February 1 after getting the mail we headed across South Bay on a cloudy day in the 20s but the west wind was blowing. Not until we rounded the point and walked along the north shore of the peninsula could we wipe the tears out of our eyes and look for tracks. On Monday most tracks on the snow of the bay are from the weekend snowmobilers. However, I saw some impressions in the snow over at the flat rock along the north shore of the point, an old otter latrine. Sure enough an otter had slid along the shore,
Coming out of the marsh
And then going up and over the flat rock, skirting the huge willow tree
And then finding or making a hole in the snow and ice, and also continuing back into the marsh, or was that a mink trail going back into the marsh?
This was exciting. While I found that hole, Leslie examined the slides carefully. There were prints near the slide that looked like fox prints, not otter.
The otter trail disappeared into the thick marsh and there was a drop of blood in it.
My hunch is that one otter made the trail, but otters do follow each other. We both walked to the end of the north cove, then Leslie headed off on the South Bay trail toward the other side of the marsh the otter disappeared into. I headed up to the Second Swamp Pond. I picked up a fisher trail going up the hill. A fisher going up a hill can leave a trail like an otter, and at this time of the year, when mating season starts, otters commonly climb up hills. But this trail went from tree to tree just as a fisher would do. Then I saw a trough in the snow, like an otter might
make, except it went up hill. I followed it down to the Porcupine Hotel where a porcupine decorated to trail with spots of pee before it climbed into rocks inaccessible to me. I walked up along the stream that otters used to wear out when the line of beaver ponds it fed were still in operation. I saw a few deer trails and one coyote trail crossing the now frozen creek. Once again there were no signs of otters at the Second Swamp Pond dam, however it looked like an otter had been out around the hole in the ice I saw the other day, the one closer to the dam.
There doesn’t appear to be much water under there. The otters were tracking mud. The other hole they had used was drifted over with snow.
I checked the holes near the lodge and they looked unused. I scouted the south shore of the pond which, over the years, has been an area otters favored, but saw no otter signs over there. So it's hard for me to picture what the otters are doing. I’d expect them to at least get out at the holes behind the dam, where there is a good bit of water. I angled up and down the ridge so I could check the west end of the Lost Swamp Pond where the otters had been tracking mud outside gaps in the ice. All snow covered now. I didn’t see any otter signs at the dam, nor down on the
Upper Second Swamp Pond. So I turned my attention to the beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond. Since the otters put a hole in the dam if the beavers aren’t around it might be a dry spring in the pond. I walked out to the beaver lodge in the southeast end of the pond where I think the beavers are wintering. But there was no hole in the ice. However, the wind had blown the snow off a good bit of ice around the lodge, and I studied it to see if I could tell if anything had been swimming under it and leaving bubbles. Yes, I saw plenty of bubbles, but how recent are they?
A more telling sign that beavers are still there is a vent in the snow on top of the lodge.
I was surprised not to see many tracks on the way to the Big Pond, and once there I checked the beaver lodge -- nothing stirring there. I also checked the lodge closer to the dam -- nothing doing there either. Nor was there any activity out of the hole the otter made the other day just behind the dam. Leslie had come up to the dam and would later report that she didn’t see any signs of an otter coming out of the South Bay marsh. So are there four otters in the Second Swamp Pond, one in the Big Pond and one in South Bay? Let’s hope so. Meanwhile there was some fresh excitement behind the Big Pond dam, a mouse or two running around. I saw tracks out on the pond
And easily tracked them back to the dam where the mouse seemed to come out of a little hole in the snow.
It’s not uncommon to see such exertion. The mouse probably isn’t following its nose to food, so what prompts such a bold and seemingly pointless foray?
February 2 we went to our land and I was able to retrace the steps of my last hike which I took just as a very cold spell was ending. I was curious to see if a day of warmth increased activity. In Grouse Alley there were more porcupine tracks but the porcupine had also been out when it was cold. Walking down the middle of the Last Pool and Boundary Pond I didn’t see any fresh rabbit tracks. A coyote had been through, no fisher tracks, and the beavers had not come out. As I stood by the lodge I heard on beaver humming inside. I walked back under the hemlocks and didn’t see
many fresh rabbit tracks. However, I saw three spots on the snow just along the line where the hemlocks ended above the pond, where a big bird swooped down. The first and second landing had one wing mark and a lot of walking about
But the third seemed to show how a large bird extended its wings in front of it
which birds commonly do after they catch something, to conceal it from other birds. However, I didn’t see any tracks of what the bird might have caught. A bit up on the ridge we saw where a deer had been lying down leaving the impression of its forelegs in the snow.
We continued up to what we call the Turtle Bog, wondering how many Blanding’s turtles might be out in March, and then on to the Bunny Bog. There I saw the best rabbit feast so far this winter, much gnawing on twigs on the snow
And even on larger sticks and the trunks of saplings.
We ended up with a good view of where the eagles had been roosting, but none there today.
February 3 we had a little snow in the night, about an inch which just covered old tracks. We went out on South Bay to where we saw otter tracks two days ago, and saw nothing new today. The hole in the marsh at one end of their trail was covered over today. I crossed the bay and hiked up to Meander Pond which I haven’t seen in a while. I crossed three relatively fresh fisher trails, then I fell in behind the trail of a couple coyotes. As we passed the stand of alder saplings the beavers have been sampling, I am pretty sure I saw a fresh cut. I tried to take a photo but all my batteries were dead! So I followed the trail and what looked like the drag of branches a day or two old all the way back to the hole in the dam. The coyotes didn’t go up to sniff the hole. No water was running out either. I saw a faded trail to the ash trees the beavers have been cutting. More branches were cut off the nearer tree -- which was half rotten, and they had cut off the end of the trunk of another ash that fell farther away. Two ash are still standing. I followed one coyote to the hole in the auxiliary lodge, which a coyote had first started to dig a month ago. But this coyote didn’t seem much interested in it. All the old holes in the ice were snowed over and I got no sense of beavers having been out. It was a sunny morning with the temperature about 30F and I was over dressed. Not having a working camera, which is always a boon in evaluating otter tracks, I didn't go to the Second Swamp Pond but just back to South Bay to check more of the shore to see if an otter had made any more holes. I didn’t cross any fisher trails on the way back, which was strange. Fishers are usually indefatigable. I did cross a porcupine trail coming down from the rocks where I had seen a porcupine a few weeks ago. The
porcupine was denning somewhere in that complex of overhangs, but today it didn’t wander down toward the bay, only along the ridge. Back out on the bay, I nosed around the edge of the marsh on the north side of the peninsula, where we had seen the tracks, and I saw some deer hide surrounded by coyote tracks.
Perhaps this is the hide from the deer killed by coyotes out on the bay at the end of December. As you can see, my camera started working.
I crossed the peninsula and then followed coyote tracks down to the willow lodge. No more signs of otters. In the afternoon we went to our land, and before cutting and dragging ironwood down to my sawing rock, firewood for next winter, I checked the beaver lodge. As I stood there a bit surprised that there were no holes in the ice that beavers might use, I looked down at my feet and saw a hole.
The snowfall covered any evidence of beavers using it. I couldn’t see any water in it, and it looked unused to me. Beavers slipping in and out would have made it rounder. I am getting the impression this winter, that these beavers are only coming out when they need to, when they are hungry, not merely when they are able.
February 4 I headed off in the early afternoon to see if the otters had stirred. I was tempted to stay at home because swimming in the water in our cove were a fine complement of mallards and golden eyes, as well as two swans. With the sun out, our porch was warm. But duty called and conditions were perfect for a hike, about 25 degrees, not much wind, and the seven inches of snow we had had settled down to about three. I saw several deer along Antler Trail, rarely has there been such good browsing at this time of year. Judging from the tracks,
coyotes seemed to be in step with them, but at night. I certainly didn’t see any. I didn’t cross any fisher trails. Three days ago I saw where an otter came out of a hole behind the Big Pond Dam, but there were no signs of otters there today, which means no otter has been out for three days. However, a mink had been along the dam though not using a relatively big hole of open water, where there is a leak in the dam.
This winter, after having checked the muskrat lodges early on, the mink has seemed more interested in the meadow below the dam.
Rather than check the rest of the Big Pond for activity, I certainly couldn’t see any evidence of any looking up from the dam, I headed directly to the Second Swamp Pond where I think the otter family is located. I was surprised to not see any fisher tracks in the woods along the way. But it did get down to zero last night. I didn’t see any activity at the Second Swamp Pond dam and all looked frozen and snowed over behind the dam. I did see the trails of two minks rushing toward the
Or perhaps one mink varied the circular route mink often taken around ponds. One mink trail ended in a hole below a rock up from but not over the lodge where the otters had been. No fresh otter tracks coming out of the lodge, though, and the mink didn’t go into it either.
The hole in the ice the otters used the last time I was here was covered with the inch of snow we got two days ago, undisturbed.
Of course, the otters could have left the pond by going down toward South Bay, but I figured they would have shown some sign of that decision down at the dam. Plus I saw some wrinkles in the ice up pond. Sure enough, I saw the trails of four otters coming to some gaps in the ice under a long, and long dead, tree trunk in the pond.
While the tracks were new to me, they weren’t fresh and were probably made yesterday just after the snowfall. I couldn’t even tell exactly where the otters went back into the pond
It looked like they might have spent some time looking for a weak point. Perhaps the mother was giving the pups a lesson in how to dig their way back into a pond. I saw that the hole they came out of was near the muskrat lodge which is right beside the main channel in the pond.
Some of the otters may have peaked up at a hole atop the lodge, then it looked like they scampered up the pond, only to turn around and go back to make a hole under the tree trunk.
The four trails, side by side, seemed to clearly show that there was one adult and three pups.
The adult was the only one that slid, but their tails all left marks in the snow.
And the adult’s tail made a considerable drag. I should be saying, mother, for certainly that is who she is. But that burst of energy, which might have taken all of five minutes, was the only sign of otter activity that I saw. Otherwise they spent all their time, since they came into the pond three or four days ago, under the ice. Knowing that it is possible that they swam back up to the Upper Second Swamp Pond in the ice covered channel, I walked up to that pond and saw that the ice
had collapsed behind the dam, leaving large gaps.
No signs of any animal taking advantage. Up at the Lost Swamp Pond the ice continues to lower in a more orderly fashion. No signs of otters there. I checked what I hope is the lodge where some beavers are, but no signs of life there. Walking back on the pond, I saw the trail of a coyote almost coming up to a dead tree starkly gray in the pond white. As it approached the tree, it looked like the coyote slowed down, leaving more prints. From afar it looked like muss in the snow at the end of the trail marked the spot where it caught something and then the little dance in the snow as it headed back marked where it finished its meal.
I looked closely at the snow where it stopped, and saw no blood, and where it did its dance I saw three or four burrs in the snow. It had paused to do a little grooming. I didn’t see any rabbit or fisher tracks in the woods on the way to the Big Pond -- plenty of red squirrel activity though. Only a few coyotes had toured the Big Pond. Last year, I could clearly count five coyotes leaving trails. Can only be sure of two now. I headed back up the second valley to the golf course. A mink went into the porcupine den in the low rocks which it appears the porcupine
abandoned before the last snow fall. I now think there are two porcupines living in the rocks on the east slope of the valley. I have taken so many photos of porcupine trails there over the years that I resolved to document only something special. And there it was below me: a porcupine had used a big downed tree trunk as a bridge over the litter on the valley floor. Yes, only a few feet high, but I’d never seen the porcupines here walk on a tree trunk like that.
Unlike me, long stuck in ruts, porcupines find some fresh avenues. Up above the golf course, I noticed that the porcupine who dens at the base of an old rotting tree was out and tracked it to see if it was the worthy sampling the crowns of the trees dangling about the fairway. But the trail led me the opposite way, up along the ridge under pines where there was a Grand Central Station of deer tracks.
February 5 We went to our land today and I cut dead ironwoods around the Deep Pond, dragging logs across the ice back to the road. I saw that two raccoons walked on the pond along the edge. At first glance I thought it might have been two otters who didn’t like to slide
But otters don’t plod along like that and they don’t go to a hole in the ice only to get a sip of water.
The raccoons then sniffed another hole and walked single file up the bank, then up the ridge.
Indeed when I went down to check the beaver lodge in Boundary Pond, I saw raccoon tracks crossing the pond. Not much else happening. No beaver activity. Walking up our road we saw possible bobcat tracks along with the usual canine tracks.
February 6 cold night and when it got up to 15F in the afternoon I headed off to see if the otters had been out at the Second Swamp Pond. I took my “beeline trail” that I discovered one winter when the snow was deep. Snow is no more than 5 inches deep in the woods this winter, but the trail is the quickest way to the Second Swamp Pond dam. On the way I noticed that fishers were active again. I crossed three trails, but I was in a hurry. That’s the one bad thing about tracking otters. I hurry to where they might be because if they came out and were disposed to roam, I might end of tracking them for a mile or two. But they had not been out since I was at the pond 48 hours ago. The hole they came out of then, right above the deepest channel of water in the pond, was as I had left it.
I looked at all the others areas they had been, looking for a new wrinkle, but saw none. It seemed to me that the otters were itching to get back up pond where they had been. So I checked out the possibility that they went up the channel under the ice, in the water. But they hadn’t. I checked the Lost Swamp Pond dam hole, in case the otters had sneaked up the ridge between the Second Swamp Pond and Lost Swamp Pond, but they hadn’t.
A mink had nosed around the hole. Water was still flowing under the hole and out through the hole in the dam, the liveliest thing I had seen on my hike. There was a nice design of coyote tracks out on the Lost Swamp Pond
They looked relatively fresh but we’ve had no snow and no strong winds to drift the snow for a few days. I saw that a hare had crossed by usual route to the Big Pond,
Good to see. Then the Big Pond had no surprises. I checked below the dam to see if the otter I thought was in there headed down to South Bay. No, but I saw a big stampede of tracks on the ice of the creek below the dam.
This was a spot where deer often cross, and deer probably left some of the prints in the ice and snow, but the coyotes had done the stamping around, leaving blood and bits of what I trust is deer bone behind.
When I got back to our house I noticed that the east wind had helped concentrate the golden eyes, mallards and two swans near to our dock.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on our glassed in porch reading and watching the ducks. As a rule the mallards lurk around the golden eyes seemingly picking over the left overs those deep divers bring up and don’t eat. But four mallard found some open water over a shallow area and were soon butt up. The swans forage the same way, butt up, but they have that long neck. The golden eyes seem to have more on their mind than just eating, though I didn’t see as much courtship behavior as I usually do. I did see a few minutes of mass beak dipping. Maybe they were voting to move on, because after dipping their beaks, they began diving and swimming back out of the cove formed by the ice.
February 8 partly sunny day and about 20F when we crossed South Bay. There was enough of a west wind to make us feel cold but once in the woods we were comfortable. We hiked up to Meander Pond, crossing one easy to read fisher trail and then puzzling over a mix of canine and, perhaps, fisher tracks. I wasn’t sure of the prints but there was a squirt of green pee on the trail, the usual fisher contribution. It looked like a beaver had cut a few more alders in the clump at the edge of the meadow
But I didn’t see a fresh trail so either the snow has settled below some old cuts, or a small beaver came out when the snow was hard. The snow has been packed down along the trail since coyotes and I use it. I followed the trail, and soon saw that most, if not all, of the beaver traffic
turned left to the four ash trees the beavers had cut.
The largest, and healthiest, of the ash trees was the last to fall, and fell conveniently for the beavers -- not like the big red oak on the north shore that is still hung up in another tree.
I imagine the beavers had cut off the crown and stripped bark off the trunk of the smaller tree perpendicular to the bigger before the big ash fell. So far they have cut two branches off the big ash. This ash tree has the most extensive and healthiest crown I’ve ever seen in an ash tree around here.
The first ash they cut down is small and half rotten
But they did cut off a few small, and presumably not rotten, branches. Of course the trail led back to the hole in the dam.
I stuck my camera down into it and got a beaver’s eye view of the hole, if the beaver’s eye had a flash attachment.
The beavers coming out of the hole had also gone over to the north side of the pond and girdled a large white oak.
They also sampled a few other trees, but no drag marks back to the hole in the dam, yet.
I walked up the pond, following a coyote trail, and was surprised to see a new hole in the ice, just above the channel, that a beaver used to get up to the north shore.
The holes I have been closely watching, on top of the old lodge and beside the new lodge are no longer open for business. Looking from the top, there seemed to be no reason to open that new hole,
but perhaps if I was swimming under the ice, it would seem the obvious place. We continued on to the Second Swamp Pond and learned some hard lessons. I keep telling myself that otters do not have to get out from under the ice, all the food they need is there, but I have great difficulty accepting that. But once again, I checked every hole that otters had come out, days ago now, and saw no signs of their coming out again. Signs of minks who had often been out on this pond were no where to be seen. Nothing new along the Big Pond dam either. Not that we were disappointed. The
snow is soft to walk on and there are five days worth of tracks to ponder, which means, save for on the dams, there are tracks all over. I did notice that there were no turkey tracks on the ponds and in the woods. Then when we got out on the golf course we saw turkey tracks all over. Leslie looked over at the rocks north of the third and fourth fairways, and, as if at her command, about twenty turkeys flew up from the rocks warmed by the sun and tried to hide up in the trees higher on the ridge above the golf course.