Friday, March 20, 2009

January 19 to 27, 2009

January 19
we've had snow off and on for two days and when we shoveled out our house at our land we saw that it amounted to about five inches. Manageable with a shovel but I was surprised by the extra drag on my snowshoes. When we drove down the road we interrupted the doings of a mature bald eagle, a red tail hawk, a raven and
either another raven or an immature eagle. They all flew off from the dead trees where the little porcupine has been carving out a living. Not that the big birds were feasting on the porcupine. It remained quite agile shaking the snow out of the pine tree it is often in. We retraced the steps of our last hike up to the Turtle
Bog where a porcupine had walked around the small frozen snow covered pool dining on pine, hemlock and maple. With some banging and shaking my camera worked by fits and starts so I could get a photo of the extensive browsing the porcupine had done in the big pine.

The lower branches were snow covered so the porcupine is working its way up. There were fresh tracks coming to the foot of the tree, and they led back to a well stripped maple.

I also saw styles of porcupine tasting. Sometimes a bite at the base of the trunk would do

and it climbed half way up a small hemlock before taking a few gnaws and retreating.

Its fresh trail led down to the northwest end of the pool.

And I saw where it climbed into some low rocks. The trail here was not as fresh as the trail by the pine, so maybe the porcupine was high in a tree looking down at me. We continued up to the Bunny Bog and looked at the snow covered
carcass of the rabbit we found dead here two days ago.

We saw some bird prints but certainly nothing had scavenged much meat off the carcass. There were no ermine tracks. Two days ago we saw an ermine's trail coming to the carcass. Ermines have the reputation of killing prey by biting at
the base of the skull, which is where this rabbit had been attacked, as far as we could see. We didn't want to disturb the carcass, curious to see how the scavengers would deal with it. It struck me that an ermine might not want to come back to its kill because hawks during the day and owls at night might swoop down for a fresh kill. Two days ago we had flushed a hawk from the surrounding trees. I walked down to the First Pond so see if the ermine might have gone down there. No, nor was there any sign of the mink often around there. Then I headed down to White Swamp. We've not had much wind so the new snow spread evenly over the swamp, slow going everywhere, no wind swept ice to hurry around on. I was not in the best of moods anyway, so I thought it a good time to see if an otter was using the old latrine on the shore of the swamp. I was rehearsing what I would write if there were no signs of otters, when I was delighted to see that an otter or otters had popped out of the hole in the bank latrine.

I think there were two otters because there were two widely plowed romps in the snow. And there was enough scat for two otters.

There were bits of blood making the hole and the slides seem very fresh. Given the snow fall the otters had to have done this in the last ten hours. I could see no otter slides on the vast snow covered swamp, which is typical. Save for when they pop out of convenient holes, the otters here live under the ice. Enough water has probably drained out to give them room to run under the ice as well as swim. I should have taken a photo of the swamp, but when the snow hardens and the going is easier I will check the muskrat lodges and other mounds out in the swamp
for otter holes. I backtracked and then checked the Deep Pond. Nothing had been out on the snow. I walked along the inlet creek and there at the hole I made when I went down to water, I saw the trail of a mink that checked out my clumsy improvement

and I saw a very wide and dramatic porcupine trail coming down the ridge to the east.

It did not lead to a range of tasting and gnawing, only one skinny maple had been well stripped.

I made slow going up the ridge, retracing my hike of two days ago, and made it to Boundary Pond, almost in a sweat -- it was in the mid-20s today. Despite the warm temperature there were no sounds from the beaver lodge and no evidence of the beavers trying to get out. As I walked up pond I saw a hole a mink made in the snow.

The mink seemed to hop at a steady pace

and then dive into the snow and tunnel for a few feet. I don't think it was trying to get under the ice and into the water of the pond, just its way of hurrying around. And I saw what looked like another mink's trail

But that is speculative. I didn't have the energy to sort it out. I've seen one mink run about in the snow and one mink in the snow can seem to be everywhere. No grouse about today. Also, no turkey tracks.

January 20
we were enveloped in a cold fog last night as the temperature got down to zero and the trees were frosted in the morning. As the sun warmed the trees the ice crystals rained down. I headed off on skis, up the golf course and then down the second valley to the Big Pond. I stopped by the two porcupine den holes at the base of the ridge to the east and marveled at pine branches scattered around them, with even one bough half way down the hole.

I could see pee on the trail to and from the big pine tree a few feet away. The only branches with pine needles on them were way up high.

Did the porcupine calculate that the boughs it
cut would litter the way to its den? Just as before there was a porcupine trail along the foot of the east ridge and then three trails going over to the west ridge. I still could not see any bark eating over there. I was on skis today and couldn't even think of going up the ridge. Down on the Big Pond it was slow going because none of the recent snowfall had been blown off the pond ice. I managed to get up and check the spring at the upper end of the pond, still no open water there, but half way down to check the dam, I sensed my skis going into slush so I hurried on to the Lost Swamp Pond. I thought this was the pond where I might see otters. They have come back here once a month or so, and otters generally like going through snow deep enough to conceal their progress from, say, a coyote's eyes. I saw plenty of tracks
on the pond, but all made by deer. They stamped around the muskrat lodge, now raised over the pond as the ice on the pond collapsed.

I don't think I have ever seen deer this interested in the dead vegetation a muskrat uses to build its lodge.

I suppose this is a testament to how tough this
cold snowy winter has been for deer. They also visited the lodge. From a distance the deer trail coming up out of the collapsed ice around the lodge almost looked like an otter wiring trails around the pond where, because of the collapsing ice, so many holes could be found or made.

The dam looked much like the otter breached dams I saw other winters, but no otters had come to take advantage. Holes would be easy to find. I could smell the rank air coming out of them.

Although water is still draining out of the Lost Swamp Pond dam, there is scant open water at the dam below. No longer an aid to the beavers there. Here too the deer climbed up on the lodge looking for something to eat.

I know there are beavers here and the wide vent
hole on top of the lodge proved it.

Meanwhile it was still snowing ice crystals and
there were no trees on these old ponds. The sun was trying to come out and the cold was squeezing moisture out of the warming air. Here was pillowing gentleness, but it was too cold to nap. I mushed on down the Second Swamp Pond following the trails of deer that probed areas that seemed less promising than muskrat and beaver lodges. They nosed around dead stumps

but there noses were working, at least at one
point they found some grass.

Perhaps there was more than browsing going on,
as there was some inexplicable stamping around

Of course, there were cedars and pines to nibble over on the bank but today there was more stamping around on the almost featureless pond surface. I used to ascribe this stump nosing to looking for water, but water was easy to get at down at the dam. I could also get an idea of how much water has
drained out of this pond. However, not enough to cause the ice to collapse throughout the pond.

There was a bit of running water below the dam.
I headed down over Otter Hole Pond and saw where the deer browsed a low pine. When I crossed that dam, I saw three deer run up the ridge to the south of the pond below. Down at that dam I saw where they were browsing the leafless crown of a shagbark hickory that had fallen months ago

I could see the nipped ends of twigs and hoped
these twigs were as nourishing as they were beautiful in the snow.

A deer even browsed the vegetation on top of the jumble of granite I call the porcupine hotel.

And I saw a porcupine trail through the soft
snow into the hard but warm granite caves.

The porcupine headed west and another day I will track it to its recent meals. I saw mink tracks on the South Bay trail but had to hurry home without photographing them. I heard the pileated woodpecker and saw two ravens flying high.

January 23
we're having a thaw -- not a violent one, but the temperature got over freezing this morning and as of 10 pm it is holding at 34 degrees. Before thaw we had steady light snow adding another inch or two to our foot or so of snow. The thaw will consolidate the snow and the coming deep freeze will harden it. I should have easy going in my quest to see which beavers came out from under the ice. We went to our land this afternoon where we already had short trails to where beavers might lurk. I hiked around without gloves and with coat unbuttoned. The little porcupine hanging around our house took advantage of the warm weather to go farther afield. In checked out the gap under our cabin. There were also rabbit and squirrel tracks and heading down the Grouse Alley, I flushed two grouse from the perches in the hemlocks. I got an
early impression that all nature was taking advantage of the warmth, but by the end of Grouse Alley there were no tracks, and I had to go almost all the way down Boundary Pond before I saw more tracks -- a couple deer crossed the valley. What did take advantage of the warmth, coming out almost everywhere, were the snowfleas. I saw some on the stumps of the hornbeams the beaver recently cut that were now darkening with sap. Some snowfleas noticed.

I didn't see any beavers out on Boundary Pond. As I approached the lodge, I saw a trough which looked like it might have come out from the area west of the lodge where the beavers had kept some open water as ice formed everywhere else in the pond. But on closer look, I saw that the trough had been
plowed by a porcupine.

It came down from the ridge, southwest of the
pond, where I had noticed porcupine signs a few weeks ago.

I think I know why the porcupine plowed its way
toward the lodge, and then turned around. When the beavers did keep the ice open there, the porcupine found it a convenient place to get a drink of water. Not today. I stood by the lodge, and didn't hear a sound. Often on warm days you can hear the
beavers humming. The vent holes atop the lodge were quite large so the beavers are still breathing inside.

There is another porcupine active, as usual,
coming down from the east ridge and trimming the hemlocks there. I walked down to Wildcat Pond where, last January, the beavers had been out cutting trees and collecting and stripping logs. Then I took photos of the beavers hunched in their watery holes in the ice. Of course, through the middle of January, it was relatively warm last year. No holes in or around the pond this year, except for a naturally formed melt hole in the upper corner of the pond. I used my old snowshoe trail up the ridge and across the Hemlock Cathedral, and again, I only saw one porcupine trail. Less porcupine activity than last year too, though there are still plenty around. Along the inlet creek above the Deep Pond there are two oozing springs that melt the snow. I expect to see deer tracks coming to such an oasis. Instead I saw the wing marks of large birds

which were quite elegant.

These prints were at least made by ravens, and
looked large enough to be the work of bald eagles, though if two eagles touched down in soft snow one might expect an even bigger impact. Down on the Deep Pond there were more hard landings, not as elegant nor as large as these, surely ravens or crows. But I didn't study them closely. I was distracted by a hole made by the
beavers right outside their burrow.

There were nibbled sticks on the ice

and a wide trough through the snow
going up the ridge. We studied that closely because it looked much like the way otters cut the snow when they come out of holes.

But there were no scats and the trough went a bit farther and stopped. The beaver evidently turned around and returned to the pond. There was a small hole in the ice down from the lodge and it looked like a mink might have used that -- too slushy for me to get close to. There was absolutely no sign of an otter coming in. I was surprised to see that there was no water leaking from the dam now, though there had been because a good bit of the snow had melted back from the stream.

Makes me wonder if the beavers did
an under the ice dam repair but I've never noticed beavers doing that. I headed on down to White Swamp and once again saw a dozen ravens flying over the huge swamp. They seemed to be half harassing a low flying bald eagle. Then I saw another eagle
flying high. Other birds, even ravens, seem to shy away from getting too close to an eagle. The otter latrine looked about the same, save that snow had melted.

There appeared to be more scat, but that could be because as the snow melted more old scats were revealed. However, their otter prints all about that had to be fresh. When the snow hardens on the swamp, I will ski around and look for other holes the otters might be using. Then where the creek from the Deep Pond enters the swamp, I saw a huge hole, which surprised me since I've seen no beaver signs down here. I thought I saw a stampede of deer tracks, but when I got close I saw wings marks.

I really think there was a stampede of large birds here getting a drink and who knows, maybe taking a bath. There were three holes above the dam a few yards up stream with more bird stampeding. Never seen this before, but thanks to the local butcher who dumps his bones and offal around here, we have many big birds. One day driving along the road near where he often dumps we saw at least 15 eagles.

January 24 below zero in the morning with a good wind. I headed up the golf course on snow shoes a little after 1 pm with the wind a bit at my back. The temperature was up to 5 degrees. Snowmobile tracks made the trek up the golf course easy. The well chilled snow still could not support me, but the snowshoes didn't stick as much as they were. I headed down the first valley to the Big Pond. I wanted to check as many ponds as I could to see if any beavers came out during the brief thaw. As I approached the Big Pond dam I saw tracks coming down over the dam and when I got close to the dam, I could smell the rotten water. I expected to see a beaver-made hole, but there was no hole at all. A deer had gone over the dam. I walked over to the northwest corner of the pond where the beavers had last gone out to cut trees. No hole there, nor around the lodge. We have not had any snow for many days so all the old deer tracks to and pawing on the lodge were
still there, and perhaps a few more.

No sounds from the beavers inside. I headed to the Lost Swamp Pond on the surveyor's trail. I thought that was the pond most likely to have been invaded by otters. Again all I saw were the old deer trails and then some. I walked up to the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. The ice
had collapsed around it making it look formidable

but the lack of any beaver activity around it suggested to me that it might be empty. There was a faded deer trail to the lodge where a deer probably browsed the bark and brush that the beavers may have put up there. Solid as the ice looked, I did not risk walking up to the lodge. The
lodge near the dam was getting that flying saucer look

This lodge had the look of being
prepared for winter with some mud packed on it, but it seems as dormant as the other lodge now. Back when I could still see beavers, I thought two were living in the dam lodge and sometimes going to the lodge nearby more in the middle of the pond, and I
saw at least one beaver around the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. If this colony had divided with one or two beavers in each lodge then maybe the lack of beaver signs is understandable, but neither lodge had much of a cache and I had seen little signs of the beavers eating anything. There were only deer tracks around the lodge and dam. I headed down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond with high hopes. I had seen three beavers out in the stream running down from the Lost Swamp Pond dam just two weeks ago. And water was still draining out of the Lost Swamp Pond. But there
were no signs of beavers having come out in the pond during the thaw. The stream froze before it dribbled much into the pond.

I did see an old mink trail along the dam, and the usual deer trails. We've had some good winds lately and they did blow some of the snow off the ponds making it easier to walk on them but the drifts in the cattails around the ponds are fearsome. Out of the wind I had even worked up a little sweat. Walking down the Second Swamp Pond into the wind chilled me back down. Through watering eyes I didn't see any signs of coyotes romping on the pond, nor deer either. On my way to the East Trail Pond I saw a magnificent porcupine trough coming down from the dam.

Up at the dam, I saw the usual
porcupine trails crossing the valley along and just below the dam and going up the ridge and into the rock dens. But there was also a trail going down stream. I just can't sense how porcupines can get so adventurous in this cold weather, but they often do. Going up to Shangri-la Pond got me out of the wind again. I have seen the beavers in this colony live out of holes in the ice so many winters, but not yet this winter. Water was flowing out from the dam into the little pond below, meaning the ice was easy to break, but nothing had broken it. I only saw deer trails on the
dam. As I walked onto the pond I was struck by the shape a deer made as it nosed and walked around the snow. To me, it looked like it made a shape of a deer!

Or one could say it looked like a
coyote. Though what might be taken as a long tail and long antler were actually the trail into and out of the area. In the photo below it looks like the beast drawn in the snow is dining on the impressions made by my snowshoes.

The trail was indistinct and the marks forming the "picture" were also indistinct, but there were no wing marks and bird feet prints and it is hard for me to picture a deer making such tight turns that formed the legs of the picture.

I saw another effusion off a trail in front of the snowed over lodge, and here again I could only assume that deer did it.

Again, there were no signs of life
around the lodge. I also walked up to the north end of the canal, where the beavers climbed out of holes last January, but not this year. I decided I had stamina enough to get up to Meander Pond and then cross South Bay to get home. A beaver appeared in
Meander Pond late in the fall and was, I thought, the most likely candidate for coming out during the thaw. No beaver had been there for three years. There were probably few leftovers lurking under the ice and its cache had to be meagre. I was right. The beaver had been out, or beavers. There was a nice round hole down into the pond in front of where its burrow goes into the bank, though the hole had frozen over.

And there were trails from the hole going in six different directions.

The trails going up over the burrow went to the shagbark hickory it cut, where it found a few
more bites.

Then a trail crossed the pond and
went up to the area northwest of the pond where the beaver had cut the most trees.

I saw where it took a few bites, but considering the effort to get out and get over there,

one would expect a bit more vigorous gnawing than the tentative scrapes on one tree.

The beaver also went below the dam
where it cut a very small piece of willow or alder.

And then it went down on the other
side of the dam, to a circle of trees

where it didn't seem to bite

There was a little stick frozen into the hole suggesting the beaver got enough to eat on its forays. My feet were cold. So I hurried down to South Bay which had wide patches of rough uncovered ice. There were coyote tracks along the north shore, and mercifully, the wind was dying.

January 25 I was still recovering from yesterday's trek but I joined Leslie on a tour of the valleys going down to the Big Pond. The wind was brisker today but the temperature climbed to 20 degrees. We went down the Second Valley and at last I saw what the porcupine had been eating. First there was a small maple half way down the valley

and then below the big pine above
its dens, I saw that the litter of nipped pine boughs has grown

and very high up in the tree I could see where the porcupine had been working on some wide girdles.

We looked hard at the pine needles
and twigs around the holes of its twin dens

and couldn't decide if the porcupine had nipped the pine needles. There may have been a deer trail through the area. Continuing down the ridge, following a porcupine trough, we saw its work high in a collection of basswoods and high in another pine tree

It would be fun to see a porcupine
climb that high, even more fun to see it climb down. We continued aimlessly along the ridge and found some fresh porcupine work, though there were no tracks to it, in a gnarled stunted old tree with branches old and new so tangled that it was hard to see how a porcupine navigated it.

Then we saw claw marks going up a
birch tree, which porcupines usually don't care for.

No gnawing in the tree that we could see. Then nearby we saw where a woodpecker had been at work, and next to some big wood chips on the show was a poop about as big.

No fisher tracks.

January 26 We went to our land in the morning and did nothing more than check the Deep Pond, where deer have browsed in the bushes since we were last here, but the beavers didn't come out during the last 12 hours of the thaw. It is cold again.

Then in the afternoon we went out across South Bay, angled enough in a cold southwest wind to keep our watering eyes manageable. The wind had wafted up some lake effect snow, but we just had a dusting. We walked over to Murray Island to check the big beaver lodge there, and on the way we saw one coyote run out from the docks along the south shore of Murray and then run up toward Maple Island, frequently looking back at us.

It looked like it went back to the shore of Murray. We saw a couple of fresh coyote trails in the snow, but no tracks from a group of coyotes. This year they often seem to tour in a group of three. The beaver lodge loomed large and snug, no signs of beavers being out there.

Along the rocks of the shore, not near the lodge, I saw a hole made by a mink to get into the water. And we admired the fuzzy lichens on the pink granite.

I crossed back to Wellesley Island
more quickly then Leslie, as she kept looking for coyote tracks, and looking back at her, I captured the moment.

Then we put on snow shoes and headed up to Audubon Pond, where the only colony I haven't checked recently remains snug in its lodge. No sign of them getting out either. A pileated woodpecker has been busy and left us three striking holes in a pine to admire.

Otherwise, there were deer trails
all about, and near the little footbridge in the southwest corner of the pond there were some mink holes.

January 27 a beautiful day for cross country skiing so we went to the land to tour White Swamp. I walked around our land first, to warm up. Walking down the road I saw fresh turkey tracks and then when I got near the Deep Pond, I thought I heard scurrying on the pond. Of course when I got on the pond, all I saw were the turkey tracks, not the birds.

But I may have been hearing the ice on the pond settle, as the ice is lower behind the dam, which I find surprising because this dam does not appear to be leaking much and a little water still trickles in. Then I went down to White Swamp to see if it was ripe for skiing, yes. I walked down
to the otter latrine on the south shore to see if there was a chance for otter tracking. Otters usually come out of three holes at this latrine, and I saw that one otter had come out of the middle hole and plowed to the left and to the right

There were also fresh coyote prints walking over the hole, and I think the discoloration on the snow just outside hole was its pee, not the otters. The main hole had more scats around it.

But the otters didn't plow far afield. I didn't see the third hole at first. I stepped on it when I climbed to look at the middle hole. Then I went back to the Deep Pond, across it and up the ridge along my old tracks and then over to Boundary Pond. On my way down to that pond, I saw spots of blood in my old tracks.

I didn't recall bleeding so I took
a close look and saw coyote tracks in my old tracks. I back tracked the coyote who had been walking along the ridge, but so no blood that way. I then continued down to the pond and saw a few more spots of blood and a small brown feather which looked
like a bit of grouse.

But there were no more feathers or
blood. When I got to where my old trail ended down on the pond, right at the edge of the barbed wire marking the boundary line, I saw that the coyote crossed under the wire, in the deep snow, and then used a porcupine trail to continue on its way.

I do confess, snowshoeing makes me
feel a bit dog like -- head down looking for anything twitching or that has twitched through my narrow view of white. After lunch we headed down to White Swamp. First I showed Leslie the otter latrine I had checked out in the morning. Then we skied down the shore to the east, to check out the hole where the creek from the Deep Pond enters the swamp, and before we got there we saw where the otters broke out a hole in the snow at a clump of bushes. They made a bold but short swath through the snow and scatted before going back under the ice of the huge swamp.

The game was afoot. Where else had
they come out? First I took a photo looking back to where their first hole is. I say first because my old trail walked by this spot, so this hole was made several days after the first I saw.

In other winters we found holes in
muskrat lodges and in mounds of snow around dead trees about 50 to 100 yards off shore. So off we went

but we didn't find holes in the old places. Only the coyotes and deer took advantage of the few stray muskrat mounds. (Trappers cleared this swamp of muskrats when the price for their pelts skyrocketed.)

Leslie bored of the quest for
holes, and skiied all the way across the pond and found a large
and active beaver lodge. There were beaver cut trees on the shore
behind the lodge.

And while I was looking for holes, she saw two ravens harass an eagle, high in the azure blue sky. So I guess the otters are just beginning to wire their under ice world.

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