Tuesday, February 24, 2009

January 19 to 25, 2006

January 19 The rain started the night before last and we had warm rain most of the day yesterday and a roaring wind. The wind made me want to curl up into a ball. We had some spits of snow but no accumulation. When we went out to tour the ponds this afternoon all that remained of winter was the ice on the puddles, rivulets, creeks, ponds and river. There was not a deer to be seen on the golf course. They can go anywhere to get food. The valley going down to the Big Pond, always in the shade, had a good bit of snow, which allowed us to see that the
porcupines there are still active, judging by the amount of their exhaust in and around their rock den.

The Big Pond ice was easy to negotiate, with many eerie attractions like faded prints and small circles of black ice. And though most plants around the ponds are ice free, clumps in the pond remain gripped by ice.

The Lost Swamp Pond ice was a bit smoother, but not skateable because of a thin layer of water under the thin ice that formed last night. I tried to imagine that the circles of black ice here marked the route the ice breaking otters took when they were last here. But the designs in the ice radiating from
these perfectly round ice holes suggest that the holes were made by gaseous eruptions from the pond bottom.

We headed up toward the lodge to see if the beavers had been out, Leslie ahead of me, which allowed me to take photo to help put the expanse of the pond ice in perspective.

There was open water by the lodge, and twice we saw ripples welling up.

Evidently a beaver was swimming below, but it didn't stick its nose out. I scanned the shore to see if I could see evidence of beavers cutting trees. I did see a curious pattern of tracks frozen in the ice. Either coyotes trotting over to inspect the lodge, or beavers waddling over to get a bite.

We crossed over the small spit of land and then walked down on the ice to the Lost Swamp Pond dam. The dam was leaking liberally in several places, probably from the freezing and thawing, since there were no animal signs about. I noticed a long log floating in the water behind the dam which I never noticed before

and there were tiny fish fry swimming around the log -- not as much as a school, but enough to notice. Coming to the dam I got a whiff of rot, but standing on the dam, I didn't smell anything. Then after absolving any animal of making the holes, I saw slides frozen in the ice going from the open water behind the dam to the old rolling area,

the otter's usual latrine here. But there were no scats anywhere nor any other signs of otter. Plus what looked like an otter's slide was etched so deep in the ice that it is hard to imagine the slide was made since the snow was washed away. Perhaps the slide is but a raccoon's tracks merging in the melt. The Upper Second Swamp Pond beavers don't seem to have come out. There were ribboons of open water behind the dam, but no well used holes. Of course, this colony has the best cache

and much open water in the stream below the Lost Swamp Pond dam. The old otter slides in the ice that I saw a week ago look more vivid in this moist, soft ice.

There was no hint that otters or minks, not to mention beavers, had been around the bank lodges of the Second Swamp Pond. We didn't even go down to the dam, but headed off to Meander Pond. When I got to the slope that affords a view of the beavers' canal, it looked too iced over for beaver activity. Then with my next step I saw a beaver in the water, a smaller pool where the ice had been broken.

This beaver hardly moved but I could see by the ripples it made, that there was another beaver, more active, at the spur of the canal leading to the "wall" of fallen trees. I was about to get the photo and video I had been hoping to get -- beavers stripping one of the trunks that formed the wall. Sure enough, the larger beaver climbed out of the pond, revealed a tail that appeared to have a bit of its end missind, and got up into the wall. It ducked behind a trunk so I couldn't see it gnawing, but that made little difference because after a few gnaws it hurried back to the pond with its gnawings in its mouth, and then, in the safety of the canal, it munched that morsel.

I never imagined that a beaver would go up and back so quickly -- in other seasons, I've seen them concentrate on stripping a section of a fallen tree trunk or log. This was no fluke, because soon enough the smaller beaver climbed up the "wall" and gnawed so I could plainly see,

but only for a few seconds, then it too, brought bark back to the canal where it finished eating it. These beavers have recently been the most tame that I watch, and this afternoon they proved as placid as usual. The small beaver did
swim away going under the ice back down the canal toward the lodge. I poised to get a video of this when the next beaver went under the ice. When it did, I was surprised to see that it was so nonchalant under the ice, that it swam around in a circle before coming out at the end of the canal, again, right below me. The beavers might be attracted to this part of the canal because a maple they had been cutting had fallen over, and they hadn't really gotten to work stripping its bark. I hoped to get another video of the beaver swimming under the ice. I moved closer to unnerve the beaver and it sniffed right back at me.

Finally with an ice cracking flourish it dove under the ice and torpedoed back toward the lodge -- neither my camcorder nor camera was ready to capture the excitement. We continued on to Audubon Pond which was wonderfully flooded -- even the bench was in the water. There was no active hole there, like the other day. There was a hole right above the muskrat burrow behind the bench.

As we walked around the pond, we saw that the beavers had been out working on the ash at the northwest corner of the pond.

The bridge there was well flooded over. I expected that the strong southwest wind that blew for almost 24 hours would have taken care of the newly formed ice at the entrance to South Bay, but most of it survived. The waves did
torque it a bit, and I wondered if one pattern in the ice was an otter slide.

But there were no fresh scats on the shore. Then we walked along the shore to find an easy way to get on it and cross the ice which had some interestingly large holes of open water. That anxiety was eased by a magnificent sunset.

We were on the ice at exactly the right time to see it. Quite nice seeing the beavers again -- though I must say they looked a bit groggy, but it was that kind of afternoon, not a bracing 20 degrees, conditions during which I've seen some rather vigorous beavers doing their lumbering.

January 20 warm day with some brief showers. We went to the land, Leslie eager to tap some maple trees. I tried to see if the otters had been about. Despite the thaw the Deep Pond still is only open where the water flows in and out. The ice is wet and gray.

It has collapsed and I wondered if the collection of grasses I saw outside some of the holes made by the collapsing ice along the shore

might have been arranged by muskrats. If so, they've been uncommonly quiet otherwise. As I gazed at the ice along the edge of the open area where the inlet flows in, I couldn't see any otter slides or prints, but I did see something black on the ice and something almost orange. I couldn't go on the ice to see if it might be a fish part and a scat. I crossed the inlet to get a closer look and then at my feet saw a very wet scat,

much like the wet scat we saw up at the Third Pond. There were grayer, scale-filled scat, and it's hard to be sure how fresh they are. The ice between these scats and the open water was quite dirty, but no sure sign of an otter having gone over it.

Nor were there any tracks going upstream. But that scat was so fresh, with fresh innards in it, that I have to think an otter had been there. I walked down the outlet creek to White Swamp. Today the water was flowing and there were no fresh otter signs at the latrine along the creek.

Down at the beaver pond, the ice was flooded. I did see how fresh the beaver work is down there.

I still can't figure out where the beaver might be (We're two months into the trapping season, and I'm told people do trap here.) And where the water runs into the great swamp, there was a ribbon of open water, but no great pool for otters to fish in.

So, my best guess is that otters or at least one of them are up stream. The grasses everywhere and most plants are flat on the ground, having been compressed by the ice and snow. But the mosses and lichens thrive, and a patch of lichens on the rocks of the knoll above the Deep Pond seemed to be blooming.

January 22 At the end of yesterday's storm, I walked out to the headland of the island and saw that the wind had cleared the ice between Murray and Grinnell islands. A band of ice about 50 yards wide was being turned into slush. A few spits of snow succeeded the rain and there was a patima of snow on the old ice and parts of the shore. So this morning we walked around South Bay to see if there were any signs of otters coming in on the ice. We went over the snowless TI Park ridge and there singing in the sunny crowns of trees were chickadees, some even
giving their spring-like fee-bee song. As we walked along the old ice of the bay, where what little snow that fell actually stuck, there were no signs of otters. And there were some marks on the slush now frozen up -- it went down to about 15 degrees last night and there was no wind. There was also a wide expanse of new thin ice once again stretching between the islands and out toward the open channel of the river,

and here there were lines of broken ice

as well as holes in the ice near the shore.

Otters could have been through the area in the night as the water froze. These possible slides were in pairs, not unlike the spacing otters might make.

But there was nothing really convincing proving the otters escaping the freeze stamped the ice with these patterns. I checked the shore, where there was an old latrine. I saw old scat but nothing fresh. I continued around to the flatter rock at the entrance to the Narrows and here on the rock or on the very thin ice in the Narrows, there were no suggestions at all that otters had been through. I took the inland route to Audubon Pond where something might have been poking under the ice near the drain.

I didn't bother the beavers in the interior ponds confidant that they were probably content to stay under the ice that froze up in the night.

At the land, the Deep Pond is in a cold valley and there was snow enough on and around it so that any animals crossing it or coming to it would have left tracks. Deer and raccoons had visited. I check the otter latrine I saw yesterday
and there was nothing new there. I went down to White Swamp again and saw no signs of otters. The pond behind the dam had flooded and then a thin sheet of ice was left high and dry as the water drained away. As I walked along the pond, I heard some thin ice crash, either from the wind picking up or the vibrations of my light steps. There was no longer any sign of a hole in the ice behind the dam that the otters had used.

I got a better sense of how low the hole, probably two holes, were in the dam -- good chance otters made them. The draining water hadn't made for much open water below the dam. There was enough snow to show tracks, but nothing had been through. I walked back along the creek, and saw a maple recently cut, and somewhat stripped by beavers.

I crossed the creek and walked around the pond but still could not get any idea where the beavers might have lodged. The temperature rose above freezing, the sun stayed out, the wind didn't pick up, and I could sit on a log and almost doze to the chattering of chickadees and one hairy woodpecker.

January 23 cloudy morning, about freezing, breeze picking up. I usually wait for good skiing conditions to check the ponds above the Big Pond. The beavers who abandoned the Big Pond moved up there in areas on private land, not easily navigated in the summer. There is no snow in the forecast, so since the going is easier in the winter even without snow, I went up to find the beavers. Going up the Big Pond ice, I crossed the tracks of a flock of turkeys and the tracks show up well enough in a photo if I bleed the color into black and white.

There is a bit of open water along the upper edge of the Big Pond, but that pond is so shallow, the water revealed is more akin to a puddle than something to swim in. The pool below the trickling spring is all grass, with no fish
swimming there, and consequently no mink nosing about. The pond above the Big Pond where I had seen beavers in the summer didn't have any signs of recent beaver activity. The pile of twigs on the shore collected by beavers could have been there for months, and there was no sign that beavers had been out there recently or out at the dam.

That said, I didn't risk walking on the ice, as there was some discoloration. I found deer trails going in the upstream direction and didn't have far to go until I saw a new lodge crowned with a recently stripped log.

I could see by the hole along the shore which the beavers had used, that the water level in the pond had dropped precipitately.

Looking down pond I saw a big gap dug in the dam of this little pond.

The beavers seemed to have decided not to forage under the ice, because they had accumulated a thick cache of dogwood on top of the ice next to the lodge. The other thing remarkable about this remarkable cache is that it looked
untouched. There was not much evidence that any beaver had weighed into the cache and chowed down.

I stood there contemplating the state of these beavers, wandering if they might have fled, when a chorus of humming came from the lodge, sung by at least three beavers, and featuring some low gravelly almost groaning humming that I have never heard before. I waited a bit, though I didn't know if there was enough water around the lodge for beavers to plunge into. There was no open water around the lodge which would show ripples. This is an interesting set-up, not far off the beaten path. I can still see the Big Pond from the shore near the lodge.

I will have to check it again. There were well used trails up the gentle ridge south of the pond leading to a stand of dogwood that had been thinned by the beavers.

Of course, without the leaves out I'm not sure if this is dogwood but these trees did have berry stems,

and the bark is relatively smooth. Continuing up the ridge to where an ash had been cut and half harvested a good while ago, I saw a stump boasting of two nature signs: deer antler rubs and a beaver cut.

I picked my way through the brush over to the Lost Swamp, coming out just about where the lodge is. Or I should say lodges, because one of the few muskrat mounds on the ponds this winter (some years there a couple of dozen) was in the same line of sight.

This gave me an opportunity to appreciate a white oak the beavers had girdle and half way cut.

The bite marks leave a hieroglyphics that always entrances me.

Then a little nearer to the pond was a downed cherry which the beavers had harvested a bit.

The rock between the cherry and the nearby pond showed signs of being an otter latrine. So the beavers didn't police this area around their lodge enough to keep otters at bay -- though I didn't see the otters on top of the active lodge here much at all this fall. There is a pool of open water near the lodge, but no signs of beavers being out on the ice recently. I walked down the pond and noticed a raccoon taking a sharp right turn and then I was soon following raccoon tracks going side by side --

nice to think that one raccoon veered to join the other and actually walked side by side, but, of course, it is much more likely one raccoon followed another -- caught her scent, perhaps. The Lost Swamp dam is still leaking but the pond ice shows no signs of collapsing, a testimony to how much water has been coming into the pond. There were no signs that the beavers had been out at the Upper Lost Swamp pond. I went back via the surveyor's cut and then the Big Pond dam, where there were no signs of activity. I celebrated the lack of snow by climbing the high rock over looking the pond, giving me a chance to see lush mosses at a time of year when they are usually covered by snow.

I also wanted to see if the porcupine at the base of the rocks was around. I didn't see much sign of it at its usual den, and as I climbed the rocks noted that there wasn't much fresh porcupine gnawing the area. Then when I got on top I turned to capture the snowless vista and saw that the porcupine had been working far above my nose to the ground vision.

That's the Big Pond in the center of the photo and the Lost Swamp Pond farther up to the right.

January 25 yesterday on my way to work on the ash I saw a slug-like shape on the litter of leaves,

which, as I expected, turned out to be a poop.

This is from a big bird but I'm not sure which. I saw two of these poops and not far away a neat pile of grouse poop.

Another front moved through and gave us a bit of wet snow that mostly melted, and as I headed off toward South Bay at 1 pm, the cold winds from the north were just about to kick in, with a few minutes of snow. Up on the TI Park ridge, I saw two owl pellets below a red oak.

I opened the one that showed the most bones,

but there seemed to be far more black hair than bones. There were two deer on the ridge, rather alert. I wondered what the older one thought of this snowless winter. The ice has melted and been beaten back just to where the otter latrines command South Bay,

suggesting that the otters might have the true measure of this bay -- I don't see any reason why the ice should stop there, but of course, the otters are intimate with the currents and winds. Nothing on the ice indicated otters had been there, save that there the crystals of broken ice washed up on the outer edge of the ice shelf -- I could picture otters breaking the thinner ice and then the waves washing the crystals up. This seemed far fetched until I saw several fresh scats on the grass of the usual latrine. Two were very fresh, which is to say moist with undigested fish parts.

Two other scats were black, new to me, but appeared drier. I went down to the rock by the water where they often eat their fish. I found no fish parts but two very fresh scats.

There is enough open water along the rock and latrine so that the otters could move about without disturbing the ice.

This inspired me to continue around to the rock in the Narrows. With the snow gone I noticed how the otters scatted on some soft, flat grass just above the pink lichen covered rock.

The scats were not that fresh and had probably been covered by the snow. The wind was roaring through the Narrows and pushing along broken ice from Eel Bay. I headed inland to Audubon Pond. I had peaked up at it on the way out and saw that nothing had used the holes in the ice formed by the drains. Now as I continued around the pond I saw that the beavers had all but cut the ash they had been working on

The ash is hung up on an elm and will never fall. The beavers couldn't tell and kept carving the ash to a point. But they didn't walk away hungry. They cut a pine next to the ash. They have trimmed a few branches off the pine.

I could see the hole in the ice where they got out, formed by the water draining into the pond at that point. As I continued around the pond I saw more fresh work, three ash cut down around the cove just behind the bench.

I didn't see any holes in the ice which seems to indicate that the beaver working there used the hole in the ice near the bench that, to hold on to my theory that the beavers here are content to stay under the ice all winter, I credited
muskrats for making and using. I went and sat on the bench, and stayed longer than planned when I heard a splash or two around me. The noise did not come from the lodge in the pond surrounded by pristine ice and snow

but from behind me where on one side I knew there were muskrat burrows. Then I heard a louder splash on the other side where the old bank beaver lodge had been, but which had been broken up and its burrows crushed by a rock wall.
Evidently a beaver found some angle for a den. So where did the beaver swim? I went back to the hole next to the freshly cut pine and there was a beaver in the hole munching away on a pine bough.

As I moved to get a better photo it took alarm which, to me, indicates it wasn't that hungry because I am used to getting rather close to munching beavers during a hard winter. I went over to Meander Pond to check the south shore and get as close as the lodges as I could to see if I could ascertain where the beavers were sleeping. Both lodges were quiet but any noise that I did hear, and three or four times I jerked my head in its direction thinking I heard something, came from the new lodge.

And there was weak ice and one hole in the ice, but it looked unused. The older lodge is closer to the channel the beavers are using to get to their work. I noticed that they had cut down another red oak and had not yet done any gnawing on it,

at least I couldn't see any from afar. The only birds to entertain me were chickadees, and one downey woodpecker.

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