Monday, January 26, 2009

January 11 to 19, 2003

January 11 another few more inches of snow and now we have ten inches on the ground and continued cold, so we set off across the golf course on our skis. We threaded our way through Nunn's fields, then over the ridge and down to the most upper pond which the beavers built last year. There was a neatly snow covered lodge

and a vent hole in the side the seemed odiferous, but there was no signs of nibbling around. There was water in the pond, but all frozen and snow covered and no sign of beaver activity at the dam

As we continued on the high path down to the Big Pond, I kept looking for beaver work, saw none, but Leslie coming behind, saw one tree, a poplar, with what looked like fresh gnawing. Then we skied down onto the ponds and saw no
beaver signs on the small ponds above the Big Pond. The fish were still displayed in the spring pool, but they were less active, in less water, and looked to be seriously in trouble

though when we got closer there was a great deal more squirming

I saw a few pollywogs working through the mass of sunnies. I'm more pleased with the photos today, which captured the color of the fish better

I imagine these fish will freeze up soon, unless a raccoon happens by. The Lost Swamp Pond was quiet, most of the open area around the pond now snow covered. Down at the Second Swamp Pond lodge all was snowed over but a beaver had been out of the hole and went up in the snow maybe ten feet

At the edge of the hole we cold see how much more the water level has dropped, now about a foot below the bottom of the ice.

Going below the dam we admired an ash log hanging, looking more massive with its burden of snow.

We had some tricky times skiing over the ice, but made it with a few cracks and quick side steps. I didn't see a mink trail until I got to the opening below the Porcupine Hotel pond dam. We went out along the road through the dump and I scared a deer who was trying to bed dam in the leaf and brush pile. As it leapt up I could see that its tail had been half chewed off. Poor thing tried to leap over the stupid chain link fence they have there, but got away with injuring itself.

January 12 sunny morning and sufficiently cold for skiing so I retraced my route of yesterday. I took a closer look for possible beaver work up on Nunn's land and did see that beavers had cut down a mess of poplars

and some of the marks looked fresh, I followed a trail through the brush down to the stream but I only found once recent cut and many unmolested ash. The major reason I took the same route was to see if the fish froze up in the pool, and they didn't. But I'd say the area of the pool "boiling" with fish was much smaller.

However, when I approached closer more fish started wiggling. I poked into the skim ice and the fish I freed started wiggling. No raccoons had discovered this feast. I also checked to see how shallow the pool is -- maybe three inches with much dead vegetation below the fish. Last time this happened, two years ago, the pool was a good foot deep. I went over to check the pool on the other side of the pond

It remained open, and not a fish to be seen in it. I haven't seen this pond low in years, so I have trouble visualizing what's going on underneath. I went to the dam when I could see most dramatically how the ice has collapsed

Perhaps the fish choose that one pool because the spring water is warmer, at least from the sun. And while the fish are obviously stressed and desperate for oxygen, that doesn't explain why they mass together, boiling and floundering. To my great chagrin on the way to the dam, my skis soaked into the slush below the ice. At the Lost Swamp, I had a momentary flutter of excitement when I saw two trails leading to a hole fashioned in the ice and slush, but I soon saw that deer had done it, not otters

Deer tracks were everywhere. Using our ski trail from yesterday and pounding along the dams. If the deer want a drink there is always a patch of open water below the dams. Maybe that water tastes as bad as it sometimes smells and
the deer prefer water behind the dam. My skis got into slush again on the Lost Swamp Pond, but fortunately remained dry the rest of the way. The Second Swamp Pond beavers had not come out since yesterday, their hole frozen over. I got up to Audubon and found it not marred by tracks. On the way I bumped into a song sparrow at the New Pond and two ravens just up from Audubon Pond. There was a porcupine track down to South Bay, and a little mink trail at the end of the southern South Bay cove. I also saw deer going around the cove.

January 14 yesterday morning I awoke to a snow storm, school delayed and then closed, and when the snow stopped, adding another two or three inches to our total, and the sun came out a 30 mile an hour wind kept snow in the air. I did manage to get all the ice out of my rocking boat and the rising water and
waves broke up all the ice around the dock. This morning I awoke to a sunny still ten degree below zero day. Much of the river had frozen up with black ice around the docks, and many ducks bobbing out in the steam of the open water in the channel. As Leslie and I headed out going along the river an eagle flew down the channel scaring up the ducks. We crossed South Bay which looked quite worked over with choppy ice, rippled ice, terraced snow, all in all very interesting to look at, but difficult to glean information from. We saw fox prints in some patches of snow, and perhaps a lone deer went up to check the point for food.

On the north shore we saw more deer tracks and a mink trail

There was no open water on South Bay, only the creek was open. My hope was that the raging and rising river of yesterday would prompt some otters to find refuge in the ponds. I saw enough deer tracks that had survived yesterday's blow to suggest that an otter's coming and going would not have been completely concealed by the elements. So I confined my hopes to seeing a porcupine braving the cold. I did see a porcupine trail going into the porcupine hotel, but it wasn't fresh and the snow covered rocks didn't inspired to me to explore further. I pressed
on up to Otter Hole Pond dam where there was a few ripples of open water below the dam, but no tracks to ponder.

While it was relatively easy to cross the bay, the snows in the ponds had not been blown off, so it was slow slogging. I decided to at least check the Second Swamp Pond beavers. I tried to cheat onto shallower snow by walking where I knew the pond had been open, and I paid the price but, of course, the water was not deep. I angled up to check the little pool the beavers had fashioned below the Second Swamp Pond dam. I could smell the stink of the pond as I approached. As you can tell from the above and below photos of the dam

the beavers' hole had drained a good bit of the pond. In fact, despite the below zero temperatures, my boots sunk into slush as I walked onto the pond. When otters breach at dam, the quicker loss of water has always caused cleaner collapsing of the ice. In this case, the ice has slowly and uniformly sunk into the remaining water. I dare not say the beavers made a mistake, and indeed, they continue to operate out of the hole below the knoll until it froze solid last night.

The several paths up and around the knoll were likely made yesterday afternoon before the bitter cold descended. Around the corner, all was quiet at the lodge save for the merging of the ice with the diminishing water below

I admired the beavers' work. Although there was a small stripped stick and leafy twig just outside the hole, they obviously spent much of their time gnawing some old and still standing bones

They even worked cutting again the two poplars they cut a few weeks before that were still hung up on other trees.

Even if cut again, these trees will not fall to the ground. I followed deer trails over the ridge to the East Trail Pond where I found a fresh and elegant porcupine trail

that led to the rocks by the dam. On the other side of the pond I found a mink trail, more or less, taking the same tack that a mink had taken a few days before. I followed deer trails up the ridge to the trail and under the huge pines there was less snow cover. Going down the ridge a pileated screamed as I approached. I saw it working high in a tree and took photos with the digital camera but from that distance I only got a blurred image of the bird. Since walking on South Bay was relatively easy, I went all the way up the shore to the dock rock, as I call it. Only deer had preceded me and up on Audubon Pond all was white. Crossing the bay again I happened upon a large flock of sparrows in a patch of red osier, house sparrows by the sound of them, trying to kick the bird feeder habit. I warmed up and thought the temperature must have climbed to 15, but when I got home it was just five degrees.

January 16 yesterday afternoon I went over to hide behind the rocks nearer the river and armed with camera and camcorder, see what the ducks were up to. The smaller goldeneyes were further out in the river

The mergansers were further down the river and the mallards were right in front of me

There congeries of fowl, if you stare at them long enough, begin to show some characteristics. The goldeneyes started splashing, and in response to the cold west wind picking up the knot of mallards dissolved. One bunch swam into the wind heading for protection behind Goose Island.

Another, smaller knot began floating in unison down the channel all taking a ride on the submerged plate of ice that were sitting on that had broken off the ice sheet coming from shore. It was not until I got back to the warmth of our
porch that a juvenile eagle flew over the river scattering the goldeneyes, but not the larger mallards.

Today, I hiked across South Bay and then up into the ponds. The icy condition of South Bay, combined with the surprising slushiness of some of the ponds and the deep fluffy snow that really affords no protection from sticks and rocks, makes skiing problematical. Along the docks of South Bay there was a mink-like track that was so small, I think an ermine made it. There seemed to be less deer activity on the north shore of the bay. The outlet creek still flows but it is mostly frozen up. Here too there were small mink-like tracks, and, unlike red
squirrel tracks they were oreinted to the creek bank. Why this sudden influx of weasels, if that's what left them? Then further up on the New Pond, I picked up tracks there were rather orderly but smudged. They followed the creek too closely to be deer; did not show the wandering curiousity of a canine; and were not made
by a fisher

and just didn't seem to have bounce of a mink's trail. Following that got me up to the Second Swamp Pond. I didn't test the slushy part, but followed the dam and shore over to the hole which was still frozen over, and no sign the beavers had come out of it since two days ago

Crossing the Second Pond involved only a few slushy moments, but as I walked away from the Lost Swamp Pond dam, I was deep into it, almost ankle deep. Here too the ice is slowly collapsing. I think the slush arises from the fluffiness of the snow. We have almost ten inches of it and none of it has ever melted and refroze so rather than adding to the ice surface it is insulating the ice enough to keep it near the freezing point and then when the sun comes out.... well, it's a theory, and a problem. It has been a boon for the deer, as they dig into
the slush to get a drink, as you can see off on the right

No sign that the beavers up pond had been out. With the bright sun I tried to get a better photo of the amazing bittersweet vine

No sign that anything had been eating the berries. No rabbit tracks on the way to the Big Pond and at first not the usual chatter of birds, but I heard some rustling in the reeds and one sparrow popped out, not the song sparrow I
expected, with just a brown spot on its breast, and large for a sparrow, and it flitted away before I could get a picture. I went up to the spring pool and, as I expected, it was frozen over

with dead fish peaking out of the ice

There just wasn't a great enough depth of water for the mass of fish to keep that microclimate cooking. The porcupine in the second valley had been out, and porcupine trails are a pleasure to walk on through the deep snow, especially going up hill. And this thoughtful porcupine left a trail of pee

It came from the rocks and went to the same tree it had been working, a small red oak, and has just about debarked the hole thing -- a difficult photo essay to make. I saw nine deer grazing in holes they dug through the snow on the golf course.

January 18 yesterday dawned in single digits and the thermometer started dropping, plus there was a brisk northwest wind. With the wind at our back as we came back from a tour of the headland, we saw an eagle fly over the steam out in the channel, and a hundred goldeneyes materialized. The eagle, immature, we think, hovered over some ducks but as best we could tell was unsuccessful in its two dips into the water. At least there was sun out and we could sit on the porch and watch the ducks and eagle forays. A mature eagle flew in and perched on the trees above Sheldon's rock. While a car trip to LaFargeville has no place in this journal, when I went at 6pm, the temperature at the house was minus 10, but at the top of the bridge the outside air temperature by the car thermometer rose to 0! Then on the way
back from LaFargeville where the temperature was minus 14 the warmth at the top of the bridge disappeared, it only rose to minus 12, and it was minus 9 at home. Clouds of vapor must rise from the river drastically and momentarily effecting the air
temperature. At night the temperature outside the house dropped to about minus 14 and then around 2am, it started to rise and was about minus 5 when I went to bed at 3am.

This morning after a very cold night the end of our cove was open, and more of the river was frozen, so I eased over to the docks at the end of the cove. At first I scared the goldeneyes out but slowly they came back

Unfortunately there was blowing snow, and the video clip will tell more than the still shots, though I like this hazy shot to the knot of sucks, mallards, on the ice out toward the channel

I did get a cameo of two goldeneyes

and here are some others

The mallards and golden eyes seem to coexist well as they look for different things to eat in the same area of open water. And it seems to me that the mallards appreciate what vegetation the diving goldeneyes might bring up to the surface as they pursue things under the water. This is the closest I've been
to diving ducks in a seeming frenzy of feeding,

and as I stared down at the cold choppy water, I could not believe there was indeed anything to eat there. There was no courtship behavior. For example in a group of five goldeneyes, four dive, a remaining male rears up and flaps his
wings -- for whom? Then a mallard did some frisking in the air, as if taking a bath and then reared up and flapped his wings, with no other mallard nearby.

January 19 not so cold last night, and we woke up to about 4 inches of fresh snow. So we headed off in skis, knowing that the South Bay ice is now passable, if not the ponds. We headed off to see if we could get through the Narrows. There was a major wet spot near the shore right at the entrance. I wanted to go around, primarily because I saw a trail up to the rock in the Narrows where otters are want to scat, but I decided it was probably deer, and played it safe. As we skied back down the bay two noisey swans flew over us -- all the noise apparently
from the engine of their flight. Leslie thinks they were mute swans. Rather beautiful, straight and rising flight, well proportioned with a black design on their tail, powerful, not delicate. We got up the ski trails via the flat rock by the
outlet creek, which is quite frozen over. Up at Audubon Pond we saw a trail going from the causeway to the drain. In deep snow everything looks like a deer trail, but this was made by otters, as was evidence by the syle of action and black scat around the hole in the drain

I could see a trail into the woods leading to the Narrows. One's first impression is always that the animal went the way you are facing -- too cruel for me, to see the otters come in and out of the ponds again. I soon saw that they
were coming from the Narrows, and that there were three of them because at one point they branched out. While I have tracked otters in what I considered deep snow, I have never tracked them in such fluffy deep snow, and enjoyed how they frequently
tunneled under the snow

They seemed to make holes in the ice with ease, and made one into the side of the pond, an area where otters denned two winters ago

My skis got into some slush, and it is that slush which make it easy to dig holes. We tracked them out of Audubon Pond. In the mean they kept in a straight line until they got to Meander Pond, where they made a play to torment the
beavers in the burrow.

They must not have stayed long -- obviously since this snow fell very early this morning, we were, so to speak, hot on the trail of these otters. They circled the Meander Pond lodge, swooped partially up on it, but didn't dig into it.

Then they headed into the East Trail Pond and I must say it was a pleasure to ski in an otter trail. They headed down the pond toward the last open water, then veered sharply to the right and went into an area of a very old beaver lodge and muskrat burrows, dug into the ice there and left a scat. This is the area where I heard perhaps a mother otter screeching way back in early June. The otters continued on and I saw a large crater in the snow where the channel made by the inlet from Shangri-la Pond keeps the ice thin or open. Then, the three otters
themselves peaked up out of the snow crater! They ducked back in as I tried to alert Leslie who was behind. I waited a few minutes and thought I heard some swimming under me. So I walked up to the hole and glimpsed an otter nose before it slipped back into the muddy brown slush.

We moved back to the trees and in about ten or fifteen minutes the three of them put their heads up again in an obvious effort to see if the way was safe.

I couldn't tell what they were doing when they ducked back in, but I don't think they were playing, or grooming. They kept looking where we had been

and then started looking down the pond where, judging from a trough going that way, they had just been. Indeed one of them got out of the crater and slipped into the trough heading to the lodge. And when it did that, I realized how unrealizable my long held winter dream is. I've always wanted to get a video of otters in the snow, but if I did have my camcorder (and I didn't take it because I was skiing) and the otters had been going through the snow, I wouldn't be able to see them save for a glimpse of a back here and there -- after all they had been
tunnelling into the snow leaving an inch or two to spare on top. Although I didn't hear a noise, I think the otter going out of the crater, probably the mother, decided against it because when it went back into the crater I heard a splash and the otters disappeared. I followed the trough down the the pond. I expected it to go to their old stomping rocks by the dam, but it went to the lodge,

which they circles and where I saw a tiny hole in the slush with a scat or two outside of it.

I also heard a slight splash under the water so I think the otters swam under the ice to the safety of the lodge. We took the marked but not used ski trail out to South Bay, where we saw what appeared to be another otter track coming out of the cove, along the point and then across the ice to the north shore.

We were too tired to follow what seemed to be an otter going to where we had just been. It seemed like one otter and I don't think the otters we had seen in the East Trail Pond had scurried out that fast -- though I suppose it is

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