Friday, January 15, 2010

February 9 to 20, 2009

February 9 we had almost 36 hours over 40 degrees and lost a good bit of snow everywhere and all of the snow in many places. Then it got down into the low 20s last night and stayed cold. The snow that remained was dimpled like a golf ball and quite icy. It was easy going up the golf course and I didn't have to put on my snowshoes until I got down to the end of the second valley down to the Big Pond. On my way there I saw that there was a porcupine in the hole at the bottom of the dead tree just up from the golf course.
I took a quick photo so as not to disturb it.

And I am pretty sure that the porcupine in the second valley made a third striping girdle high up in the pine tree next to its den.

There is more litter under the tree but that is probably because the snow melted, revealing more that has been picked off the tree by the procupine.

I noticed raccoon tracks because, as usual, the raccoons tracked through the mud at the one place where the runoff down the valley is no longer ice and snow covered. I didn't see any fisher tracks. The Big Pond dam is all rough ice,
some of it brown. I walked down to the dam expecting to see that the beavers made a hole, but there was no hole, just the usual deer prints.

I also checked the northwest corner of the pond -- no hole there either. I could stand right next to the quiet lodge and with all the snow melted off the lodge, I could see that the beavers had pushed a rock up onto it.

There was still snow on most of the Lost Swamp Pond but it was only two inches deep. I walked down to see if there was a hole around the lodge in the southeast corner of the pond, and despite the extensive browned ice around it -- meaning that the collapsing ice had merged with the muddy pond underneath, there was no hole in the ice around the lodge.

There was a trail up the east face of the lodge and I walked gingerly over the icy snow to inspect it and decided it was just a case of deer or coyote tracks widening out with the thaw.

The ice is thick in this pond, in all the ponds, 8 inches at least, as evidenced by the blocks of ice hung up on shrub as the ice collapsed everywhere thanks to so much water draining out of the hole in the dam.

I walked over to the north shore and there I picked up some coyote tracks, at least two, doing their business around clumps of vegetation,

looking for holes in the ice, like me, and indeed as I headed over the ridge between the southeast and northeast sections of the pond, I found I was following the coyotes. There were no signs that any beavers moved into the lodge in the northeast section of the pond, and no sign of them the lodge by the dam, even though there was a gap in the ice near the lodge which a beaver might easily negotiate.

The ice has collapsed most dramatically behind the dam affording more holes for getting under or out from under the ice.

But of the tracks behind the dam, I only saw the tracks of a mink investigating the holes in the ice. The coyotes appeared to have kept their paws dry.

More water is leaking out now, thanks to the thaw, and there is more open water below the dam

but it doesn't extend far enough into the Upper Second Swamp Pond to persuade those beavers to come out from under the ice.

Three ponds and no beavers, after such a major thaw, was getting me down. Walking down the Second Swamp Pond was easy, but uneventful -- I even lost the coyote tracks. Then the snow got deep in the Fisher Woods. I remembered the porcupine trail coming down from the East Trail Pond and took that up to the dam where, as usual, I saw a porcupine trail crossing to the other side of the valley.

There were no signs that beavers had been out at Shangri-la Pond dam or lodge,

but it was so easy to walk on the pond that I headed down to the end of the north channel where beavers had come out so many times last winter. And there I saw a hole in the ice probably opened last night and kept open this morning because it had not frozen over.

There were fresh beaver trails in the snow,

some going up to gnaw on a bitternut hickory cut down just before the pond iced over

and a longer trail heading up the creek coming into the pond from the northwest

where there was gnawing on an elm

and exploration and tentative gnawing up on an embankment

In snow like this beavers can go far so I expect to see more extensive trails here tomorrow. I took a photo trying to show how far away the hole was from the lodge at the foot of the far granite ridge.

That's a long swim in the dark. Now I hoped to see a hole in the west end of the pond but there was none. Now that more snow has melted I did see more places where the beavers cut branches out of the maple that fell at that end of the pond.

I was now using the snowshoe trail we blazed a few days ago, and had easy going, though I did detour up to see the icicles on the north face of valley to see if there were snowfleas climbing up. It looked too wet for that to me

but not to the snowfleas

What an adventure climbing up that cold dripping. Then at Meander Pond I saw that the beaver opened the small hole it made before, though it had frozen over.

The trails went over to the same area in the northwest corner of the pond

where it found trees to gnaw last time

and one trail first headed below the dam and then came up to the same northwest corner

Then a trail did go well below the dam where I saw the stumps of saplings but not seeing chips can't say the saplings were just cut.

The trails were long enough to suggest to me that maybe two beavers are here. So I was happy to see such signs of life, and walking on Meander Pond and I saw how some animals survived under the snow in tunnels just above the ice

which for a month had been buried under deep snow. I was expecting an easy walk across South Bay but that was all lumpy and melted ice, so I took the long way around.

February 10 it stayed below freezing last night but climbed up to 40 in the morning. No sun so there wasn't the sound of melting but the snow made a subtle retreat. I headed off in the late
afternoon planning to more less reverse yesterday's hike, though going over the Antler Trail rather than going down the south shore of South Bay. I noticed a good number of deer on the golf course so I didn't anticipate seeing deer on Antler Trail. I did see what they've been trying to eat up there, beginning with moss
and lichens

Then juniper

and a bit of grass

I still can't tell if the deer know what they are going to get when they nuzzle down in the snow, but it seems like it. There are more bare patches of ground appearing everywhere yet they seem to come to these special spots. The
going was not easy in the soft snow, so I stayed on my old trail. Of course, I hoped to see beavers out at Meander and Shangri-la ponds. As I approached Meander Pond I got my hopes up because the beaver prints I saw in the snow looked fresh,

but the hole in Meander Pond remained frozen over.

So I guess it was just as case of the melting snow revealing more of the old beaver trail. On the way to Shangri-la Pond I checked the icicles for snowfleas, and not only did I see a few snowfleas but I saw a larger bug, despite the

Not sure what kind of bug it is, but it probably feels out of place. I didn't see any beaver activity until I got around to the hole in the ice at the north end of the pond. I am pretty sure a beaver has been out since I saw the hole yesterday, but I don't think it went up to the bitternut hickory it had gnawed a bit yesterday.

I think it did go up the trail continuing north of the pond and took a bite out of a large tree on the way to the tree it had partially girdled yesterday.

I think it did most of its new gnawing on a maple that it had mostly stripped in the fall.

I sat on the trunk of a fallen tree near the hole and waited a few minutes but the water didn't well up heralding the emergence of a beaver.

As the snow warmed and got heavy, the going wasn't easy. There was a nice glow in the gloomy afternoon like the dark grey clouds were sucking the life out of the sickly white snow. At the East Trail Pond dam, the melting seemed to make the old tracks flower or had the porcupine gone through again widening the tracks?

How can such a spiny animal leave such soft signs? As I approached the Second Swamp Pond it struck me that it might have melted too much to be passable, but I had no problem walking up it. My high hopes of seeing a beaver out at the Upper Second Swamp Pond were soon dashed, though most of the surface of the pond had turned brown.

Despite the warmth there was still no noise of flowing water. Perhaps it takes that to startle the beavers into action. The Lost Swamp Pond was just as brown, and also showed no animal signs. I did see a corridor of white to lead me safely across

and then at the Big Pond I learned that one could walk on the brown ice without sinking in, but I decided not to walk down to the dam.

There were no holes by the lodge so I figured these beavers were still dormant too. So I slogged up the second valley a bit sad. The porcupine there had been out. I could see more girdling high up in the lower pine

and there was a trail of pee outside its dens.

When I got to the golf course, the deer were gone.

February 11 it got warmer though the night and it was almost 50 in the morning. We went to the land and I went to check on the beavers. Of course I hoped to see the beavers out at the Deep Pond. I didn't but I did see the latest work they had done below the road. The first photo below shows the area on February 7

and the next photo looks down on the area at a different angle and shows less snow and more saplings cut.

The hole in the dam is now wide open

which rather surprised me. Back on the 5th, I couldn't visualize a beaver getting out of the hole, though I know one did. Is it possible that the beavers pushed vegetation back in the hole when they went back under the pond?

Hard to picture them doing that, so perhaps the increased flow of the water from the melting washed the hole bigger. Meanwhile the pond above it turning reddish brown in places suggesting that the beavers and muskrats are keeping the pond muddy.

There were no beaver holes up on the pond. Before I had noticed that the beavers had cut some honeysuckle here but I thought they did that to make a path. Now I saw some honeysuckle cut that wasn't in the way.

Then I headed down to check on the Boundary Pond beavers. I didn't go on snowshoes, which was a mistake, but at least when my foot slipped off the path I had made with snowshoes, I saw how deep the snow on the pond was -- still over a foot deep. As I walked down Grouse Alley, I saw that the first spot of blue pee I had seen widened and looked bluer, as if a rabbit gave it another coat of paint.

Then I saw a spot of blue pee up on the west side of the gully closer to the rabbit dens

and on east side.

Not one was near a buckthorn which is said to cause this color. On the way down the pond I saw more ripped bark under a fallen elm. I had thought a woodpecker had been pecking the trunk, but now I saw squirrel prints, and the thorough job red squirrels can do to the bark of a tree.

Then I saw the tree work I was looking for.

The beavers had been out. And not just to sniff air. They cut and segmented an elm and then jammed their hole with saplings and branches.

And one beaver had hung around the hole getting a quick bite.

As I expected they cut the remaining hornbeam that they reserved for this season when they knew they wouldn't be able to venture far from their lodge.

I was encouraged to see that they left a good bit behind, suggesting that these beavers aren't starving, aren't desperate.

I even saw the trail they made as they sniffed other nearby elms.

It'll be interesting to see if the beavers cut them down. I was not the only living thing pleased to see this development. Snowfleas were feasting on the sap oozing from the stump of the tree they cut.

I waited 15 minutes to see if a beaver would come out. None did and I heard no stirring in the lodge. Then the rain started. Tomorrow we'll have a lot less snow, and perhaps I'll see some beavers.

February 12 last night the thaw started in earnest with a steady rain and a steady temperature above 40 degrees. This morning we still had snow in many places but there were as many puddles on the long flattened ground and grass, and water was running everywhere. The temperature dropped into the mid-30s, and the clouds and light rain suggested that there would still be snow around when the cold fronts moved through in a few hours. We went to our land and I hiked down to the Deep Pond straight away. I don't think the beavers had been out. Their hole into the dam was completely filled with water rushing out from the pond.

I doubt if a beaver would want to ride that wave and surf to its flooded trails in the melting snow.

However, there was now a hole in the ice behind the dam. It will be interesting to see if the beavers patch the hole through the dam and start climbing out from under the ice.

There is a hole in the ice along the inlet creek. I tested the pond for walking on, and was soon in a couple inches of cold water, so I contented myself with a photo.

I don't think beavers have been out of that hole, certainly would be mud stains around it if they had come out of it. Then I went back up the ridge -- taking the road -- to check on the other beavers. I used my snowshoes this time. Grouse Alley was starting to flood so I had to keep up on the sides of the valley, which wasn't easy in the wet snow.

I don't think the rabbits denning here enjoyed the slush either. The snow on the Last Pool was thawing into the muddy water below making it brown.

But as I walked down toward the beaver lodge, I saw no more brown slush. I think this is because the Last Pool is a natural pool, while the beavers dammed up what I call Boundary Pool and there has been a slow leak out of the Boundary Pool dam all winter so the melting snow and ice have not raised the water
level below up into the snow. Of course, the hole in the ice behind the dam that the beavers were using was now welling with water

but this hole was still convenient, I think, as opposed to the violent outflow at the hole in the Deep Pond dam. Since there were fewer sticks around the hole, I think the beavers had been out there, but probably not up and about the pond. I didn't notice any more trees cut. There was water ponding on the ice in front of the dam. I don't think they've opened a hole there.

I didn't walk over to check fearful of sinking in slush and maybe even into the water below. The lodge still looks quite snug. We had a light rain for the rest of the day and I decided navigating the ponds on the island would be very
difficult. So I got my afternoon's exercise by mauling the ice in my boat and throwing it overboard. The boat magically began to float in the melt water around it, so I was able to pull it out of that hole in the ice and set it up high on the ice, ready to go... someday. While I pounded ice, a muskrat was out on the ice
across from me gently nibbling on something. We saw the two swans well out in the river joining the many goldeneyes and mergansers out in the larger lake fashioned by the thaw. We are supposed to get a little snow, which might mean good tracking, but we are heading south for five days.

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