January 8 we crossed the South Bay ice again to see if otters had been about along the upper north shore. We did see some eagles, two along the edge where the ice meets the water, and one eagle stayed perched in a tree along the north shore allowing us to get close before it flew off.
About three inches of snow completely covered the old tracks and slides and we didn’t see any new slides in the snow. The newly formed ice now had a snow cover, which made some very striking designs,
But looking closely, I thought I could see where something had broken the ice in patterns much like an otter foraging underneath would make -- ice broken in blocks as if something pushed it up from below.
The trail led from open water to a pool of open water below the latrine up on the shore they often use,
But there were no signs of an otter having been up on that latrine since the snowfall of yesterday. Leslie went farther up the point to enjoy the ice patterns and I headed for the Lost Swamp Pond to see if otters came out there. I approached the pond from the west and when I looked down at their latrine on the ice above the gap between the ice and the shore at the far west end of the pond, I thought I saw sure signs that they had been out. There were several trails going from the old gap to another gap around a tree trunk lying in the pond.
And I saw one slide going from one crack in the ice to another, flanked by a couple of mink trails.
I walked down on the ice to get a closer look at the latrine at the west end of the pond. The otter tracks were not fresh and almost gave the impression of two otters coming to the east making two distinct trails and then both taking the same trail back, but maybe not. There were no scats that I could see.
I went up to the dam expecting to see fresh slides and scats there, but I don’t think an otter had been out there. Something had been belly down in the snow right next to the hole in the ice behind the hole through the dam, but there were three mink trails going there, so minks probably did the sliding there.
Otters could not come out on the ice and then go back in without making more of an impression. I crossed the pond over to the holes on the south shore where I saw slides two days ago. I saw no new slides, but took a photo of the old slides to show how much they had faded thanks to the light snow we keep having every day.
The slides I saw today at the west end of the pond look fresher than these, but I had not closely looked at that west latrine two days ago and it is impossible that I was too far away to see those slides and that they aren’t as faded because that area of the pond is more out of the wind. I needed to see new slides around the holes I closely examined two days ago. And then as I continued along the south shore, heading east, I saw a slide, made by one adult otter heading east up the middle of the pond. It was not fresh, but it was definitely made after I inspected the pond two days ago.
Blown snow obscured the slide in the middle of the pond, and I didn’t see any slides or new otter holes on the north shore of that southeast section of the pond. Thanks to the otters digging the hole in the dam deeper, the pond ice in general was sloping toward the center of the pond, and, along the shore the ice was dropping below burrows in the bank that might have been useful to otters, and beavers for that matter. There were mink trails to the burrows and to gaps in the ice.
There were no signs that anything had gotten out from under the ice around the beaver lodge, but I picked the otter slide up again near a collection of dead shrub trunk, sticking out of the ice, about 30 yards east of the beaver lodge.
The trail of the adult otter kept going up to the east end of the pond. Since it was so difficult to see the trail, I did not follow. I checked the holes on the south shore close to the lodge, that otters had used, but there were no signs that otters had been out there in the last two days. I began to form the notion that the mother otter had left her two pups behind at the west end of the pond and headed east out of the pond. However, in my experience this is a bit early for a mother to separate from her pups--usually she’ll wait at least until the end of January, and last year the mother here didn’t separate while the snow was on the ground, and, I think, was still with her pups through May. And twice I've seen slides of an adult going to or coming from the east with no pups following. Then I theorized that the mother liked to travel one way under the ice, while her pups kept under the ice until they could come out through a hole in the ice. Perhaps time will tell. I went over to the Big Pond dam expecting to see that the beavers there had been out on the ice again, but the hole in the ice by their lodge, though jammed with shrub branches, looked well frozen.
I continued down to the dam where there was nothing new, then I headed home.
January 9 we went to our land to do some tracking and headed down to White Swamp first. I haven’t been down there yet this winter, and didn’t go much last winter after ascertaining that otters were not using their hole on the south bank of the huge swamp as they have in other years. We went down the trail from the road across from our land, and saw no tracks until we got down on the swamp where we saw the trails of a few coyotes, two or three.
In other years I’d often see the tracks from deer stamping on the ice trying to get to water, but we saw no deer tracks today. We walked down to the old otter latrine on the south shore and saw the faded slide of an adult otter.
It did not continue nor loop back so there was no way of telling what the otter was up to. The hole in the bank that it probably used had no slides or scats around it.
We walked down the south shore of the swamp looking for any hint of more otter slides, and saw none. Then I walked out on the ice about 50 yards and checked two muskrat lodges where in other years otters had made holes. A coyote was interested in the lodges, but not any otters, and there were no holes into them.
It looks like there are more muskrat lodges than usual on the swamp. We’ll check for beaver lodges when we ski on the huge expanse of ice and snow. I walked around the Deep Pond and saw one short coyote trail. Then as I headed up the ridge to get to Boundary Pond, I noticed a group of prints on a log.
They looked like coyote prints because they were big, but I rarely see coyote prints on a log. Then I began to wonder if they might be the prints of a bobcat in a hurry. So I followed them and twice again the animal danced on logs, not just going over them, but along them, which is very uncoyote like.
The prints were too big for a fox. I tracked the animal back to the pond and saw that it made the prints I first assumed were a coyote’s. Here again it didn’t make a trail like a coyote, who usually go boldly across and around the pond.
This trail soon headed into the bush and went through low thickets
until it got to the road.
To me the prints which first looked like coyote now looked more rounded like a bobcat's. And in the deeper snow seemed to have the touch of a bobcat rather than the heavier stab of a coyote.
I sent Leslie down to have a look and she had no doubt they were coyote prints. She did agree that the animal crossed the road after we had walked down the road, which may account for its furtive trail. Meanwhile she saw holes in the bank between the First and Second Ponds which she thought might have been made by an otter.
The holes were about the same size as holes otters make, though a bit smaller, but there was none of the muss and fuss that otters have around a hole, nor any signs of otters anywhere else on the pond.
January 10 we crossed South Bay in the morning and Leslie went up toward the Narrows, and I glanced at Audubon Pond. Seeing nothing new there, I headed off to the East Trail Pond via the South Bay and East trails. Again, there were no fisher tracks along the way. It has been cold enough since I was last at the East Trail Pond, rarely over 20F, to justify the beavers staying under the ice, but not cold enough to keep the beavers from coming out. I approached along the ridge north of the pond and saw that they had returned to the trees they had cut and were cutting at the side of the high point of the East Trail.
They stripped more bark off the log lying in the snow and almost cut a smaller log off it.
The trail through the snow up to the log was fresh so they have been there after the last snow.
They also revisited the trees they were working on lower down the ridge. They continued girdling a white oak and cut down a small oak next to it.
And the large red oak that they had almost cut down when I was last here, was now a stump and a trunk down on the ground leaning on the dead branch of another tree. Judging from the snow on the stump the tree separated before the last snow, probably just after I saw it 5 days ago.
The way the trunk fell is interesting. It didn’t fall the way I thought it would. Five days ago it looked like the trunk would fall across the stump
And instead it seemed to slip down away from the cut. I wonder how much more the beaver gnawed in the cut, or did wind and physics bring it down. I followed the beaver trail along the ridge,
And then down the ridge to a big hole at the edge of the ice of the pond.
This was not the hole they were using 5 days ago to get to their work. That hole was farther along the north shore of the pond. This is a large hole and looked a bit dry, which is to say, a beaver can climb out of the icy water below and still be hidden by the over hanging ice.
I didn’t stick my head or camera in the hole, since it looked like a beaver might come right out of it. Maybe next time. I tried to walk on the pond at a flatter area and the ice cracked and gave way before I fully stepped on it. So I continued along the edge of the pond and saw that the beavers’ old hole was frozen over and covered by snow. I saw more signs of beavers being out there as I headed toward the Lost Swamp Pond. I did see a fisher trail, generally heading in the direction of the beaver lodge in the East Trail Pond. Fishers usually stay in the woods. I crossed along the Second Swamp Pond expecting to see the mink holes that, during the thaw, I saw were surrounded with mink poop. But I didn’t see any holes used by minks, and only one mink trail. There were several coyote trails crossing the dam and I followed a well used deer trail through the grasses below the dam. I angled up to the Lost Swamp Pond so that I could first look down on the latrine at the gap in the ice at the west end of the pond. I saw that an otter or two had been out there, leaving a slide on the ground but nothing new up on the ice.
Unlike the last time I was here two days ago there were no slides between other holes in the ice at this end of the pond. However at the dam it looked like something had been out at the hole in the ice behind the big hole in the dam and up on the dam and rock near it.
But there wasn’t the usual definite otter slides. I took a close up photo of the prints and maybe they are from an otter pup, certainly not from an adult otter.
While I stood there trying to figure out what I was seeing, I looked over the dam and saw a mink. I couldn’t manage to get a photo of it as it ducked in and out of the vegetation and snow canyoned by the water flowing out of the hole in the dam.
Soon I saw the mink heading down to the Second Swamp Pond. I eased my way onto the ice of the Lost Swamp Pond and walked around to see if otters had been out of any of the other holes they have made through the ice. Since the otters deepened the hole in the dam, the ice has been collapsing, but not in the dramatic angular fashion as it did after the original breech in the dam, just collapsing down. I can now see the old beaver lodge in the middle of the pond that had been completely covered by water before the pond froze.
Over at the hole on the south shore where I last saw an otter slide leaving the hole and going to the east, I saw the slide of a pup coming into the hole.
The pup had tried, and I think failed, to get into the now frozen hole under the old shrub trunks in the middle of the pond,
And it came out of the hole just over on the north shore of the southeast section of the pond.
There may have been two pups on the ice here and maybe there was a slide big enough for an adult. Of course, I was seeing all this through the theory I had formed the last time I was here, that the mother had left her two pups. So now when I saw a trough in the snow perhaps wide enough to be made by an adult, I say instead that it was made by two pups. I walked up toward the east end of the pond up to the active beaver lodge and didn’t see any signs of otters. I went along the boundary line to the Big Pond and flushed two grouse. One from the ground and one from a pine tree. In some winters I’ve flushed 5 grouse at a time here. I took the deer trail through the brush up to the beaver lodge and saw that the beavers here had not been out, despite the bouquet of shrub branches frozen in the ice next to their lodge. But I soon forgot about beavers. A lone adult otter slide came down from the east end of the pond, around the beaver lodge and headed west.
I followed and had the pleasure of tracing an otter’s effort to get under the ice.
It had a nice steady slide and gait and was definitely an adult. It veered over to a tuft of grass but found no hole there.
Then it crisscrossed over some wet ice, but found no hole there, or didn’t find the ice weak enough to break through.
Then it investigated a muskrat lodge, but didn’t dig into it, obviously preferring to find one already compromised, but the minks and coyotes have been lax in doing that this winter.
Then it zigzagged from grassy shore to a dead tree trunk and then back to the shore, still finding no point on entry under the ice.
It veered over to the beaver lodge the beavers aren’t using, seemed to get some shelter under it, but found no hole into the pond below the ice.
Then the otter headed to the dam. It went over about at the spot where otters have been scatting, though this otter didn’t seem to sniff or scrape anything. It came back onto the pond, seemed to hesitate about which way to go and headed south toward where the water was flowing through the dam.
I expected to see if get into water there, but instead, before it got there, it ducked back into the grasses just behind the dam and dug a hole big enough for it to get under the ice.
That might be an old mink hole, likely is, because I didn’t see evidence of an otter digging there, Otters can dig -- they do dig through dams -- but in this case the otter trusted on its speed to get around the pond and find a hole already made. Plus, once it gets into the pond it probably prefers having a sense of other places where it might easily break out, like through muskrat and beaver lodge, and tree trunks where the ice melts more. As I approached the area of the dam where the leak was I heard a flock of birds and soon saw they were blue birds.
They were quite active flying around the dead vegetation mostly around where there was flowing water below the dam, not that I saw them go into or near the water. The glare in the southern sky made if difficult to get a good photo from where I stood, so I headed along the dam. When I reached the water flowing out of the dam, I heard something large dive into the water under the ice, obviously the otter.
So when I sat on my low dead trunk perch at the south end of the dam, I could look for bluebirds -- saw them but didn’t get a better photo, and no otter appeared. I heard a bird picking in the dead tree not far from me and kept looking over to see if that was a bluebird. Then a hairy woodpecker flew off to the north and right after that a dozen bluebirds flew up and off toward the southeast. Meanwhile Leslie saw fresh otter slides and scats at the latrine at the entrance to South Bay. I'll check that out tomorrow. After lunch we went to the land with some expectations, but no bobcat tracks, and only fresh mink tracks outside of the hole next to the First Pond.
No signs of otters there or around the Deep Pond.
January 11 on a cloudy morning with light snow, and cold, as days have usually been of late, we crossed the South Bay. We saw an eagle flying out over the open water but one smaller black lump remained on the ice. It was shaped like a bird and as we trudged on into the wind our watering eyes seemed to make it move. Then we got close enough to see that it was a crow and it did move, soon flew off, revealing what had been holding its interest, a dead pike laid out in the snow.
We couldn’t be sure how the fish got there. There were no ice fishermen around. Perhaps an eagle dragged it out as it floated in the water. We saw wounds on the fish but couldn’t be sure how easy it was pecking at that in these cold conditions. After we separated yesterday, Leslie saw otter activity in the snow at the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. Not seeing any activity to track on the South Bay ice, I went up to the latrine, and saw that something, presumably the otters, but there were other tracks around, scraped up the leaves under the snow.
The otters left a clear mark of their activity down on the rock between the bay and the grassy slope of the latrine. There were slides, now lightly covered with snow,
And there were scats.
Then we had to study the ice. An airboat had been out on the ice of the bay, but not close to the shore where we were, so the pattern of broken that froze again and been covered by light snow could be conjured to look like otters had been there.
The open water was not that far away -- a persistent north wind keeping it from freezing.
There were elliptical patches of water that had just frozen along the shore, and we studied them to see if there were any signs of otters climbing out from them.
There were bits of broken ice suggesting that but no really convincing patters and nothing suggesting otters came out on shore. The bottom there is largely made up of round stones and the water is quite shallow, making it a difficult place for an otter to forage, or so I think. We continued along the South Bay trail to the Narrows trail and I looked over the low rocks along the shore of the Narrows where otters sometimes scat. There were no signs of any activity there, even though there was a large patch of open water nearby.
I went up on the low rocky ridge and saw a well used deer carcass frozen in the ice in the middle of the Narrows.
That helps explain why we’ve seen so many eagles around here lately. I saw a fisher track up on the rocky shore were I was, and it too might have gone out on the ice for a bite of deer.
The porcupine that has been working the trees atop the east wall of the canyon that forms the Narrows did some tentative gnawing on a tree on these low rocks
Then as I studied the ice below one more time, I saw what looked like an otter slide coming up on shore.
I went down and one otter did come up, probably roughly the same time it and another otter visited the latrine at the entrance to South Bay.
The otter left a scat.
We went back through the woods and via Audubon Pond. I saw the fisher tracks in the woods veering over to the rocky cliffs. Nothing happening at Audubon Pond that we could see.
January 13 we had another 3 inches of snow yesterday but it did not make our going any tougher as we went on Antler Trail to the Big Pond. Indeed, the extra snow seemed to make the path smoother. Little sticks that can trip you up are now covered over. Again we had a cloudy, cold morning with a noticeable north wind. Deer and one coyote had used our trail. I saw only one deer along the way. Before we came up on the Big Pond dam, I showed Leslie where I had seen the bluebirds in the thickets below the dam three days ago. And today they were flying about in the same area.
Quite a treat. Leslie counted at least 9. Meanwhile I looked for signs of the otter coming out from under the pond. Water has just about stopped draining through the hole in the dam which suggests that the otter didn’t dig it any deeper. I couldn’t even find the hole it went into when it came into the pond 3 days ago. I didn’t see any fresh slides. However, I saw the faint outlines of an old slide coming out from a mink hole I didn’t notice the other day.
But I really can’t learn much from that. Meanwhile the ice in the middle of the pond had generally collapsed into the diminishing water below. We tried walked up the north edge of the pond where the snow was still white, but out boots sunk into slush. So we went back to the dam and then through the woods to the Lost Swamp Pond. I took a route that brought us right down to the otter latrine at the west end of the pond. The gap at the end of the ice was almost completely covered with snow, but we could see that something came out of the gap in the ice along the tree trunk a few yards into the pond.
Earlier the otters had gone from the gap at the end of the ice to the gap at the tree trunk. The ice there still held us and I got close enough to the tracks to convince me that they were made by otter pups.
Obviously they were not very venturesome. We kept on the ice and got to the slope forming the north shore of the pond, and then went along it to the dam. There otters had made a bigger impact on the ice and snow.
There was even some fresh scat roughly on the rock where the otters have been doing most of their scatting here.
I took a close look at the prints the otters left looking for a big one that would convince me that an adult otter was still here. But the size of the prints I saw was consistent with my theory that only pups are here. The water is still flowing liberally through the hole in the dam. We checked for slides below the dam, but only saw the trails the mink has made, rather fresh at that.
We eased our way back on the ice of the Lost Swamp Pond and got over to the holes along the south shore of the pond that the otters used three days ago, and here too we saw otters had come out for a very short foray in the snow.
And here too it looked like only pups had been out. We could also see fresh scats just out side the hole.
This helps confirm my theory that the mother separated. However, I had hoped that the mother would come back, that she had left only to scout out other opportunities. Perhaps she has and will come back. If she doesn’t, this early separation reminds me of the January when the mother left early and we found a dead female otter pup along the Big Pond later in the month, and the remaining pup hung around the ponds along for much of March and April, rather un-otter-like. If we continue to have good tracking conditions, perhaps we shall get a clear picture of what is happening. We continued on to the Big Pond, crossing a couple grouse tracks. There was no activity around the Big Pond lodge. The snow there was dry and we got across the pond and then up the ravine to the golf course. We saw the trail of one porcupine crossing the latrine but no signs of porcupines denning in the jumble of rocks there.
January 14 cold sunny morning and we headed across South Bay to see what happened to the dead pike and check for otter tracks. We didn’t find the dead pike but we did see a concentration of tracks of, we think, crows and eagles.
And the focus of their attention included a flattened area and it wasn’t hard to imagine that the dead pike had been there and was picked over until one eagle flew off with it.
However, we didn’t see one remnant of the pike. We did see wing prints
And just assumed the larger ones were made by eagles and smaller by crows, but seagulls could have been here too. I’ve seen crow wing prints in the snow over the years, but rarely, if ever, an eagle’s wing print. I took a photo of Leslie posing with the tracks, just to suggest that we were indeed dealing with big birds.
At the end of the trail she was facing, we saw a big claw print next to a big but delicate wing print.
As we faced the north shore of the bay we saw a line of tracks in snow shimmering in the bright sun behind our backs.
They were all made by coyotes going west up pond. We tried to follow but the ice soon became slushy -- that doesn’t give the coyotes pause, but we went up on the high dry north shore.
There was a coyote trail going east on top of the cliff forming the shore, going down pond the opposite direction of the tracks on the ice, and there was blood near the trail. No way to tell if the blood was from something caught or from the coyote, probably the latter. I saw that the coyote had come up from the ice and out on the ice saw where several coyotes may have romped together, or at least two, with one forced down leaving slides in the snow.
Perhaps the blood we saw along the trail came from a coyote mounted in sexual encounter, or one male forced to submit to another male. Some of the coyotes came up to the otter latrine on the grass above the rock ledge along the shore.
I’ve known from seeing coyote scat and scraping here that coyotes are interested in this area. This is the first time I’ve seen activity like this in the snow. From there at least two coyotes went straight up the ridge. We went up to get a look at the entrance to the Narrows which was iced in.Then on the way back I veered up to looked at Audubon Pond. The coyotes had been on that ice too but most of the trails were well apart from each other. In the afternoon we went to our land to see what animals might have been out there, and I moved some of the logs I had cut in the woods closer to the road. There were two coyote trails crossing the Deep Pond.
There were a few very short mink trails.
This mink who had been crossing the pond collecting and moving frogs it had caught has suddenly become very circumspect. When I headed off to where my logs were, I noticed a good bit of rabbit activity, and then in the midst of that I saw a large rabbit. It hopped over to the stone wall, got into a gap between the low stones and then poked its head out.
Of course, it ducked back under the wall when I walked closer. Farther along toward the woods I saw some strange tracks
A mix of rabbit and deer tracks and a pattern of curved stripes in the snow. That dead golden rod stalk was not long enough to have been blown down making those impressions. So did a big bird land, perhaps diving for a rabbit?