January 15 snow was predicted to start falling at 10am, so I headed off before 9 to check the beaver ponds for otters. The south wind of the approaching front raised the temperature into the 20s and I had a comfortable hike. There had been a dusting of snow in the morning which dulled what tracks there were. The Big Pond was rather dormant. I could see that the water had stopped flowing through the hole in the dam because the water below the hole was frozen and dusted with snow.
There were no bluebirds around today. I walked along the dam and saw no signs that otters or minks had been out. Thanks to colder nights I was able to walk up the pond without sinking into slush. I retraced the otter’s route into the pond and saw no signs that it had gone under the ice and broken out of a hole in the ice at the empty beaver lodge, muskrats lodges or beside the trunks of dead shrubs. It would not likely do that anyway and would probably find a hole right along the edge of the pond in the tall grasses, as it did when it came into the pond, but this pond has flat shore lines and it is difficult to see the edge. All to say, there was nothing to track on the pond and the beavers had not reopened the holes by their lodge. As I walked over to the Lost Swamp Pond, it began to snow lightly. I checked the south shore holes the otters had been using and didn’t see any signs that an otter came back out there. However, across the ice at a hole along the peninsula, I saw that an otter had come out of a hole that otters had used there in the past few weeks.
And I saw the trail of one otter heading up pond along the shore of the peninsula which is the north shore of the southeast section of the pond.
The last time I saw a trail along this shore, it was the wide slides of an adult otter. This was the narrow, choppy trail of an otter pup with no slides. It followed the same route as the adult,
And seemed to be looking for a hole where it could get under the ice. The first gap it found didn’t serve.
It looked like it went into one of the old beaver burrows into the bank
and them came right back out
and headed toward the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond.
There was no snow on the ice around the lodge and I dare not walk on the ice near the lodge so I walked around the lodge and over to the opposite shore. There were no signs that the otter got into the ice in the holes the otters used their last week. I walked down pond along that south shore and 20 yards from those holes, I found a hole through which the otter was able to get under the ice.
And I found the trail it made as it crossed the pond from the north shore to the south shore.
I am pretty sure only one otter, a pup at that, made these tracks. So where was the other pup? While it wasn’t easy seeing tracks on the pond in the gray light and light snow, I was pretty sure there were no more tracks along the south shore of the pond. The ice was solid enough to walk over to the beaver lodge by the dam which I have not checked in a while, but there were no signs of otters having been out there, and only furtive mink trails that I didn’t get close enough to investigate.
There was nothing new along the dam, water still flowing out of the hole, but at a slower rate. I kept on the ridge to check for otter activity at the west end of the pond, and it was easy to see that an otter had been out. The was a trail of an otter coming out of the hole in the ice along a downed tree trunk to the gap in the ice at the extreme west end of the pond
And there was a fresher trail coming out of that gap by the trunk going to another small hole in the ice.
I can’t definitely conclude that only one otter did this, but it seems possible to me that the two pups have separated, hopefully just temporarily and they are now together under the ice. I checked my old notes from January 2002 when we found a dead otter pup. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear idea of when that family separated. I saw them at the beginning of December and was impressed at how mature the pups seemed for their age. Back then there were more full ponds and a good watery route to South Bay. A mother could leave and feel good about her pups finding plenty to eat. This January’s mother, if my imaginings are right, is just over in the next pond, where the pups have often been with her. I continued on to the East Trail Pond curious to see if the beavers had been out of their hole when it warmed up enough during the day -- as it was today. On the way I took a photo from the old board walk that used to cross the middle of the old East Trail Pond. I could see both the lodge in the left side of the photo and the ridge on the right where the beavers have been foraging.
The beavers had not been out of their hole, no new gnawing on the trees they have been working on. This year, with otters to track, I’ve been ignoring the porcupine trails I cross and not taking photos of them. But there was such a nice one coming up from the west end of the Shangri-la Pond (now a meadow) that I had to take a photo.
I headed home via South Bay and to avoid getting any closer to the tents of the ice fishermen out on the bay, I took a short cut through the marsh. I followed a mink trail through a gap in the cattails,
though the mink didn’t go all the way through. It ducked into the cattails.
There seems to be advantages to being small in the winter.
January 16 a cold day; we took a walk around the Wellesley Island headland where there was a good deal more ice, but still one patch of water open for the convenience of a muskrat who dove in the relatively shallow water around a shoal rock and climbed up on the ice to eat what it fetched under water.
Yesterday when it snowed in the afternoon, another 3 inches, the temperature was in the high 20s and it didn’t get cold until well in the night so when we went to our land, we expected to see plenty of tracks of the animals who came out after the snowfall. But there was very little to track. Nothing on the Deep Pond and nothing in the woods from the Deep Pond all the way to the Boundary Pond, not even rabbit tracks. Then I saw the trail of one coyote walking up the middle of Boundary Pond, going through the Last Pool, but not bothering to visit the beaver lodge. Then it meandered up the valley and woods to the west. As I walked down Grouse Alley I saw blurred tracks of an animal that acted like a deer browsing vegetation and clearing some snow the mossy cliff. Meanwhile Leslie didn’t see much either until she got near our house and she picked up what looked like a bobcat’s trail that went up to and then around the house and continued along the wooded ridge.
She took photos of its prints because with feral cats and foxes around identifying bobcat tracks is not easy. But to me the trail in the photo above has a dual pattern of prints like a bobcat and not a more singular line like a canine’s trail. Leslie took two close-ups of the prints which seem too big for a house cat.
And the animal sank down in the deeper snow suggesting a bigger feline like a bobcat. There is a porcupine under our house -- and I did see its tracks going down Grouse Alley. Not that I think a bobcat would bother a porcupine.
January 17 we finally got temperatures well below zero in the night, minus 13 just before dawn. By the time we headed off in the afternoon to check the beaver ponds it was just over 10F, with a light wind. Comfortable in the bright sun. Today the snow was crisscrossed with tracks, mostly of deer and a few coyotes who we imagine were doggedly following the deer. As I approached the Big Pond dam, I could see that the adult otter I think is there had not been active. I expected it, her, I think, to dig the hole through the dam deeper but I could see that it hadn’t because I could see no stain of water running down the creek below the dam. All was still frozen. Even the hole in the pond behind the dam is iced over now. However, one mink is evidently finding its way in and out of the pond and dam.
I walked on the dam and saw a mink trail that seemed to come out from deep in the mud of the dam, though I didn’t get close enough to really inspect the hole.
The trail kept going into the dam, and, I think, at the spot near to where the otter found a hole to get into the pond.
But no signs of the otter coming out of the pond. I walked up the north shore of the pond while Leslie walked up the south shore taking a short cut home -- she didn’t see anything of interest. I saw that a mink came out of the grasses behind the vacant beaver lodge,
I didn’t walk back there where the ice might be thin to see if he got inside the lodge. However, farther up the pond I did see where it apparently dug its way inside one of the many muskrat lodges.
This a lodge that the otter rushed by the other day as it looked for a hole to get under the pond. Nothing had stirred at the beaver lodge where the beavers are staying. There were few tracks in the woods between the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond. I did see tracks on the latter pond around the hole the otters, or at least one otter has been using. But they proved to be the trails of two deer.
I thought for a moment that two coyotes might have been sniffing around the holes the otters used. In some snow conditions the prints of deer can look like coyote prints, but the gait was a deer’s wider gait and they nosed into grass, not into the otters holes. Later I saw the two deer who made the prints browsing the vegetation along the shore at the far southeast end of the pond. I headed up the south shore the pond to the hole the otter used the last time I was here. I didn’t see any sign of an otter coming out of it. I did get a nice photo of the hole with the beaver lodge in the background.
I looked for otter tracks going south over a slight brushy ridge toward the Big Pond, but I didn’t see any fresh otter trails or hints of old ones.
I don’t think the adult otter went that way when it left the pond; the tracks I saw had continued down the middle of the pond toward the east. The light was so good I could tell that there were no otter slides anywhere, though I suppose I should have snooped around every possible hole. I walked down to the latrine at the west end of the pond and just saw the tracks from two days ago now faded with the fresh snow.
I thought of sitting down to contemplate all this -- otters don’t have to come out, but seeing that they don’t come out on such a glorious day.... Well, I would have sat down and thought through that delusion but the sun went behind some clouds and it began to feel cold. So I headed home. When I got back to the house, I saw a pair of swans swimming into the open water below our dock.
Always pleasant neighbors.
January 19 we had a thaw yesterday with the temperature staying above freezing for several hours, getting up to 37, cloudy with freezing rain now and then, not much wind. We walked around the headland in the morning and watched all the ice formed in the river the last few days turn gray and begin to break away from the ice in the bays that is a week or two old. In the afternoon, I took the maul down to the boat and broke up and removed all the ice that was in it. As I got the last bit out, the water broke into the cradle of the ice the boat was in and the boat rose up floating again. I pulled the boat up on the more solid ice. No where to go today in the lousy weather, but maybe we’ll get out in the river soon. It cold again in the night with a dusting of snow. The temperature was 20F in the morning and slowly dropped all day. Cloudy and with a sharp north wind, it wasn’t the best day for a hike. We inspected the ice first and saw all the newly formed ice in the river had melted or been blown away. So we are back to just having ice in the bays and channels between the islands off the main channel. We tried to walk out onto the ice of South Bay but soon began to sink into icy slush. We could have walked across, since ice fisherman had crossed the ice on their ATVs but at the price of getting our boots and probably our feet wet. Leslie headed home and I walked around the bay on the South Bay trail, which I didn’t mind doing because I have not seen fisher tracks in a while and that’s one trail they often cross. But I saw none today, nor did they cross the East Trail which they often do. A beaver had been out at the East Trail Pond. I how it had come up to the tree gnawing right along the edge of the East Trail high on the ridge.
I think the beaver gnawed a bit more in the main cut through the trunk and also girdled down low on the trunk. Of course, I can’t be sure how many beavers were up here. Perhaps the low girdling was done by a kit tagging along with an adult. The drag of a beaver’s tail makes it difficult to judge the number of beavers using a trail.
Not that I really tried to study the trail. I was content to see that a beaver had been up and eating, and judging from the trail, it looked like it came to the crest of the ridge and did a little work and then went down to where it had done more work, cutting another small oak.
There was a fresher trail to this work that came more directly across the slope, not veering up to the higher work.
Although that fresh trail veered too, dipping down the slope. Judging from the lines in the trail, the beaver dragged a branch or two back to the pond.
I had expected the large red oak they cut would break the dead branch it was leaning on and fall to the ground. But the dead branch still held it up.
I knocked some of the bark off the branch to begin chronicling the stress the falling tree was putting on the branch.
Perhaps next time I come, it will be down. I followed the trail so I could get a look at the hole and I saw that the beaver did not come out of hole it had been coming out.
Its trail went out on the pond. I didn’t follow, tired of going through the ice of this pond. I climbed up the steep slope, not easy in the icy snow, until I could see the hole the beavers are now using, out just beyond a clump of shrubs still a good ways from the lodge.
My guess is that some ice collapsed behind the hole they had been using, and so they fashioned another hole. From the high ground I was on, I scanned the pond for other holes and more areas where they might be working, but saw none, though sooner than later I should walk completely around this pond. Once again I didn’t see any fisher trails in the Fisher Woods, which is becoming worrisome, as these are reputedly easy animals to kill with a baited trap and certainly their ranges go beyond the park land where they are protected. There are more people on the island with laying hens. Rural values are bad news for wild animals. Crossing along the Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw a mink hole, which looked well used, but only one.
Otherwise there seemed to be no activity out on the snow of the pond, which is quite diminished from its glory years and even compared to last year. I angled up to the west end of the Lost Swamp Pond and saw that otters, the two pups I think, had been out of some holes just a bit to the east of the holes one used the other day.
The tracks came out of two principal holes, a long gap in the ice next to a small stump
and two big holes near the remnants of the upturned roots of a long dead tree.
Based on the scurry of tracks around all those holes, I think the two otter pups are back together. However, I didn’t see any clearly parallel tracks. Looking at the tracks breaking away from the holes, I could easily imagine a leaping pup,
and I don’t think a lonely pup behaves like. Usually when I see the tracks of a lone otter, there is not that much activity. I walked up toward the dam on the slope north of the pond. I saw another hole the otters used and thought I could get a better look at it from the solid ground. The ice along the shore of a pond from which water has drained is usually rather thin and brittle. I could make two trails going from a hole in the bank to a hole in the ice.
I took a close up of the prints in the closer trail and though I could see some prints clearly, I don’t know how to interpret what I saw.
There were no scats around, and no indication that an adult otter was with them, that is, no large slides. There were no signs of otter activity at the dam, and no mink action either. Those holes the otters were using, and I assume they are using the burrows there that go into the bank, are right where the mink has been active. I crossed the pond ice without incident and without seeing any otter activity outside their old latrine holes along the south shore. I only looked up the east end of the pond, and didn’t see any signs of activity though I surely couldn’t have seen any stutter of otter tracks coming out of the holes along the shore of the pond. I went to the Big Pond along the surveyor’s trail, no rabbit tracks, nor grouse, then veered up to the beaver lodge on the Big Pond. On the way, just when the scrubby nannyberry and dogwood shurbs give way to a few conifers, I saw that something had stripped the bark off the bottom of a small cedar girdling it.
There were old deer tracks on the trail I usually use, but while I can picture a deer stripping off some of the bark, I can’t picture one going around the tree to girdle it. Looking closely I saw the tooth marks that looked like the concentrated gnawing of a beaver, not the bites of a deer.
But had the beavers been out? While I didn’t see much more work along that trail and no really fresh beaver tracks, when I got to the pond, I saw that the old trail from the hole at the east end of the beaver lodge looked freshened.
And there were more branches and logs stuffed into a new hole that seemed to be just freezing over.
So these beavers are managing to find food. The smaller branches are the convenient dogwood shrubs. There were also deer tracks around the lodge. Perhaps they are nipping off twigs from what the beavers have collected, not sure why deer wouldn’t find it more convenient to go right to the source of the twigs. I’m not sure where the few logs that the beavers brought to their hole come from. I suppose it is possible that they brought them out from a sunken cache so they could eat them on the ice. I walked down to the dam and saw no signs of activity there.
January 21 yesterday we went to our land, and I sawed one big ash log and hauled one out on a sled. We scouted around for tracks and didn’t see anything of interest. The beavers in the Last Pool seem snug in their snow covered lodge.
I walked down the pond toward the dam. Last year the beavers swam some 50 yards under the ice from their lodge just behind the dam, heading up pond, before they made a hole in the ice to get out onto the pond. So perhaps this year they’ll swim 50 yards down pond under the ice and make a hole to get out, but not yet. And down at the dam, two coyotes had crossed it, but no holes there either. Today was relatively warm, above 20F, cloudy with occasionally some snow falling. We headed for the Big Pond via Antler Trail. Since I was last out in the ponds, two days ago, we’ve had another inch of snow, which fell off and on last night. And judging from the dearth of fresh tracks that we saw, most of the snow probably fell early this morning. We did pick up one fresh coyote trail coming away from the Big Pond. When we got close to the Big Pond dam, we saw that the ice of the creek below the dam was stained brown.
I figured the otter had finally dug the hole in the dam deeper or dug another hole. However, where the hole in the dam had been, there were no signs of an otter being out and about at the dam
And no slides on the snow of the pond behind the dam, and no holes in the ice there.
That gave me the impression that the new hole in the dam -- it sounded like the water was running out a few yards from the old hole -- had just developed. And when I took my next steps along the dam, crossing over where the old hole is, I heard something splash into the water. It could have been a muskrat or a mink. I don’t think minks have much reason to drain the pond, and I think muskrats usually make holes when their burrows oriented laterally in the dam get out of hand. So I think an otter made the new hole and that I heard it swim away. But to prove that I will have to see slides on the pond around holes created in the ice by the water draining away. We walked up the pond to the active beaver lodge. I looked around some muskrat lodges but saw no signs of an otter coming out there. I was hoping to see fresh beaver tracks going from the hole they made next to the lodge, that would mean that a beaver might be up on the little ridge of shrubs getting something to eat. While there were no fresh tracks,
I could see that a beaver had been up out of the hole and dining on the twigs, branches and logs that they had collected there.
We went up the beaver trail into the brush. It didn’t look like they had gnawed any more on the girdled cedar. Leslie followed the trail up through the shrubs and finally came to the stump of an ash tree, 5 inches in diameter.
None of the cut tree was in sight, but the stump looked freshly cut. I took a photo of the trail the beavers took, looking back toward the pond.
Still no rabbit tracks on the way to the Lost Swamp Pond, no grouse tracks today. We saw one strange trail of what first looked like a big bobcat's tracks, then a big fisher's tracks, then it crossed our mind that it might be the tracks of a small domestic dog. The fresh snow blurred the tracks so that the photos I took didn’t make it any easier to identify.
Since the animal stayed in the woods, perhaps the best guess is fisher. It is not easy to track in those scrubby woods, and we still hadn’t checked the Lost Swamp Pond. At first glance nothing new on the pond stood out. Then we saw what looked like a hole in the ice at the tip of the peninsula between the southeast and northeast sections of the pond. Otters had a hole in that area a few weeks ago, and we soon saw that there was a new hole there.
Otters had taken a loop up and around the snow, even sliding in the snow back down to the hole.
This activity certainly had a the heft of an adult otter, but I can defend my two-pups-left-alone theory by arguing the pups going one after the other made that big impression. These slides feinted toward the southeast end of the pond, so we went over there. I saw old slides going into the hole in the ice about 10 yards away, and there was fresher slide going out of that hole.
The trail headed up the north shore of the southeast section of the pond, the fourth otter I’ve tracked going and coming that way.
Those are my old tracks to the right of the otter’s trail. Or was it two otters, one pup following the other. Here is a trail I saw six days ago that I think was made by one pup.
Here is what I saw today
That trail strikes me as being a little busier. However, I didn’t see two trails side by side going in the same direction. When an otter family is on the move, say a mother and two pups, I have seen separate trails now and then, suggesting that the otters are running together. In what I was seeing today, one pup might be several seconds behind the other pup and might strictly follow the trail as the path of least resistance through the snow. The trail checked out the usual holes along the edge of the pond.
And the otters checked out the old beaver borrow in the bank.
But they didn’t follow the old trail out to the lodge. They continued up the edge of the pond and found another area of sunken ice
to direct them out to the lodge.
It looked like they found a hole through the ice into the pond out where the beavers’ cache pile stuck through the ice. I didn’t go out for a closer look because I saw some possible tracks farther to the east in the middle of the pond but well away from the lodge. I walked up there first and saw a wild crisscrossing of otter slides.
The otters came out of a rather small hole in the ice.
These tracks looked older than the ones I had been tracking. They also looked relatively wide, which raises the question: did an adult come back to the pond? Now my brain was stretched under 100 yards under this pond, and making a bit of a dog leg to the right to get to the dam. All I can say is that time may tell. And that I have never quite seen the slides of an otter romp like this coming out of a hole in the middle of a pond. I checked the holes the otters had used on the south edge of the pond and didn’t see any fresh tracks there. Then I got as close as I dared to the beaver cache and couldn’t quite see the hole there. Then we walked back down and over toward the dam. It looked like otters had come out some of the gaps in the ice around the beaver lodge by the dam.
However, we didn’t any seen any otter action at the hole in the dam, nor down at the holes at the west end of the dam where the otters came out two days ago. As I crossed the pond, I sank a bit down into the slush. Cold as it has been the snow keeps turning to slush where it gets too deep on the ice. Leslie rather enjoyed seeing the activity around the holes in the ice, and to top it off we saw five woodpecker holes in a row high in a tree.