Friday, February 4, 2011

January 22 to 31, 2011

January 22 a cold front began to move in slowly, accompanied by light snow and the temperature slowly dropped down to zero and below during the night. However it warmed up in the afternoon, getting above 10F so we went to the land. The cold night combined with the snow continuing into the morning meant poor tracking so we took a hike through the valleys and ridges most beautiful in the snow, and most accessible, down Grouse Alley and up the Second Gully through the Hemlock Cathedral and then down the First Gully back to Grouse Alley. (We have to come up with better names for those gullies.) At the wide opening to Grouse Alley, Leslie showed me a red squirrel’s nest low in a honeysuckle bush along a trail she recently cut back.

There were squirrel tracks around and perhaps one climbed up neighboring shrubs and then came down to the nest. A little farther along the trail we saw a cocoon that, unfortunately, looked a little damaged.

We both agreed that sandstone blocks bear the snow more artfully than granite boulders, though the most striking photo to frame was of a bare sandstone face with light green lichens.

There were no rabbit tracks in the usual places, no deer about. So I tracked Leslie, which was pleasant enough.

Then coming down the First Gully, we finally picked up a fresh trail. I said it was a coyote’s, because the trail was narrow. Leslie said deer because she thought she saw hoof marks in some prints. I think I won the argument when we saw the trail going under a low fallen tree without any double clutching that a deer would have to do to squeeze under that.

Getting back to the house we saw that the porcupine made it up from across the road but not as far into Grouse Alley as usual.

January 24 it dawned ten below zero on the 23rd and never got above zero despite a beautiful bright sun coursing all day through a cloudless blue sky. We both took two brief walks, one down to a friend’s dock closer to the open channel of the river, where we saw the mallard, mergansers and golden eyes spread throughout the open water, and three swans together. That and the constant fog coming off the water are nice tokens of warmth. Also hanging around our house, frequently looking out the windows, we were entertained by three eagles. Two flew over us, both perched on a tree across the street, one eating something. Leslie went out after it left and saw that it dropped some goose feathers and, we assume, a bit of goose flesh. At dawn this morning, the temperature dropped to minus 20; by noon it was at zero. We went to the land, more to get groceries on the way, but we were curious to see what animals had been out in the cold. We walked down the road to the Deep Pond and because the snow plow had just gone through we didn’t see tracks on the road. However, we did see what looked like bobcat tracks coming to road roughly taking the route bobcats usually take through our land.

We saw some flecks of blood along the trail. I couldn’t get a definitive photo of a print, but the gait was a bobcat’s as well as the relative lightness of the tread compared with a coyote or deer.

We back tracked the trail and soon lost it in a crisscrossing of deer trails. There were no coyote tracks on the Deep Pond, as usual. One deer had walked along the shore below the high bank browsing vegetation. Then we checked our house and saw mouse tracks going under our flipped over water tub,

And a weasel, making some impressive leaps, came out from under one of the woodpiles

And the porcupine came across the road, under the house briefly and then up to Grouse Alley. No rabbit tracks. When the temperature finally got above zero, I bundled up and headed for the Big Pond. As it warmed up in the night, another inch or two of snow was expected, so I wanted to get a look at the beaver ponds to see if the otters came out on the ice. I didn’t expect any signs of beavers getting out because the temperature has been well below 20F. I recollect that years ago I saw fresh otter slides around these ponds when the the temperature had been around zero for a day or so. Fortunately, going up Antler Trail, the wind was at my back. Then I saw fresh mouse tracks up on the granite plateau which warmed me a bit. These animals race through the cold in an area which seems rather meager for them even when there is no snow.

Then I looked up along the trail and saw that I was forcing two deer to get out of their snowy beds just at the edge of flat top of the ridge.

These were big deer that had left large beds.

I was able to follow deer trails almost all the way along Antler Trail and saw that at least one coyote joined the trail. Approaching the Big Pond I could first see that a little water was still coming out of the hole in the dam, and when I got onto the dam I could smell the water -- like rotten eggs. Once again I expected to see otter slides on and behind the dam, but I only saw a mink trail coming out of the snow where the first hole in the dam is, the hole that is not leaking now.

And there were no otter slides behind the dam. Meanwhile I heard birds, and looking down at ribbon of flowing water below the dam, I saw some robins getting a drink or caging warmth from the 32F water.

I got out on the pond and angled up to the surveyor’s trail to the Lost Swamp Pond. I was cold enough to make me want to take the most direct route. There were no new tracks in the woods and I didn’t see any new wrinkles on the pond as I walked out on it. Where the otters had their hole with slides around it was now snowed over without a trace.

I did see fresh otter slides over at the lodge next to the dam. Some of the slides I saw here 3 days ago were snowed over, so what I saw was relatively fresh,

But did an otter make them? Walking around the dam, I saw that the activity to the right of the lodge funneled into a mink trail. The tunneling mink even quaked the hard snow up like a mole mounds the dirt.

And I saw how the mink leaped up on the rock and off on its daily rounds.

However, there was another trail coming out of the same hole into the pond that the mink used and that went perpendicular to the mink trail and it certainly looked like the trail of a leaping otter.

The temperatures have been so low, and beavers are not in this lodge, so I probably could have walked right up to the hole and trails, but getting wet in this cold, with a long walk to get back home, would not have been smart. But I am almost positive an otter has been out here. However, there were no other signs of otter activity, not at the dam or any other holes they have been using. I walked out to the active lodge in the southeast end of the pond, and only saw coyote tracks there, usually straight but sudden dances of tracks that I couldn’t account for. Do coyotes get sudden spasms of joy or prefer to fight right in the middle of ponds?

I bent myself to get home using the exact same trail I used to get to the ponds, anything to save energy and time. But when I got back to the Big Pond, I began to feel warmer. Once my mind, and imagination were engaged in tracking, I began to feel warmer. Tracking is not like walking to the post office to get the mail. So I veered off my trail to go up and check the beaver lodge in the upper end of the Big Pond. I saw some fresh tracks there that from afar looked like coyote tracks but I thought I should make sure. What I saw amazed me. Beavers are not supposed to come out when the temperature is under 20F, say the books, and have never come out when it was under 15F in my experience, but it certainly looked to me like a beaver had come out almost certainly during a time period when the temperature never got above 5F.

The wide troughs, unlike what an otter would leave, indicate that a beaver was out, plus most of the branches and twig that the beaver had collected around the hole in the ice had been eaten. The trough in the background of the photo above which looked fresher than the others went to the branches collected in and around a hole in the ice that had frozen over a few weeks ago.

That a beaver came out at all in such cold suggests that it was very hungry. But then again, it didn’t eat everything sticking up out of the ice and snow. Then the hole the beaver came out of was interesting. It looked to me that the water level in the pond below the hole had dropped enough so that when the pond water there froze its ice was under the hole the beaver had made in the original ice of the pond.

One reason beavers don’t come out of holes when in deep cold is because while they are away the water in the hole can refreeze making escape from a predator, like a coyote, tricky. That said the brown stains on the ice outside the hole suggest that the beaver was wet when it climbed out of the hole. Eventually I’ll get right over the hole and look down it, but, again, today was not the day to take chances doing that. Then there was another complication. It was clear that coyotes had been to the hole too, and they left the only decipherable prints around the hole.

The coyote trail headed off up the slight ridge to the north,

I followed the trail as far as I dared in the cold, and saw a few flecks of blood in it.

I would have continued but I stopped seeing blood. So? I really didn’t see any signs that a coyote attacked a beaver. Coyotes killed a beaver from this pond two winters ago, but it was killed in the tall grasses beside the pond probably as the beaver was foraging for trees well away from the pond. The beaver trails today were very short and seemed methodical enough and no blood was around them. Now I was sure the temperature had risen to 10 degrees; not that I tarried on my way home, since the sun was going down. I took a photo of the back of the Big Pond dam showing all the opportunities an otter would have to make a hole in the ice there.

When I got inside Leslie said the temperature was 3F about the same as when I left the house two hours earlier.

January 25 it slowly began to warm up today, and another inch or two of snow accompanied the warmth. In the afternoon, I walked across South Bay to see what tracks might be there and see if the snow and ice was good for cross-country skiing. Until I got close to the north shore, I thought the below zero temperatures had cured the snow on the bay of slush, but I was wrong and once again sank into the wet -- not good for skiing. Then I went up on shore to check Audubon Pond. I more less walked around the pond and saw no animal tracks at all and I should have been able to see some impressions despite the morning snow. I didn’t see any signs of activity around the beaver lodge.

So here, the cold keep everything quiet. Going back across the bay, I dipped down to where I was sure there might be tracks, and once again saw a mink trail going into the cattails along the point. And the mink or minks beat a trail so wide to holes caused by ice uplifting over a rock in the bay that I first thought an otter might have made the trail.

It was hard to tell if the gaps in the ice gave any access to the water below, probably not.

I also walked down to check the willow lodge, as I call it, where over the years I have seen much activity by beavers and otters in the summer. I did see a large hole into the lodge, but no signs of any animals using it.There were several old trails along the shore left by browsing deer.

January 26 we headed off in the morning to check the holes in the beaver ponds to see what the otters and beavers did as the temperature warmed up. It was 30F as we headed off. We saw four deer in the woods along Antler Trail. I forgot to mention that when I came back from my hike yesterday there was a considerable herd of deer browsing out on the golf course, probably 50 at least, though I didn’t pause to count. We found that we were following fresh deer tracks more or less all the way to the Big Pond. Again there were no fisher tracks. There was a neat trail of a mink coming up and over a big boulder on the ridge above the creek draining the Big Pond.

We promised to track it on our way back, if tracking otters didn’t exhaust us. Again a mink was working the Big Pond dam and then, at last, the otter that I think has been in the pond for over a week showed that it was indeed there.

Well, I could easily see the slide of one adult otter, but with all that activity could there have been other otters? There were no otter slides below the dam, and looking at the activity from out on the ice, it looked like only a large otter went up on the dam.

So I can cling to my one adult otter theory. Not only did the otter not venture far from the dam, nor scat on the ice, it also did even widen any of the hole into the pond that formed naturally behind the dam.

There were no signs of otters as we headed up pond, and Leslie checked the south shore as I walked up the north. I expected to see a fresh beaver trail from the lodge, showing that a beaver went on shore and to collect some more twigs. There was a new trail, not that fresh, and there were just a few new twigs collected at the hole.

In the photo above Leslie is standing where the new trail went, and we were ready to see where it led, but found that it looped right back to the hole by the lodge.

It’s possible that the new twigs by the hole were brought over from the collection of twigs on the other side of the lodge. There were no otter slides or prints around the hole and no coyote tracks around.

With the warmer temperature, I was brave enough to get up close enough to the hole to get a photo of how deep it was and the condition of the pond under it. There is water under the hole, frozen but with only the most recent light snow on it. However the north side of the hole was free of ice and water.

When we got to the Lost Swamp Pond we saw what looked like a good bit of action around the beaver lodge in the southeast end of the pond. Judging by the size of the hole in the ice in the middle of the beavers’ cache, the beavers had been out, but otter slides all around the hole covered up any signs that the beavers had been there. Unfortunately the sun was not out and slides did not photograph well, since beavers had probably been swimming under the ice, I dare not get too close to the hole in the ice.

I could see that the water in the hole though slushy was open and there was no gap between the water and ice.

It was curious that the slides around the hole did not look wetter and muddier. Pond water in the winter is a lot less muddy than when more animals are active in it. The otters also went up on the lodge.

Where did the otters come from or go to next? Also some of the slides looked plenty wide enough to be an adult's. My theory that two otter pups had been left alone in this pond was looking more and more tenuous. I walked over to the south shore where I had seen slide of an otter coming out a few days ago, and sure enough there were fresh slides coming in and out of the old holes.

Since the ice seemed to end at where the otters had their last hole, it looked like a good hole to stick my camera down and get a photo of the under ice world that the otters find so attractive.

The light at the end of that section of the now dry beaver canal comes from another hole the otters made. Judging from the slides the otters came out here only to go right back in. Meanwhile Leslie was snooping around the shore of a bay of sorts that brought the water of the Lost Swamp Pond closest to the Big Pond. She saw that the otters did get out from under the ice there through four different holes.

It looked like some otters made feints up into the grasses but most of them did not go far.

However Leslie saw one trail she was sure might go to the Big Pond. It followed an old beaver canal,

and then disappeared into a hole that seemed to go under the ice now covering the canal. I had been up and down that canal several times over the years, and was skeptical but didn’t discourage her from trying to track the otters back to the Big Pond. Meanwhile, I back tracked myself to see if there were otter slides back at the lodge near the dam and the other holes the otters have been using this month. There was nothing new at the lodge by the dam nor the dam, not even any bold new mink tracks. I went far enough down the west end of the pond to convince myself that otters had not been out there. However, along the southwest shore of the pond, just a bit east from the old bank lodge, the otters had come out of an old hole and made some looping slides in the snow.

And at the hole along this shore that they had last used, about a week ago, there were fresh slides and a scat at the end of one short trail.

I went back to the Big Pond to see what Leslie found. She did not see any otter slides coming out of the part of the ridge where the beaver canal from the Lost Swamp ended. Taking the line of that canal she wound up in the Upper Second Swamp Pond which she found rather small with no signs of activity on it or its dam. To be sure that the otter or otters in the Big Pond were not the same otters in the Lost Swamp Pond, I checked below the Big Pond dam and made sure that an otter hadn’t come up or down the little valley there. We crossed the mink tracks on the ridge that we saw at the beginning of our hike and we were too tired to track the mink. Before the bitter cold was fatiguing, now with the warmth, the snow is wetter, and always getting a little deeper with our almost daily light snowfalls, and wet is harder to get through. We may soon be using our snowshoes.

January 27 we went to the land to if there were more animal tracks now that the temperature has been over 20F. We walked down the road, and because the snow plow had been through there weren’t any tracks. We only saw a few deer tracks beside the road. We walked out onto White Swamp and walked along the high ridge forming the south shore of the huge swamp to see if otters were using the holes along the bank that they’ve used off and on for several years. But today there were no signs of otters, and no other tracks either. There were no tracks on or around the Deep Pond. Heading down Grouse Alley I followed a relatively fresh porcupine trail, that came from across the road and around our house. It stopped at a hemlock just where Grouse Alley narrows, and then returned, not following an older trail going farther along.

The porcupine had a den a few yards away, but hasn’t used it since a dead birch tree fell down near it. Branches somewhat block the entrance.

One would think that a porcupine would like a little more cover for such a relatively open den, but come to think of it, I’ve never noticed a porcupine den entrance concealed in any way. Since the temperature did get over freezing yesterday, I expected to see that the beavers in the Last Pool had broken out from under the ice again, but no, I only say more snow piled up on the pond and the lodge. Indeed, surrounded by tree trunks and cache piles bulging with snow, it is hard to see the lodge.

I walked down the east shore of the pond where the snow was not of the deep because of the many tall trees there.

I looked for holes in the ice but saw none. There were some deer tracks on the pond, but the deer didn’t beat down the ice to make a hole, as they’ve done here in other winters. The dam was undisturbed.

I didn’t see any rabbit tracks or porcupine trails here. Yes, beaver ponds increase biodiversity, but not here this winter.

January 28 we woke up to a gentle snow, and continued warm temperatures, around 30, but since we only had a little over an inch of new snow, I thought we could hike to the beaver ponds and still be able to tell if the otters and beavers had been out in the last 48 hours. The snow in general is probably around 8 inches deep, just about time for snowshoes, but we trusted that our old trail to the Big Pond would still be relatively easy to walk on. However, I also wanted to check on the beavers in the East Trail Pond and any trail I had to it was over a week old. Then as we headed up Antler Trail, Leslie talked about touring the spruces northwest of the Big Pond, and I got the great notion of veering off Antler Trail, going down to the spruces, then going through the woods to the Second Swamp Pond dam, and from their to the East Trail Pond. Then on the way back home we would go via the Big and Lost Swamp Ponds. At first this new plan seemed to make a lot of sense because it was far easier going down the ridge to the spruces then it would be climbing up the ridge from the spruces. And as always in the snow, the spruces were beautiful.

North of the spruces are some taller pines and I tried to pick my way around them, knowing that the snow would not be as deep there. We rather enjoyed walking in these relatively open woods over unblemished snow and through a moderate snowfall. Then I got the feeling that I was lost! That I was walking down the wrong valley. I haven’t been lost for years in this area that I know so well, and it was a pleasure. But the snow was deep, so rather than continue down a path that would take us to South Bay, I adjusted our route, went over a small ridge and found the valley down to old Otter Hole Pond, now a meadow. Leslie turned west, taking a familiar path to South Bay. I pressed on through the Fisher Woods and across the lower part of the East Trail Pond. I didn’t see any fisher tracks. Between the spruces and the East Trail Pond I crossed three widely separated porcupine trails. Then I veered off the trail up the north ridge overlooking the pond, and took photos of the hole the beavers were using a week ago and that now looked bigger.

I saw why. A beaver was dragging a branch across the snow of the pond toward the hole. I switched my camera to video and watched as the beaver dragged the branch into the hole, now and then nipping off twigs to better get the branch into the hole.

Its tail flipped up out of the hole as it tried to push the branch along. Then it came back out and headed down its trail to the ridge. It stopped frequently and I couldn’t be sure if it had found something to nibble or was just catching its breath.

When it got near the ridge, I could no longer see it. I went back to the trail and up the ridge and when I saw the beaver again it had already cut another small branch, soon got a grip on it and headed back down the ridge to its hole.

I kept checking to see if another beaver came out of the hole in the ice, but none did. And I think the beaver that was watching me began to sense me. It dropped the branch it was dragging, continued toward the hole and rather than just pause, as it often did, it stood up and sniffed the air. I guess that convinced it that it wasn’t in great jeopardy because it went back and picked up the branch it dropped and took it to the hole. I didn’t see it dive down into the hole, but I didn’t see it again for several minutes, so I assumed it did swim under the ice back to the lodge. The tree it was trimming was the red oak that it cut two weeks ago and that had hung up on a dead branch of another oak. Last time I was hear the branch seemed to be weakening, I thought it would give way, and it did.

The beaver also stripped some bark off the downed trunk.

Last winter when this family was in Meander Pond it cut red oaks bigger than this one and they remained hung up on other trees. I could tell by fresh trails in the snow that a beaver checked now and then to see if the tree had fallen. One beaver even climbed up rather high on one of the leaning oaks. Since walking to this pond was daunting enough and since I actually saw the beaver and since it was still snowing, I decided to go home via the East Trail and check on the otters and other beavers tomorrow. I took a look at the beavers’ hole in the East Trail Pond one more time and was surprised to see that the beaver was walking down the trail again heading toward the ridge. I watched it come to ridge, where I could no longer see it, and then hurriedly repositioned myself so I could see the beaver come up its trail to red oak it was trimming, but I made too much noise. The beaver never came up the ridge, and I got back over on the ridge from where I could see the hole just in time to see the beaver heading that way.

So, I had disturbed it enough and had an easier hike home taking trails that I and others had used.

January 29 a beautiful sunny day and the temperature stayed below freezing. We went to our land first and I split the maple and bitternut hickory logs I’ve been cutting. Then I briefly checked the Deep Pond for tracks and only saw Leslie’s. Then I split one of the ash logs I cut and dragged half of it up to my sawing rock near the house. Finally, I went down Grouse Alley and noticed that the porcupine who has been going there expanded its range again, and may even be looking for a new place to den.

I finally saw some of the gnawing the porcupine has been doing. It is picking on the smallest hemlock.

I expected to see nothing new at the Last Pool, and at first glance all I saw was undisturbed snow. Then I noticed that some branches in the cache seemed to have sunk lower in the snow.

I was wearing snow shoes which made me a bit bolder about walking on the pond and approaching the cache. I walked around toward the south side of the lodge and saw that the beavers had made a hole in the ice and went up into their cache and brought small branches back to their hole.

There was a trail going around the east side of the lodge but it didn’t seem to lead to anything, though if there was a hole I probably couldn‘t have seen it. So once again, the beavers or at least one beaver came out, went around the lodge, but didn’t go far to forage for more food, which, I suppose, means that things are going well inside the lodge.

After lunch I strapped on snow shoes again and headed off to check the otters in the beaver ponds. I took our usual trail directly to the Big Pond dam. I paused as I walked along the creek coming out of the Big Pond dam because I saw some tracks in the snow by open water, not otter tracks, but robin tracks and I saw the bird looking stunned as it stood next to the running water.

Up at the dam I saw that otters had been out and I was soon confused. Of course, otter slides in the snow are often the boldest strokes to be seen in a winter landscape and some of these slides were gouged down to slush.

I have been supposing that one adult otter was in this pond, denning at the dam, based on my seeing one adult slide coming into the dam 10 days ago and not seeing any slides leaving the pond. Two days ago I saw slides behind the dam which seemed a bit exuberant for one otter. With all these slides today, it is harder for me to think that there is just one adult otter because some of the slides are narrow made by an animal with a short stride, much like a pup.

But more surprising than that (I come out here to find challenges to my theories) was clear evidence that the otter or otters were collecting grasses around the pond, mostly the sedges.

I have seen an otter collecting grass with its mouth and swimming with it to a beaver lodge where it was wont to sit. I assumed it was making a comfortable nest. In this case I assume an otter was taking the grass under the ice for a nest there. Since I like the winter sunshine so much, I’d like to believe otters like to come out and bask in the winter sun, but I have never seen evidence for that, so I don’t think this grass was collected to make a nest on the ice. I saw where the otter was getting grass. A trail led to the first patch of grass behind the dam.

There were slides going up the dam

And when I went below the dam, I saw that the otter went there to get to other grass patches.

The only flaw in my explanation for this behavior is that the otter clearly didn’t cut the largest stalks, those presented by the cattails, but as a close-up shows, it cut thin grass stalks down where the grass was still green.

There were no signs of the otter or otters coming out anywhere else in the pond, and the beaver did not come back out of its hole at the lodge up pond. I was also surprised at the Lost Swamp Pond. My theory had two otter pups living here, rather shyly, sometimes making tentative forays out in the snow. But two days ago, I saw rather bold slides all around a large hole in the ice in the middle of the cache beside the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. Today I didn’t see any slides out there, but I did see otter slides around the beaver lodge by the dam, and slides behind and up on the dam.

Much of this bold display was not characteristic of shy otter pups. But there was at least one looping trail coming from the holes near the lodge that looked to have the gait of an otter pup.

Some of the slides around the lodge were roughly retracing where the otters had gone before, but others found new places to explore, like right to the top of the lodge.

Then there was a trail looping from the lodge 10 yards or so out into the pond.

Another trail came out to a hump of ice around one of the biggest dead trees in the pond.

Looking toward the dam, it looked like the otter came out and found a hole in the hump, but looking from the dam it looked like the otter circled over the hump and came back the same way it went out.

Again this looked like the slide of a big otter. The slides were also big coming up from the hole in the pond behind the hole in the dam and up to the latrine, where otters left scats.

A close up of the scats seems to show a squirt of urine forming a puckered line in the snow.

While the otters went up on the dam, they didn’t go over it, nor dig the hole in the dam any deeper. An otter also came out of a hole a little farther to the west along the north shore.

Here again the slide looked big. There was one characteristic of these new slides that suggested the young otters made them: they didn’t go anywhere, just up, out a few yards and back. When an adult otter was in the pond, it did some trekking over the pond. The mink is also still around and I couldn’t resist taking another photo of its neat trail and tunnels along the north shore of the pond.

Getting back across the pond became dicey as I began sinking into the slush. I saw that an otter had come out of a hole next to a collection of little dead tree trunks, where the otters had come out before. Here again the otter came out but didn’t go far before going back into the hole.

Half way out to the lodge in the southeast end of the pond, I took off my snowshoes since they were caked with wet snow. I didn’t see any signs of otters coming out of holes in that end of the pond. I noticed an otter slide that went up on top of the lodge, which I didn‘t notice when I was here three days ago. While otters had been around this lodge since then, I don’t think they were just out, like they have been down at the dam.

There were plenty of coyote tracks, even some dancing about, and one area of strange rectangular choreography.

Once I got back on the snowshoe trail I made on the way out, the going was relatively easy. I took a break at the Big Pond dam sitting on the old day tree trunk at the south end, my perch I call it. I had my jacket unbuttoned, gloves and hat off. Then I felt a cold northwest wind that chilled me and what water vapor the bright sun had inspired to rise came back down as snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky.

January 30 it went well below zero last night but got far enough above by late morning that we hiked out to check on the otters in the beaver ponds. The snowshoe trail made yesterday made for easy going, and our trek along Antler Trail was uneventful. The cloudy days did not bode well for good photographs, but the otter or otters at the Big Pond dam made it easy for us to get some idea of what they may have been up to. The grass they had piled on the ice behind the dam was no longer there and gave the impression of having been picked up and carried away.

Otherwise I couldn’t be sure there were any new slides. We checked the beaver lodge in the upper end of the pond and there was nothing new there. Over at the Lost Swamp Pond, we decided to check the far southeast end of the pond because that was the only likely area where the otters might have come in or gone out of the pond that I had not checked for three weeks or so. Back then I had determined that at least one otter had come out of holes in the ice where a feeble inlet creek comes into the huge pond, but as far as I could tell then, the otter leaving the hole didn’t go out of the pond or come from outside the pond. Walking up the pond we saw tracks from the same coyotes who left the trails that I saw yesterday. Then we saw a hole in the ice about where the hole was that the otters had used, if not the same hole. However it looked like only minks were using it.

And judging from a close look at the hole, a big otter had not used it.

We continued up to the old dam at the east end of the pond, at least I did. There was no trail to walk on there. I only saw old faded coyote tracks on the old dam, and no holes in the dam. It is such bad repair I doubt that it holds back any water and what water there is behind it sits in a hole dredged by beavers back when they did maintain this dam -- several years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. Coyotes had been up the field beyond, and no doubt deer, but no signs of otters.

We headed back to the Lost Swamp Pond, which by the way, though the otters put a hole through this winter, has been in holding back water well for over 20 years. I couldn’t be sure that an otter had been out of the holes around the beaver lodge by the dam, but one had made a hole in the hump of ice around a big dead tree.

And think I think an otter went from a hole on the far right side of the hump, barely seen in the photo above, over to the lodge. From a distance I saw a choppy gate and no slides which suggests that a pup made the trail.

There were no new slides or holes just behind the dam that I could see. However, I saw a deep trough in the snow, going over the route the minks have taken here all this month, that was so deep that I think an otter did it.

There was an open gap under the ice that an otter could have gone into, and the trail continued, maybe to another hole. A few yards farther along, I saw that an otter had come out of a bigger hole in the ice that I saw yesterday that otters had used, and today there were more tracks outside it.

These slides looked large like an adult made them, but again, the otter or otters didn’t go far so perhaps the crisscrossing back and forth of one or two pups left troughs that looked like they had been left by an adult otter. Obviously I am still looking for ways to reconcile all the activity I saw yesterday with my previous observations that there were two otter pups in the Lost Swamp Pond and that their mother moved over to the Big Pond. After we got through the slushy parts of the Lost Swamp Pond, our hike home on the same trail we took out was uneventful.

January 31 it got down to about ten below zero early this morning. It warmed up enough after lunch for us to enjoy some short hikes at our land. Going down Grouse Alley, following the freshened trail of the porcupine that crosses the road every day to browse trees on our land, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of a trail of yellow pee that it left.

The porcupine did not go far down his trail, stopping at the first hemlock. I think how far it goes down the trail depends on the temperature, which makes sense. I didn’t see any signs that the beavers had been out of their hole near their lodge in the Last Pool, though with better light I got a better photo of the hole, now frozen over.

On my way back down Grouse Alley, I noticed a small porcupine quill in the snow, never seen that before, quite beautiful to look at, same color as the pee.

I also went to check the First Pond and Teepee Pond and finally found some nice collections of rabbit poops,

And a nexus of rabbit tracks, most looking fresh, so last night’s cold probably didn’t daunt the rabbits.

No signs of any animals other than deer, and one tentative rabbit trail, out on the ponds.

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