Tuesday, March 17, 2009

January 11 to 17, 2009

January 11 cold sunny morning and we trusted that a night around zero degrees would negate the warming effect of three inches of fresh fluffy snow on the ice of South Bay. We were wrong, and especially as we approached the north shore our skies sunk into the slush. There were no interesting tracks on South Bay, mostly snowed over deer tracks. We usually ski along the shore looking for mink tracks, but the slush prevented that. We got up on the South Bay trail and cleaned our skis and saw more snowed over deer trails there, usually going down onto the bay to browse the willows and other trees hanging low over the ice.

We headed up to Audubon Pond, and didn't test the ice. Of course, the deer did and we saw a fresh deer trail crossing the pond.

We headed up to Meander Pond and once again the only tracks were from a deer nosing around the beaver's meager cache.

The valley narrows at Shangri-la Pond and we could see the routes the deer took up and down the sides of the valley.

The deer also browsed along the sides of the valley, while we preferred soaking in the beautiful view more or less from the middle of the pond.

Two summers ago when I first saw the beavers investigating the future site of their lodge, the nosed about in blinding sunlight. But in the winter, their lodge is almost always in the shade.

The deer didn't even deign to nose around that cold corner of the pond. All their tracks were along the opposite sunny side of the pond.

We checked the north end of the pond and the dam and saw no signs of beavers coming out from under the ice. The deer nosed around the crowns of the recently cut down trees.

We went down to the East Pond meadow and headed west back to South Bay. Here deer checked up the mounds of snow covered vegetation

pawing down in some promising looking clumps.

We never got any sense that the deer got much to eat from their probing into the snow. As we worked our way through the woods along the lower East Trail, we saw a snowed over porcupine trail meandering through a stand of ash trees, which is a tree porcupines don't eat.

But the trail headed also went up the ridge toward the pines and maples. Often at the end of the south cove we see coyote tracks heading onto South Bay or coming off it, but no today.

I suppose one could measure the temperature by the number of tracks one sees in the snow, especially this early in the winter before the mating urges take over. We didn't mind the lack of drama. Clear cold days turn the swamps and ridges into museums of white shapes and soothing shades of brown.

January 12 a warming day with humidity cutting the clear air, but the temperature stayed in the mid-twenties. We went to the land and I snowshoed down to White Swamp. I saw some squirrel digging but no sign of the porcupine tracks like I saw the last time I walked that way. When I got down to the shore of the swamp I saw about ten ravens flying noisily about well out in the swamp.

They seemed to stick in groups of threes, then broke up. Perhaps because of me. One flew over above my head and gurgled. Then it flew off and I was left alone, save for the
shapes like the thin weed below me decked out in snow hats on its sere seeds.

The ice was not slushy despite the five or six inches of snow on it. I headed down to the otter latrine. The only tracks I saw were a deer's trail on the slope of the ridge. That trail came down to the swamp right where the old otter latrine is. No signs of any otters.

I walked back to where the creek from the Deep Pond came down into the swamp. I picked up what I first thought were more deer tracks heading in the same direction.

But the tracks didn't veer toward a depression in the snow that might have afforded a drink

and one trail went up on a mound just beside the creek and there was a little skirt of greenish yellow pee

So I was tracking a coyote after all. I followed it through some wood, where the coyote squeezed under snow laden branches that a deer would have bared. The coyote then went up Val's field and I crossed back into the woods. The Deep Pond was quite slushy under the snow but I got walked on it and behind the dam, where there was one snowed over depression,

and over to the lodge which was perfectly blanketed with snow, and no obvious vent hole.

The area where the cache is was undisturbed but the mink had been out of its three holes,

scooting from one to the other, but not going up the bank.

After lunch I tried to do some sawing, but the growing humidity made cutting unproductive, and I realized that as bold as the trees I blaze looked in the fall, in the snow it was hard to spot my cuts. I took a photo of the Boundary Pond lodge from a different angle, showing the snow covered hemlocks behind it.

Once again a porcupine came down the slope

to work in those hemlocks.

Rather than just walk up the east ridge looking for more porcupines, I checked the gullies going up to the Hemlock Cathedral where porcupines often live, but not this winter. Not until I walked down the columns of hemlocks up on the plateau did I see a porcupine trail

which seemed to go over the ridge and down into one of the snug rock dens in the first gully. I walked down the gully, quite pillowed with snow, and to my surprise didn't see the porcupine trail continue down into the rocks. Meanwhile, back in the civilized portions of our land, the little porcupine had come out from under our house and was feasting on the garbage we put on top of our mulch piles by the garden.

While I was down sawing near the Last Pool, three ravens flew over in tight formation. Then another raven flew in and the manage a trois broke up. All that happened rather silently for ravens.

January 14 yesterday was warm, about 30 degrees, and quiet in the morning. I should have gone tracking, but we could see the front coming. The wind soon picked up, from the south, and soon we had horizontal snow. The temperature stayed up until midnight when it dropped to 10 degrees and it was 16 below this morning, but the wind had stopped and the sun was bright. I headed off for a short hike at 2pm when it was 3 below. I was out for an hour and save for toes, nose, and ears, was quite warm, even worked up a little sweat snowshoeing about. I didn't see the usual deer trails going up the ridge to Antler Trail. so I worried that all the deer huddled near the shrubbery of Thousand Island Park, but once up on the plateau, I saw that the deer dug into the snow for the grasses that in this new frozen context looked quite warm and filling.

By the look of the tracks, the deer went about alone or in twos, certainly no herd.

But there were tracks all about, like each deer had its own bright idea how to survive the cold.

Deer also dug around little cedars and juniper, but with no evidence of much eating.

They had a taste for grasses during the cold night. As I got to the north end of the open plateau, I saw one deer leap away. I continued on Antler Trail, following deer tracks all the way, though other deer took other trails. This wasn't a case of a deer following my trail because I haven't been up here since the recent snows. Under a squat pine, I saw a deer bed, with red brown needles that looked hot.

Out of respect for the cold I had to think of where I should go. I didn't stray too far off a circular route that would take me home in about an hour. I walked down the valley that winds down to the Double Lodge pond, the little pond just below the Big Pond. Several deer crossed the valley and in front of the flat granite wall on the south side of the valley, I saw what looked like a porcupine's trail

and easily tracked it back to a hole low in the rocks,

It looked like the porcupine had not been out since the blow of the last night. The trail was fluffed over, no pee on the trail and no poop in the hole, a cold trail on a cold day. I saw no sign of smaller animals being about, nor signs of coyotes. To find something alive on a day like this you have to go to where a creek is running, where often grey brown eyes in the snow reveal the warmth of running water below.

Deer had crossed the creek, but without pawing any weak spots in the ice looking for a drink.

Going up to the Big Pond dam, I saw a sparrow disappear into the tiny crevasses shaped by the wind blown cattail stalks.

The pond itself was a blank slate. I headed up the first valley to the golf course accompanied part of the way by chatty chickadees who must have wished I was a well slashed carcass oozing suet. No sign of the usual complement of killers that over the years have left bones to pick in this valley, not even the ermine. The squirrels were scarce too, and mice probably fashioning metros under the icy snow. Back on the river, with it icing over, the golden eyes, buffleheads, and mergansers feed and frolic in the water kept upon as the channel narrows and the current wards off the ice. So far this has been a banner year for golden eyes, 300 to 400 I'd say. The northwest wind last night kept water open between Goose Island and Castle Francis and the ducks were congregating there, probably wishing the wind was still blowing

That area should freeze over soon.

January 15 minus 15 in the morning, but sunny and no wind. After lunch it bumped up to five below and we went to our land. I walked down to the Deep Pond, not expecting to see anything. While still on the road, I looked down at the culvert that takes the creek draining the Deep Pond under the road and down to White Swamp. I saw what looked like mink tracks,

but I couldn't be sure so I hoped to see mink tracks up on the pond. I didn't see any behind the dam. As I walked around the pond, I was hampered once again by slush between the snow and ice. One would think that a series of below zero nights would be enough to shame water from sulking like that. So I didn't walk below the bank to check the mink holes there, I walked up on the bank. At first it looked like the holes had been unused, then in the shadows I saw a trough in the snow along the shore

and while I didn't see holes into the the bank, I saw tunnels under the snow leading to the holes.

Then I picked up a mink trail leaping toward the bank holes coming from the dam.

Nothing warms up a cold day like tracking a mink. Each leap in the snow looks so liberating, and then like that the trail disappears in a tunnel under the snow.

I back tracked the mink's trail to the dam

where I was surprised to see the trail circling around on the east side of the dam

and another mink trail circling around at the center of the dam,

where the mink left a poop as it turned around.

At the first sign of confusion like that, I assume two animals were chasing each other. Minks energize the coldest part of the year by warding off rivals and finding mates. I followed the east trail, as it were, up into the bushes below the dam, and then saw that the trail came down from the ridge. It was too cold to climb a ridge to see what craze minks might have been up to, but I did notice that there was what looked like the marks of two tails in the snow, suggesting a chase.

And I saw off center impressions in the snow, as if one mink veered off,

and then just before the trail got to a stand of vegetation I saw the one trail separate into two.

Well, on a warmer day I would have made sure that one mink wasn't doubling back on its own trail. The mere thought of such a thing on such a cold day seemed silly. I headed for the Third Pond and on the flat below the ridge, I think I crossed the mink trails again. I hoped I might see more mink trails up on the Third Pond but I just saw two deer trails,

and then I got to thinking about the deer trail which lacked pronged prints going down into the slush of the pond as my flat shoes were starting to do. Could I be tracking a couple of coyotes? Then I began to see deer prints in the slush.

Off the pond I saw the trail of leaping deer, and here too I saw stray marks that were open to interpretation,

though flying hooves seemed the likely. The little porcupine was out from under our house and we saw in a pine tree between the house and the compost pile

In the trees by the road we saw a small flock of cedar waxwings rather puffed up in the cold.

After 45 minutes it was time to head back to a warm sundrenched glassed-in porch overlooking the open water on the river and study the mergansers and golden eyes, with a few stray mallards with a notion to bill some vegetation that diving ducks might bring up with the little meaty bites they get off the bottom of the shoal.

January 16 after minus 16 at night, it got above zero quickly and we walked on the river ice as we walked up to the Post Office.

The first attraction was the flakey snow crystals that formed on the ice that was not covered by snow,

each construction of crystals bore study.

The only animals on the ice seemed to be foxes

at least two judging by the trails in the snow on the shore. Then the ducks seemed to be boiling in the fog formed by the open water where the river's current picked up over the end of Granite Slate shoal.

After we got back from getting the mail, I walked over to a rock close to the expanse of open water that affords a blind from which to spy on the ducks swimming in the
not yet frozen water.

The wind began to pick up, to compensate for the temperature rising, and the ducks closest to me kept their head in the wind and didn't do much diving or courting.

They soon noticed me and flew off en masse, which they often do, going up to the head of the open ice and drifting back until they ran out of water.

After lunch I went off on snow shoes, up the golf course, where there were only a half dozen deer digging out some grass, and then I took my old trail over the ridge and down the second valley to the Big Pond. There was no sign of a porcupine using the hole at the base of the dead tree up on the

ridge that a porcupine has used other winters. There were porcupine trails crisscrossing the second valley, as usual. I also saw where a fox went into a small hole under a granite boulder. Usually the den higher up on the ridge when they den
here. I also discovered that my camera wouldn't work. I had to use my camcorder and take stills from the video I took. On the other side of the boulder where the fox nosed in, I saw where the porcupine had fashioned two dens.

The porcupine went higher on the ridge, as usual, and also along the ridge. I couldn't see much evidence of gnawing on trees near me, but three trails headed off up the west ridge. But I didn't see much eaten up that way either. When the snow is icier and its easier to snowshoe up ridges, I'll try to
figure this porcupine or porcupines out. I crossed the windswept Big Pond and then enjoyed the more protected Lost Swamp Pond. The ice continues to collapse especially behind the dam

In other winters I would see the black scats left by otters taking advantage of these breaks in the ice, but not this year. There were holes in the snow above the breach in the dam, and more water seemed to be flowing out than last time I was here, but no large animal used the holes. One part was small and rounded suggesting a mink might have used it. Despite the good flow of water from the dam, there was no sign that the beavers in the pond below took advantage of the open water and thin ice.

Deer had been on this pond, and I saw no other tracks. To keep out of the wind blowing up the Second Swamp Pond, I walked down the woods north of the pond. I was anxious to pick up a fisher's trail and going down those woods I could angle toward what I call Fisher Woods between the Second Swamp Pond and the East Trail Pond. When I reached the foot of the big ridge to the north, I saw a fisher trail and followed it, which afforded me the pleasure of going from tree to tree

and seeing squirts of green pee in three spots along the trail.

I learned a few things. Twice the fisher peed at what could have been its juncture with another fisher's tracks. Around a very big old oak, the trail disappeared under the snow for three or four feet. Perhaps the fisher was looking for a hole at the bottom of the tree, which is common in old trees, where either it might find a place to den, climbing up inside the tree, or where a porcupine might be denning. I must say there were no porcupine tracks around, and they are hard to miss. I followed the fisher up the ridge, wondering why it went up there. On the other side there was a rock face, no porcupines there either, but, for the fisher, perhaps worth the look. Down in the flat of Fisher Woods, the fisher made a short detour to sniff the base of a small elm, just a few inches in diameter. Then it beelined to the ridge north of Otter Hole Pond. I wanted to go the other way, and it was cold. I should add that I couldn't be sure if I was tracking or backtracking the fisher because the snow was deep enough to its paws to make marks in the snow before and behind each impression it made in the snow. There were no tail marks, and no walks on a downed tree trunk, which make it easier telling which way a fisher is going. I often find fisher trails in the woods between the Second Swamp Pond and Big Pond, but not today, not yet this winter. I did find some snowed over coyote tracks on the Big Pond.

Deer usually don't bunch up and veer like coyotes do. There were also fresh deer trails and out of the wind, fresh coyote prints in the snowshoe tracks I left here the other day.

Down on the pond below the Big Pond dam, one of the coyotes marked a stump with its pee. With my camcorder always out, I realized I could now better capture an image of the sparrows that live in the cattails around the dam. I could hear them, but not see them. I saw three deer as I walked along Antler Trail. Then when I did chores around the house I saw an eagle try to catch a duck out no the river. Not sure if it did, but all the ducks flew up and around and when they landed in the water again they formed a tighter mass turning a large patch of water black.

January 17 sunny morning and it hurried to get above zero but we could see clouds moving in, so we hurried over to our land to hike there while we still had sunshine. The approaching storm increased the humidity which made 14 degrees seem colder than 5 degrees. We headed for the Bunny Bog on snowshoes going via the Turtle Bog. We usually see rabbit tracks around our cabin, but not today, We flushed two grouse from the cedar trees just before we got to the inner valley, a favorite place for roosting grouse. We saw our first rabbit tracks near the turtle bog but seeing them was eclipsed by porcupine tracks that circled the small pond. The porcupine had dined on several branches of the large pine there, then crossed over the bog and ate some hemlock. We walked down the middle of the bog and saw eating it did up in a large maple and several maple saplings. My camera was still not working and camcorder didn't capture the beauty of the porcupines browsing. I can get photos when I have a working camera again. Leslie got to the bunny bog first and flushed a hawk off one of the pine trees there. I began following what looked like an ermine's tracks coming out of a small hole into the snow around a squat bush.

The tracks led to a dead rabbit

We noticed that there was blood in a little hollow in the snow nearby, and given that there was no apparent struggle, I bet the ermine caught a starving rabbit. The rabbit was quite frozen and we were not about to thaw the corpse out and do an autopsy. There were wing marks from a large bird near the carcass and the prints of the chickadees. Meanwhile our toes were getting cold and we did some trekking instead of tracking. I hurried down to the Boundary Pond lodge and all the trails crossed the pond so I assume they were made by deer and not coyotes. I saw rabbit tracks here and there but no concentration of them. I followed our line down to the Deep Pond and only crossed one porcupine trail up in the Hemlock Cathedral. When I got up stream from the Deep Pond, the raven called to me. I also saw porcupine gnawing there, and a big trail. The narrow valley farther up stream is famous for its porcupine dens. I thought I was walking down the side of the inlet stream, then one snowshoe went through the ice. I hurried a bit to prevent too much from freezing up on my shoes. In that quick hobble around the pond I only saw mink tracks going from one hole in the bank to the other, no mink romp to track around the pond today. Meanwhile Leslie saw grouse tracks in Grouse Alley and coyote and fox tracks radiating from the road. We are slated to get some more snow and temperature in the 20s. Beavers should be due to come out and find bark to eat.

No comments: