bubbles frozen below it, and it looked like they had been out in a pool of water, since frozen over, beside the cache. I walked over the ridge to the northeast section of the pond, and there was no
activity around that lodge. The coyotes and foxes didn't even nose it. Down at the dam, I picked up raccoon tracks,
and one faded mink trail going from the hole below the rolling area over to the dam. The raccoons as usual plodded along the pond. The mink took the shortcut over the ridge. I studied the Upper Second Swamp Pond from afar and saw no beaver activity. Then as I was heading down to the Second Swamp Pond to check the ice where all the snow had blown off, I saw something lying in the snow, but instead of a carcass it proved to be a reveler still celebrating the New Year and his
girlfriend. I knew him and they accompanied me over to Meander Pond where we might see beavers. The water of their canal was open,
so they had been there. But all was quiet at 4 pm and I could only show them the fresh work
and resolve to try once again to see the beavers up on the logs that formed a tasty wall at the end of their canal.
The revelers headed for South Bay and I hurried up past Audubon Pond and out to the latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I could see otter slides in the retreating ice, and melting snow,
but they were the same I saw yesterday, only now gray instead of white. Even though the temperature didn't get above freezing there was a mist in the air which made for a gentle light at sunset.
I waited as the sun went down, seduced by some ice bobbing in the rippling waves into thinking that otters might appear. Then I slid across South Bay to home under a sliver moon.
January 5 We saw sun yesterday morning and there was no wind and a temperature in the upper twenties. Leslie and I skated on South Bay and Ottoleo rowed around Grinnell Island and reported seeing five bald eagles. Then it clouded up
and around noon it started to rain. It rained off and on through the night but since the temperature hovered around the mid-30s the snow remained. At noon the rain changed to light snow and at 2pm Ottoleo and I walked across the slush and water-on-ice of South Bay. We hiked over the ridge and checked the beavers in Meander Pond.
We got there too late to see them. There was a trail coming up from the canal where I could see the chips from a small maple that they cut and segmented.
I also noticed a branch that they trimmed off the large ash that they cut that fell down conveniently right at the head of their canal. I had Ottoleo stand next to it to give an idea of how high the beaver could get.
Ottoleo stand 5 feet 8 inches, and the beaver probably had three or four more inches of snow to stand on. So it probably stretched 4 1/2 feet to cut the branch. I noticed a lush grotto with green moss and fern surrounded by sweating granite. With this wet winter some plants are still vibrant, almost bursting.
We waited awhile but heard no gnawing so moved on to Audubon Pond where there were no signs of the beavers getting out. I saw these beavers during the cold days of December coming out of a hole in the ice near the lodge. But I've long
theorized that the depth and extent of this pond -- 1,000 times the volume of water that the beavers in the Meander Pond have -- save the beavers from having to come out of the pond to find food. However, in other years they made a bigger cache, so I
expected that they would have come out. There is open water around the edge of the pond, and the ice along the edge is thin. But so far they are sitting tight. We eased across the bridge in the northwest corner of the pond where it had been rather
flooded, and on the pond side there was a frozen over hole in the ice. Through the clear ice we could see air bubbles underneath and large bubble shaped domes of ice on top of the ice.
I have never seen that before and almost made me think that the beaver or muskrat exhaling under the ice had some bubbly champagne for New Year. There was a swath of open water on the west side of the bridge and I saw tracks to or from it heading into the woods. I checked that, since there was relatively fresh beaver work in that direction, but all the tracks were from raccoons. By the way the rain shrunken snow, now freezing up, made for lousy tracking. We pressed on to the
Narrows to check on eagles and otters. Ottoleo saw an eagle flying over Eel Bay and then an eagle flying over Grinnell Island. I couldn't see them, despite the new prescription I got for my glasses. In this journal, I literally report the half of
it. There were no signs of otters in the Narrows nor at their latrine above the entrance to South Bay. The ice had retreated and I pondered possible slides in the slush
but much as I scowled above the shore all the way down to the outlet from Audubon Pond, I saw no signs of otters. With the bays almost half clear of ice, there is no need for the otters to find refuge in the beaver ponds. A brief a bit of cold is predicted and then more days around freezing. If we get some fresh snow, I might put the motor back on the boat and see if I can find the otters. Usually at this time of year we're in or about to experience the deep freeze that locks up the bays and most of the river.
January 6 at the land I went to check out an ironwood that the beavers had half cut and that had fallen down recently, well after the beavers had left.
Many of the branches lying in the show had the bark nibbled off, and, judging by the poops left behind, rabbits did it.
Meanwhile, no signs of the otters returning. I did see a vole dashing under a log. Back home I went out for a hike at 3 pm, on a cold but gentle afternoon. The sun was in and out, but the clouds were high so even when the sun went behind a cloud it was still bright. There was no wind and I realized that the lack of a bright sun added to the gentleness of the day. Since there is bared ground, quite moist and not frozen, there were many deer on the golf course. I marvelled at how small some where until, walking on, I realized that I was seeing about twenty turkeys on the slope.
Alas, all the deer and turkeys disappeared. Fortunately the brush where they could hide was nearby. I went down to the Big Pond via the middle valley. We had a good bit of rain yesterday, then everything froze up, which meant for hard
tracking. I saw a porcupine trail into a den but the surest sign of its passing was a poop on the trail.
Actually I could have tracked the porcupine in the rock den just up from the Big Pond, but I didn't see any nearby work, and as usual, I let the porcupine keep its secrets. I crossed the Big Pond. Not only are the beavers absent, but there are few muskrat lodges. In other winters I've counted 13 here. I went to the one I knew of nearby and found that something had dug into it
-- no tracks around it now. The skull on the surveyor's trail had been moved, but not far, and still only bird tracks around it. It seemed chewed up more and picked cleaner revealing half of the brain pan.
And I've never seen the upper jaw layed out like this with the roof of the mouth exposed. It looks like some teeth have been ripped out, but, if so, probably only one on each side.
Still no rabbit tracks in this area, but squirrels had been all over, and a few grouse. On the Lost Swamp Pond not only did I check the lodge, where it looked like the beaver had been out again during the recent warm spell,
but I walked down to the far end of the pond. There was a pool of open water at the end, very shallow, and no sign that anything used it.
I checked the pond above this one and found a huge gap in the dam with water running through.
This keeps the Lost Swamp Pond full even though there is a leak in its dam. There were also a few pools of open water along the north shore of this section of the pond. I noticed that but was more intent in getting a photo of the beaver lodge with the sunset behind.
Over at the dam, the only tracks near the unoccupied lodge there were from turkeys. There were still little holes behind the dam but not seeing anything using them, I went down through the brush to check the old lodge in the Upper Second Swamp Pond that the beavers used last winter. I did find six stumps of recently cut trees,
all very small willows, but no sign of beavers getting back there recently, no holes in the ice there. Of course, there is open water in the creek coming down from the Lost Swamp Pond but the beavers have never seemed to be attracted to that. I took a photo of the dam, just to show how the ice in this pond has collapsed,
despite the steady flow of water into it, more flows out. Then I saw interesting mink tracks coming out of a hole at the south end of the dam.
Two minks trails left the hole. Of course, it could have been one mink making two trips, and I did see one mink trail going up to the Lost Swamp. I went back up the Lost Swamp and checked the holes and dam and didn't see any mink tracks. I've never seen mink disputing territory, so maybe it is just one mink. On the way back home, I took a photo of the Big Pond dam.
Here there are big leaks, but the ice has not collapsed at all. There is plenty of water flowing under the ice and snow, much rain and no below zero nights to lock in all the moisture.
January 8 yesterday it was cold in the morning, with sun, then it clouded over and late at night we had about a half inch of snow. Feeling under the weather I missed my daily hike. This morning it was cloudy and just below freezing and I headed over to the South Bay to see if I could find otter slides in the fresh snow. The carpet of white over the ice invited me to check out the hole next to the willow down in the south cove of South Bay. On the way I walked over coyote tracks crossing back and forth and then a trail of two foxes. The hole in the marsh near the willow is still open but no sign that anything is using it.
There were faint raccoon tracks near the lodge but nothing had even nosed around the lodge, nor were there any tracks coming out of the hole behind the willow. This willow world goes on hold during the winter. There were no tracks along the north shore of South Bay below the docking rock. I paused to take a photo of open water where there is probably a spring along the shore.
There are several places along the shore with open water which usually are well frozen over at this time of year. This has been a bad winter for ice. Above the docking rock I hiked on the trail, and crossed male fisher tracks heading down to the bay.
Up at the latrine which I had last checked on the 5th, there was no activity. However, down on the grey ice of the bay I saw an otter slide.
This was made before the snow last night and probably after the zero degree cold of yesterday morning. (This area was open water on the 5th.)
I went down to the rock next to the bay and saw no scats covered by the snow. I did see some fresh beaver gnawing on the willow, so evidently a beaver is still operating in the icefree portion of South Bay.
I saw impressions of slides in the ice and a bit further down the bay saw two slides.
I saw slides aimed toward the grey ice of a possible old hole in the ice shelf.
So I really couldn't tell how many otters there were nor which direction the slides were going. I thought it interesting that no otter seemed to come on shore which could mean it was not the usual otters. Or it could mean that the
otters were not foraging in the area but travelling through going directly to the ponds. There was no sign of them at the rocks where the outlet stream from Audubon Pond comes into the bay. I went up to Audubon Pond and there were no signs of otters there. I saw a female fisher's trail. Before continuing to check for otters, I headed to Meander Pond hoping to see the beavers in the morning, since they haven't been coming out in the late afternoon. On the way I saw that the snowfleas were again out enmasse, many congregated in my footprints from the 5th.
Once again I got to Meander Pond too late to see the beavers. They had opened holes in the ice of their canal, which was now melting out all over,
and I saw a trail and fresh gnawing on the large ash tree they cut and that has become the center of their activity.
I waited for a few minutes, but heard nothing. In deference to my cold, I didn't continue on to the other interior ponds where the otters go. Instead I went back to South Bay, admiring some fresh pileated woodpecker hammering on a pine.
White sap had run out of two old holes. How soon until sap stained the bark below the new hole? I checked the area of open water a bit up from the old South Bay dock to see if I could see otter signs in the wet ice there. I couldn't so I'll wait until tomorrow to see if the otters had come in off the bay.