Monday, February 13, 2012

January 26 to 31, 2012

January 26 we went to our land to take a look around; with so little snow we didn’t expect exciting tracking but we miss not seeing all of our favorite spots. Of course, since a beaver is there, I always check the Deep Pond first. A raccoon also toured the pond.

The ice of the pond is retreating back from the dam especially and the rest of the north shore of the pond.

In the middle of the dam there is hole in the dam that can easily be seen.

There was a pretty good flow of water out of the hole that seemed to have worn down the mud there, revealing a good bit of green vegetation.

I saw no signs of any animal using that hole. While it was the only hole in the dam I could see, there were plenty of holes in the ice behind the dam.

There were no holes in the ice along the other shores of the pond nor any, as far as I could see, up the inlet creek.

So I think the holes formed behind the dam because the ice just behind it is dropping faster as water drains out of the pond. Not quite sure I fully understand this. Then I headed down Grouse Alley. The porcupine is still active there. I saw where it had a dainty taste of a tree,

and then climbed up and had a meal.

Then I headed up to the Hemlock Cathedral where we usual make several visits in the winter when snow hang heavy on the hemlock boughs. Not so charming this year, but the bog under the hemlock has ice stained here there with yellow tannin dye.

Looking closely at the ice, the yellow seems to run in veins.

Nonsense of course. Elsewhere white veins radiate through yellow ice.

Or is nature fashioning a yellow brick road in the longer bog?

I took a left at the end of the bog and followed the boundary line to the Boundary Pond. Two winters ago there was quite a bit of porcupine work, very little last year, and today I was treated to a striking stripped pole on the west slope of the valley.

Of course I looked down at the beaver-less pond below and the water level seemed relatively high for mid-winter. The ice looked level enough to suggest that not too much water had drained out from under it.

I also took a photo looking up pond which shows that the pond is a bit narrower than last winter, as I recall.

I walked down and stood on the ice behind the leak in the dam. From that perspective the ice level looks low, a foot if not two feet lower than last year. There was a large ribbon of water flowing down from the dam. Perhaps the leak is widening from the freezing and thawing.

I keep looking at the pond as if it were half full instead of half empty not because I expect beavers to return but because I am hoping for continued good habitat for frogs and turtles in the spring. Since the beavers moved up here three years ago there have been increasing number of peepers and green frogs, even some wood frogs. Plus a Blanding’s turtle came into the area last fall. Walking up pond I crossed a trail of raccoon tracks.

There were no holes in the ice so the raccoon walked more on the snowless ground flanking the pond ice. Heading up the wooded valley toward the Turtle Bog on the ridge, I saw that all holes were not in the ice. A pileated woodpecker has been mining some hemlock trunks.

The turtle bog looked quite long and wide, cant picture it fuller, with ice. Hopefully that will be good for the Blanding’s turtles there.

Not much happening at out other ponds.

January 28 I headed off to check on the East Trail Pond, but Leslie and I decided to go via the beautiful rock faced valley down to the Big Pond. Going down it today chiefly brought back memories of the exciting walks up and down during other winters. We only take this route in January and February when snow evens the path and ice makes it easy to get to the other side of the Big Pond. We only saw one tree gnawed by porcupines. Usually we see a few dens and several gnawed trees. I didn’t see a den until we got down to the low ridge of rocks just above the south shore of the Big Pond.

We’ve seen that den used winter after winter. Often the nearest gnawing is far from it, but not today. We saw a patch of work up on a maple a few feet from the den.

Because of the warmth, the ice on the Big Pond was a little squishy, but still safe. There was a thin layer of water between thin surface ice and thick ice below. With every step bubbles danced at my feet. Some coyotes crossed the pond when the surface was a half inch of slush, and their foot prints froze when it got cold enough last night and today’s warmth hadn’t evened them out.

I was hoping that the cold ice of the pond would preserve the inch of snow that fell last night. No such luck on the Big Pond, but I cold see tracks better on the Lost Swamp Pond. A raccoon walked down the middle of the pond to the dam crossing a coyote trail on the way. (I assume the tracks frozen in slush are the older ones today.)

One mystery this winter has been the few signs of minks. Usually they have these ponds well wired with tracks. Today I finally saw mink tracks coming to the hole of open water behind the Lost Swamp Pond dam.

There were also tracks in the ice radiating around holes in the ice above the main channel (just about the only channel there now) of the Second Swamp Pond.

Flashing as they were in the icy snow, the tracks made a trail big enough to be made by an otter, and the track pattern was otterly and the prints were almost big enough.

But I was pretty sure they were mink tracks. One animal went over to the old bank lodge where it appeared to dig through the snow into a hole. An otter would have left a much greater impression, not to mention a scat or two.

When I got over to the snow still deep along the shore, I saw a clear mink trail running out on the pond.

Continuing on to the East Trail Pond was uneventful, still no fisher tracks in the so-called Fisher Woods. But last winter fishers were late to make their presence felt. There was no otter slide to lure me on to East Trail Pond dam like there was on the 23rd. I avoided the wet marsh below the dam and walked up on the pond crossing over the south side of the dam. Today the ice looked higher relative to the dam, but that’s probably because I am more familiar with the consequence of the leak.

I walked over to the lodge to see if anything had come out of the hole next to the lodge and saw nothing had been in or out since the snow 12 hours ago and it didn’t look like anything had been out since the otter used the hole. I could still faintly see the impression it made 5 or 6 days ago.

Nothing had been up on the lodge, no that anything would probably want to climb up there this time of year after a wet snow. But having studied this lodge so long from afar, I rather liked standing so close to it, though today I didn’t lean on it listening for its heart beat.

I knew I could tell if the beavers have been active by the tracks outside their hole in the ice on the north shore of the pond. I saw a trail of mink tracks leading to the hole.

There was a new arrangement of stripped sticks around the hole and inside the hole. The ice around the hole was too worn down to show tracks, which in itself is evidence of beavers having come in and out of it.

There was more water in the pond below the ice, plus the area around the hole was wet from melting snow, so I didn’t stick my camera down it. Climbing the beavers’ icy trail up the ridge was difficult enough. I took a photo looking back down after I made it up the icy path.

When I was here a few days ago I saw that the beavers had trimmed branches off the crown of the oak that they cut down, and gnawed bark off a good bit of the trunk. Today that work was covered with snow, but farther up the ridge, I saw that they cut down another oak.

And the beaver walked by the old project to get to work on the new one, trimming branches out of its crown.

I assume that the beavers had half cut that new tree some weeks before finally cutting it down in the last few days. So far I haven’t found photos of that.

I was so excited seeing this that I didn’t take time to study what I was seeing. It is probably either a red oak or a sugar maple. Since I was up on the park trail, I headed west on it a bit, then cut over to walk down the north shores of Thicket and Meanders ponds. Both were ice covered, but, thanks to the springs there, water was open at several spots in both ponds. A very cursory glances didn’t reveal that any animals were taking advantage of that open water. The only pond really locked in by this mild winter is the East Trail Pond which happens to be where the beavers live. If they had been in any other pond there might not have been a reason to put a hole in the dam. That said, man-made Audubon Pond was well iced over, but, of course, the drain just behind the embankment also keeps some water open. I headed down to the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I knew the snow would be melted on the slope facing south, but I didn’t need snow to show me that otters had been there. There were two generous scats on a small granite outcrop.

And they looked pretty fresh. The scales of big fish never look that fresh but there was a bit of innards that looked juicy.

The grass in the latrine had been flattened by the snow, and while I saw some evidence of scratching in the ground, a photo doesn’t show it. There were scats here and there all the way to the big rock.

I usually study the ice below the latrine, but this year the water below and for 100 yards to the east is all open.

It was difficult to estimate the age of the scats because everything was moist from the melting snow, but some looked older than the first ones I saw.

Most of the scats had large fish scales in it which are probably from pike. I also saw segments of what I first thought were from worms. Maybe the otter caught an injured pike thrown back by ice fishermen for being too small. But a close look at that worm-like segment didn’t convince me that it was a worm. I’m not sure what it is.

I should have tried to get a better idea of where the otters scatted and how many scats they left so I can better tell if they come back. I walked down the north shore of the bay, and where the ice started, I saw what looked like trail that could have been made by an otter.

And where the ice trail ended, I saw a bit of confusion etched into the ice.

Being in a good mood, and a bit lazy and uncritical, it was easy to see that an otter had fished there as the water was freezing -- but unlikely.

January 30 we went to our land and straight away started a fire in our house so we could stay for lunch and linger a bit longer than usual and get some work done. Once the fire was going we walked down to the Deep Pond. One never knows when a beaver will decide to get out from under the ice. There was not much snow on the road to give us a sense of what animals had been using it, but evidently raccoons were of that number. On the path from the road to the Deep Pond we saw four raccoon trails.

Raccoons usual follow a steady course but at a couple of places on the featureless snow of the pond these raccoons briefly strayed into a half circle.

Don’t know why. The raccoons ignored the bank lodge but we nosed over there. What snow we’ve had now seems piled highest in that corner of the pond ruining the little runways under the bushes that some rabbits had. The raccoons also ignored the inlet creek. We saw a hole in the ice up there that looked like it had been used.

Snow conditions and lighting was bad for studying tracks but it looked like otter prints around the hole. The hole was the perfect size for an otter to get in and out.

We saw another opening in the ice a little farther up the creek. We saw smudged activity in the snow and what looked like two scats frozen and half covered by icy snow.

I scraped enough of one of the scats to convince me that fish scales formed most of it.

I took a photo of Leslie standing by the hole, to give a better idea of its size.

And the dam in the background is where we figured the otter must have entered the pond. As we walked on the pond we didn’t see any signs of otters along the west end of the dam, so we walked toward the east end where over the years animals have made holes and burrows in the mud under some large honeysuckle bushes. We found a small hole in the ice, snow stained brown around the hole, and the impression of an otter’s tail in the snow.

The hole behind the dam looked more or less like other holes along the dam as the ice collapses and draws back from the shore, but it looks like the otter also dug out a good bit of the dam.

There was also a big pile of scats, some looking fresh, on dirt a bit in front of the hole.

The raccoons also got over here and went down below the dam which made tracking any otter trail into the pond from that direction problematical, not to mention the thicket formed by the honeysuckles below the pond. Honeysuckles are one of the shrubs that are as unforgiving in the winter as they are in summer, hard to hike through. Leslie went back to check on the home fires. I went down to check the otter latrine at White Swamp to see if an otter from there made a trail up to the Deep Pond. I didn’t go down the creek to the swamp, too many thickets, but down a wooded gulley a few hundred yards to the west. When I got down on the little cove where the gulley ends, I saw a big bank beaver lodge just east of the cove.

Over the years there have been some modest mounds here that I thought a beaver might be using. But a beaver hasn’t been active here in years -- I’m thinking at least 5. I will check that. As I walked down the south shore of the swamp to where the otters usually have a latrine, I passed the lower ends of two large ash trees that the beavers cut down.

There was some gnawing in the vicinity on other trees that looked even more recent. As I approached the otter latrine, I didn’t bump into any otter slides. I saw raccoon tracks down here too. From a distance the otter latrine looked unused.

But when I got up to it, I saw that one hole was open with smooth edges and icy snow suggesting that an otter had been in and out, though not in last couple days.

Often the otters have three holes open up here and by this time of the winter a growing pile of scat outside them. I stuck my camera into the hole and got a good photo showing how high the water is in the swamp this winter and how a dinner of greens was ready for a muskrat to eat.

No sign of what an otter might have eaten under there. I am not sure how much of this little cavern is old roots, how much dug out dirt, and what might be rock. I am pretty sure this is the work of years of otter, beaver and muskrat engineering. Over the last few years I’ve shied away from coming down here because beaver, muskrat and otter populations seemed down -- still recovering, I think, from over trapping back in 2005. I didn’t have time to go all around the swamp -- I usually do that on skis. But from what I could there were a healthy number of muskrat lodges around. But first I went back to the beaver lodge. The trapping season started in November and conditions have been good enough for the trappers around here, who only go out on ATVs, for a month. There was a cache in front of the beaver lodge and a patch of open water. I didn’t see any traps frozen in the ice and the patch of open water looked like it was made by the beaver.

I didn’t see any freshly nibbled sticks but I didn’t get too close to the lodge and cache. The swamp is deep this year and I don’t want to go through the ice. I scanned the pond and walked out to check the nearest muskrat lodge. It looked like coyotes dug into it, a sign that it had been active. Scanning the huge pond, I thought I could differentiate some muskrat lodges from the usual clumps of grass.

As I headed up toward where the creek from the Deep Pond flows into the swamp, I saw two muskrat lodges, one pretty big.

Then when I looked up at the creek I saw a ribbon of water in the snow, and saw that it came from a large dam at the creek. Years ago the beavers had a dam there and it fell into disrepair.

As I recall when the beavers had a big dam here before, otters, I think, put a hole in it. However, the landowner here, otherwise a good chap, keeps an eyes on beavers moving in. But I don’t think he breached the dam. I didn’t see any otter signs around.

Looking from behind the dam I could see a patch of open water and perhaps a nibbled stick. I wasn’t going to get too close to the dam because I saw that the ice had broken back from its high point on the dam.

I could see a good number of trees around the pond that had been cut in the last six months. I didn’t see any signs of recent beaver gnawing. I was late for lunch back at our stove in the house so I postponed a full exploration of the pond for another day. I took a photo of where I vaguely recall that they had a lodge before. The area along the shore is snow and ice covered now.

As I walked up the pond I got a good angle for looking under the ice. Obviously the pond level was high and then a good bit of water drained out quickly.

Walking up the creek I didn’t see any fresh beaver signs, or otter signs. I saw raccoon tracks.

January 31 it’s easy now to cross the ice on South Bay and since we had a snowfall last night, we walked across the bay to look for tracks. We only saw a mink trail along the north shore. The snow probably fell early in the morning after other animals stopped their prowling for the night. There was no snow on the north slope of the bay. The temperature climbed quickly above freezing, on the way to 40 F. I continued on to the East Trail Pond. There was snow on the ground as I walked down the south slope to the pond, and snow on the ice. I was hoping to see the beavers and decided the best approach was to walk on the East Trail around the west end of the pond and then up the ridge north of the pond. I came down that ridge with my camcorder on and in hand, but no beavers were out. I saw that they trimmed the lower branches on the tree they just cut.

They had also done some gnawing on the trunk of the oak they cut down a month ago.

I followed their fresh trail down the icy part of the slope, everything too blurred to allow a guess as to how many different beavers came up the slope.

Because beavers had been up and down so many times the pine straw, roots, and rocks seemed to have an ice patina worn into it.

There were no new stripped sticks to note outside the hole. I stuck my camera inside the hole. There were a few stripped sticks floating in the water and evidence that a beaver had cut some of the forest of small trunks between the ice and the bottom.

I was hoping to see branches in the process of being dragged back to the lodge, but I didn’t. I got a photo looking down the north shore of the pond under the ice and I didn’t see any evidence that beavers had been down there. No gnawing or cutting.

On my way down to the dam, I saw another muskrat lodge that was impossible for me to see from the shore before the pond froze. I don’t know when it was made.

The collapsing ice behind the dam has some fissures that have widened into holes in the ice. I didn’t see any evidence of anything using them.

Once again I was unable to get a good photo of the hole in the dam. The photo below does show how smoothly cut the sides of the hole are which I think suggests that a large mammal like a beaver did it. Unfortunately there are very few logs in the dam so I couldn’t see any gnaw marks on wood.

If the beavers made the hole, one would expect them to go through it and below the pond to forage for food. The last two times I was here I didn’t see any evidence of that but today I saw a stump of a shrub that looked freshly trimmed.

But I can’t prove that the beavers didn’t do that before the pond froze. Plus there is no sign of any trail coming out of the hole. I walked up to the lodge and took a photo giving some idea how far the lodge is from the ridge. The beavers’ hole is at the foot of the ridge.

Then I took a photo to give an idea of how far the hole in the dam was from the lodge. They are about the same distance, say 40 yards.

So by making a hole in the dam and draining out water the beaver has saved itself from having to swim under water all that distance. There were no signs of any activity around the lodge. I checked the mink holes along the south shore of the pond and saw that the old one in the southwest corner of the pond was being used and the mink fashioned a new one about 5 yards away along the shore.

No blood outside any of the holes. I went back home by crossing South Bay again. Coming out we saw no coyote tracks on the ice, but we crossed more or less in the middle of the pond. Going back, I walked along the marsh along the point in the middle of the pond and found a trail made by at least three coyotes. They went a bit into the marsh. I looked for what they might be eating but didn’t see anything.

Since ice first froze hard on the lower end of the bay, a little over a month ago, the water level in the river has risen about two feet, thanks, I suppose, to all the thaws we’ve had which keeps snow from accumulating in the woods, storing water for the usual spring runoff. Plus we’ve had some gales from the west, say one a week. So I wasn’t surprised to see a large block of thick ice pushed up on the rocks along the shore of the peninsula.

There are also holes in the ice along the shore and I saw one that looked like it had been used by minks.

And I got a nice photo of the point.

I didn’t expect it to look like that in the dead of winter.

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