Saturday, February 21, 2009

January 1 to 9, 2009

January 1 cold night, around zero, and a cold sunny morning. When we went to land after lunch the temperature rose to ten degrees. I gave Ottoleo a tour of the ponds. We have had about an inch of snow now and then, so it was possible to do some tracking. We walked by the tracks of the little porcupine coming out from under our house. We saw a few rabbit tracks down Grouse Alley and then picked up the trail of three or four coyotes going down the middle of the Last Pool and Boundary Pond.

We followed. The water had drained out from under the ice but the ice was thick enough to walk on.

There were also trails left by mice. One mouse trail intersected the coyote trail,

a meaningless conjunction but always exciting to see, I guess because I overinterpret tracks. The coyotes didn't show much interest in the beaver lodge. But a few mice went over that way.

I expected to see porcupine tracks, but didn't. I did show Ottoleo the porcupine's fine bark stripping. We walked up the ridge and then along the boundary line to the Deep Pond. Along the way we saw grouse tracks and then soon flushed the grouse. Then we saw where mice, I guess, had a race up the trunk of leaning tree

or did one little animal run up and all the way back? I say a mouse did this, which doesn't make sense, but I'm not sure what small animal would scurry up a trunk. The tracks were too small for squirrel, and chipmunks should be hibernating. There was no sign of the beavers being out at the Deep Pond, but a coyote was there and I had to take a close-up of the ice crystal prints.

And I think the mink was about

and had even danced around the beaver cache

Meanwhile Ottoleo stood by the beaver lodge under the knoll and smelled and then heard the beavers. Then he heard Leslie honk the car horn (I didn't!) and we hurried up the road to see what she had seen. She had tracked a bobcat down the road to the Deep Pond where it had made a scrape at our little trail down to the pond (and the beavers' trail out of the pond.)

Judging from the prints it scraped with its back feet.

Now, while we were in the woods, Ottoleo saw something move in the distance....

January 2 a bit warmer today and we had a passing squall in the morning that added not more than a half inch to our inch of snow. I figured I could see fisher tracks. So I went up Antler Trail, where I saw fox tracks, and then headed up to the Big Pond. I veered down the ridge to the old Middle Pond expecting to find it snow covered and primed for good tracking, but I was surprised to see that it had been flooded and the ice all slush.

I followed the tracks of deer along the edge who may have been as surprised as me at the slush. There was no signs of any damming, just the effect of water flowing over and down from the Big Pond dam. At the little pond below the Big Pond, I saw some curious tracks and troughs in the slush.

Then when I got up to snow covered ice I saw the prints of two ducks. Evidently they took advantage of the last of the open water before flying off to the river.

Meanwhile I did not see any fisher tracks, nor coyote tracks. I thought maybe they might check out the heron carcass I had moved out of the water a few days ago. The ice behind the leaking Big Pond dam was quite firm and I soon realized that it wasn't a day for tracking, but an opportunity to see all of the ponds.

I checked the muskrat lodge near the dam first and saw some tracks so obscured I couldn't decide if they were deer or coyote.

The other day I thought I might be seeing another beaver lodge up pond, and today I could walk to it and see that it was just a clump of sedge. I checked the area where a spring drains into the pond that in some years kept open a nice patch of water. The last few years its affect has diminished and this year it seems to have no impact on the pond -- even though we've had a wet summer and fall.

Yet, curiously, while the Big Pond dam was leaking, the dam above it was not. Of course, there was no sign of beaver activity. Maybe there is a low hole in that dam and now all the water has drained out. Indeed the Big Pond dam is not leaking as much.

I crossed over the ridge to the Lost Swamp Pond. Last winter the beavers lived in the lodge up in the southeast end of the pond and throughout the winter kept holes open so they could forage in the willows, osiers, and other shrubs on the both banks of the pond. But save for a small cache, I saw no signs that beavers were in the lodge. There were a couple recently stripped sticks, but not that recent.

I walked up pond to check the small pond above, where the beavers spent the winter several years ago. Perhaps the wet summer lured them up there. I found that the dam there had been completely busted. No signs humans did it. I just think it was worn down over the years.

The ponds above the breached dam were meagre.

Then I went over over to the northeast end of the pond and there I could see how the hole in the dam was lowering the ice. I also saw a muskrat lodge in the maws of dead shrub.

I think the beavers are living in the lodge by the dam, and I expected to see signs that they took advantage of the open water behind the dam caused by the hole in the dam. The lodge had a good pack of mud and still looked like it could be occupied

but there was no activity at all behind the dam even though the soggy ice there could easily be broken.

There was still a healthy gush of water coming out of the dam and now the breach looked deeper.

I checked for otter scats and slides, none. I went down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond to see if the beavers there took advantage of the open water caused by the flow coming down from the Lost Swamp Pond dam.

As I approached I saw a beaver swim down the stream, dragging a small branch, and dive under the ice. I waited and in a few minutes a beaver appeared and spent some time sniffing the air.

Then I heard another beaver upstream and that beaver swam down and joined the other. It soon slapped its tail, and still looked at me. Then with another slap it dove under the ice. The other beaver swam around, then went up stream, and another beaver swimming down past it. So there are at least three beavers, good chance of four. The beaver carrying the stick went under the ice. The other beaver still had an eye on me.

Over the summer I never saw more than two beavers at once here. And I wonder if these beavers breached the Lost Swamp Pond dam because so far they seem to be only animals profitting from it. I walked down the Second Swamp Pond and there was not much open water at all, not even behind the dam where there had been open water a week ago. The amount of water flowing through the ponds is lessening, every bit of the ponds are freezing. I finally got a photo of the fallen mullein on the lodge.

How grand it looked in the summer. There were no tracks on the pond, nor in the woods on the way back to the Big Pond. However when I joined up with my own tracks behind the Big Pond dam I saw that since I was there, a
coyote sniffed my trail.

Finally I saw some seedy grass celebrating the New Year, over a frozen leaf.

Nice to see beavers so early in the year.

January 3 cold day, but no wind, and good sun, so I tried to get back to sawing the big ash at the land. During a break, I checked on the Boundary Pond beavers. There was no sign of them coming out, and I didn't expect them to since it has been cold. There was also no hole fashioned for the convenience in getting out from under the ice. At two spots in the east reaches of the pond small shelves of ice hung over ice that had
collapsed, melted and froze again,

Looks like a tight squeeze for beavers to get out of that. I stood near the lodge and heard both humming and gnawing, even a brief swim in the water under the ice. Since it was getting colder, I didn't think the beavers were eating in preparation for break out.

I resumed my sawing and then walked down to the Deep Pond via the Third Pond. There was nothing new at the Deep Pond, and at the Third Pond, I walked over to the far end of the pond and checked on a small muskrat push-up. Ravens were about, and we heard what sounded like cedar waxwings but didn't see them.

January 4 Another sunny day in the mid teens, no wind. I went up to the Big Pond again via Antler Trail, and followed deer tracks. Once again there were no fisher tracks. The pools of water and stream below the Big Pond dam were frozen tight today. I walked down expecting to see coyote tracks, but they hadn't walked up or down the stream. There was a surge of deer tracks going across the little pond below the Big Pond

There was open water near where they crossed so all the stamping wasn't an effort to break ice and get down to water. Up on the Big Pond ice, I finally picked up some coyote trails, but they discretely went around the perimeter of the pond, down by the dam

up and down the north shore, ignoring the beaver lodge

and then, when given a choice, staying on the ice rather than nosing through the sedges.

From that I was about to conclude that the coyotes no longer enjoyed the ice as a place to frisk about. Then as I followed deer tracks on the Lost Swamp Pond ice, I had to hold my conclusions because what I expected to see the tracks of deer nipping the bark off a dead shrub, turned out to be coyote tracks.

And these coyotes did some frisking about

There was a new muskrat lodge nearby among dead shrub trunks where they've often built.

The coyotes ignored that

They were more interested in stampeding around

a small poop on the ice and snow.

Yesterday Ottoleo and Justin saw three coyotes cross from Murray Island to Wellesley Island on the ice. I bet those coyotes continued on up through the ponds. Indeed I saw Ottoleo's and Justin's tracks and coyote prints on top of them. There was still no beaver activity behind the Lost Swamp Pond dam, only coyotes had been there.

There was still a patch of thin ice in the Upper Second Swamp Pond.

Of all the beaver lodges, the coyotes seemed most interested in the one in that pond, though they didn't dig into it.

I headed down the Second Swamp Pond and here the coyotes once again patrolled the shores of the pond. I followed one trail down to what I wanted to see. The hole the beavers put in the dam last year. I could see that there had been a flood from it but now there was just a trickle.

Crossing through the Fisher Woods, I finally found the trail of a fisher. I back tracked it enough to appreciate some fisher eccentricities, one bound off a log and then a zig-zag, but for the most part the trail was straight.

The East Trail Pond was nicely frozen behind the dam and I anticipated an easy walk up a frozen stream to Shangri-la Pond, but was surprised to see a wide pool of discolored ice, much like what I saw below the Big Pond dam the other day.

However, I knew that Shangri-la Pond dam was relatively tight. I began worrying that somebody, say the park staff, had breached that dam. But all was well up there, and all quiet on the pond. Only the granite walls, old as they are, seemed new to me, framed and lit differently by the ice and snow.

I noticed that wall because a coyote print headed straight for it and then, as far as I could tell, picked its way the jagged wall to the top. I didn't follow. I went down to Meander Pond, back tracking coyotes, that didn't seem much interested in the burrow where the beaver lives at Meander Pond. I took the opportunity afforded by the icy calm to check on the work it has been doing over along the northwest shore of the pond. It seems content to gnaw the trees without necessarily cutting them down. It even gnawed some dead looking wood slotted in the clumped trunks of the trees it was cutting.

Then as I walked below the dam, I saw that it had cut down some alder spraying out of a common root in the meadow.

There used to be stream going down from Meander Pond to Audubon Pond that I often walked on during the winter, but there has been so little flow down from the tight Meander Pond dam that the stream has grown over with sedges and cattails. However I did find some pools of just frozen water and I figured out why I see these pools. The flow of water ends up stream first, and the flow keeps downstream pools wet longer the upstream pools. As I got closer to Audubon Pond I kept an eye out for beaver work but saw none. Soon I noticed I was walking on collapsing ice and eased my way over to the shore. Again I thought dark thoughts -- did park staff clear the Audubon Pond drain? No. Water stopped flowing into the pond and the usual flow out of the drain brought the water level down so the ice began to collapse. From afar, I saw no sign that this incommoded the beavers in their bank lodge. The coyote tracks on the ice didn't even go over to it. I checked the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay, but no otters had been there. Then I joined Ottoleo and Leslie on the ice of South Bay for some skating through the inch deep snow. More fun when you can see the fish below.

January 5 we drove to the Nature Center and walked to Shangri-la Pond on the north end of the East Trail. We had a bit of freezing rain last night; today it soon got above freezing, but just above, there was no thaw. We hoped the warmth would inspire the beavers to break out from under the ice. From a ridge north of what I called the north canal of the pond, where the beavers came out last winter, we could see that no beavers had come out anywhere in the now considerably larger pond.

We admired some of the beaver gnawing. This was probably a recent cut because I don't recall seeing it before.

The ice around the lodge looked undisturbed, but I think a bit of cut log peaking out of the ice and snow just to the left of the lodge had not been there a week ago.

We walked up the west end of Shangri-la Pond admiring the granite walls, and at the far west end I thought the cherry log, stripped a few months ago, looked alive as it emerged from the ice and snow.

I took a close-up of the intricate gnawing which often, to me, seems like it must conceal a message.

I positioned myself to get a photo of some of the beavers' recent girdling so that it was framed by the ice flow coming off the ridge.

Leslie took a closer look at the ice,

and there we found teeming life. There were snowfleas climbing up the frozen columns of ice.

up the ice walls

and over the rounded crown of the ice

Most of the snowfleas seem to be headed up.

We saw a few on the nearby trees. We assumed they came to the just melting ice for a drink. Can't imagine they could have been too hot. Leslie headed back to the car, and I continued on to Meander Pond where there was no sign of the beaver having come out of its burrow. I did notice that it cut and trimmed another tree right above the burrow

Then I headed for the Upper Second Swamp Pond where I thought I had my best chance of seeing beavers out. I went via the East Trail Pond. After the beaver left the East Trail Pond dam, I thought it might move up to the channels and thickets of the west end of the pond. I saw no sign of that

Then I walked up the channel to the north end of the pond, which brought me past the big old beaver lodge, now with a gaping hole it, where the beavers used to swim in and out of the lodge five years ago when the pond was still flourishing.

There used to be a bank lodge farther up the channel but I saw no remnants of that. I followed canals up to the series of little ponds we call the Third Swamp and there was no sign that the beaver moved up that way.

So perhaps the beaver that was here moved over to Meander Pond. I went over the ridge to the Upper Second Swamp Pond, seeing no new beaver work as I neared that pond. I found a fallen cedar trunk behind the lodge, with a view of the patch of easily cracked ice where the creek from the breached Lost Swamp Pond dam runs into the pond.

I soon heard some beavers humming in the lodge, but there was no sloshing of water, no sign that they were about to swim to the patch and come out. As I walked on the pond by the lodge, I noticed that it was queerly shaped, a hump, where I assume the beavers huddle, with a tail of logs attached. There was not much mud on the lodge.

The water once gushing out of the Lost Swamp Pond dam has now slowed, but the ice behind the dam is collapsing in dramatic fashion

which made me shy of standing close to the lodge by the dam listening for beaver hums. I continued across the pond and then across the Big Pond and saw no holes in the ice. In the woods between the ponds I flushed a deer and two grouse.

January 6 We went to our land, and I almost finished sawing the big ash I cut into logs. By the end of that labor, in 15 degrees, I had my hat, glasses, glove and coat off, but my toes just got colder and colder. To try to alleviate that I walked down to the Boundary Pond lodge, unfortunately too close for a walk to it to warm my toes. All was quiet but I noticed two hornbeams recently cut by the beavers. The closest hornbeams to the lodge and one of the last to be cut. One hornbeam was cut very high, so maybe a beaver did it when the snow was a foot deep a few weeks ago.

That got me to thinking about whether the height of the cut gives any indication of the size of the beaver that made they cut. So walking back, I pondered cuts, and saw a cut log in the snow that I thought was probably recent work, too.

Then we went down to the Deep Pond, where at first glance all looked white, cold and quiet under a rather blue, warm and dramatic looking sky

Then along the high bank of the pond we saw a mink hole, recently used,

and another mink hole going into a burrow where I had heard a muskrat swim out from a few weeks ago.

So perhaps the contention between the muskrats and the mink continues. We went up to the Third Pond and with Leslie's aid, I got a photo showing how puny the muskrat's push-up is

Nonetheless it seems well constructed.

January 8 yesterday we had heavy snow with the last two of eight total inches coming early this morning. Plus it was 10 degrees. So we didn't anticipate good tracking. Leslie and I went on crosscountry skis and Ottoleo on snowshoes so he did the tracking, following porcupine trails high up into the rocks of the second valley down to the Big Pond. As usual being on skis on a cold day kept my camera in my pocket. I thought there were at least three porcupines in that valley, but Ottoleo said it was only one nosing about for the perfect den. That was the extent of the tracks that we saw. As I skied down onto the Big Pond, I saw a deer running off into the thickets of the opposite shore. The skis made it quicker to tour the pond shore looking for fresh
beaver work, but I didn't see any. There was also no activity on the Lost Swamp Pond, but I had high hopes that a beaver might be out at the Upper Second Swamp Pond. Fresh deep snow warms the ice, though this snow had a bit of sleet mixed in, but the beavers seemed oblivious, for now, to the opportunity offered by the snowfall.

I skied to the upper end of the pond and didn't see any beaver work. Then a beautiful snow squall hit. We skied down the Second Swamp Pond. The water flowing over the dam kept the little creek below the dam open, that would have made a nice photo but the snow got in the way. However by the time we got to Otter Hole Pond dam, or really Otter Hole Meadow, the snow let up enough for a nostalgic photo of the old otter dens in the jumble of rocks forming the south shore of the pond. Eleven years ago, when Ottoleo was ten, I first showed him otters as we crouched on top of the rocks.

In the meadow below the dam Ottoleo spied a shrike on one of the dead trees. It kept flying from the top of one dead tree to another until it tired of our gawking and flew off. We tried to ski on South Bay but there the new snow made a two inch layer of slush.

January 9 we went to our land and because it had gotten down to zero last night, I didn't expect to see many tracks in the snow. The little porcupine didn't come out from under the house, and no rabbits came out from under the cabin, but a mink did, and its tracks leaped over the little hill down toward the road.

I didn't have snowshoes and needed to conserve my energy so I didn't track the mink. I continued trudging down Grouse Alley. I didn't see any tracks until I got to the end. I think three deer and perhaps one coyote came up from the valley. Down on the valley I followed the tracks of two or three deer who had browsed the hemlock and birch, the latter often conveniently laid low by the beavers.

No sign the beavers had been out. I got close enough to lodge to get a whiff of odor coming out of the frosted vent holes on top of the lodge.

I walked up the east side of the valley under the hemlocks porcupines covet. Just below the pond, I saw a porcupine's trail coming down the ridge to the hemlocks, but that was all. I walked all the way to the end of the ridge, about 200 yards, and saw no more porcupine signs. I did see a deer's bed under the hemlocks.

Out in the sun I got better photos of deer tracks. A deer had second thoughts and turned

Then I crossed the trail of a leaping deer

maybe I scared it, and nearby, a deer going at the usual steady trot

I looked down the snowcovered valley and wondered how much farther up the beavers would come in the spring.

We got some firewood and headed home to the island to warm our toes.

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