Wednesday, May 9, 2012

March 2 to 10, 2012

March 2 we had to go down to southeastern Pennsylvania for the weekend, just when the skunk cabbage was blooming. I couldn’t resist taking photos.

We don’t have them up north where we live. Needless to say I know little about the plant save that at this time of year it comes up in the wet woods and is never dull.

March 4 we got back home at the tail end of a wind storm. It ended yesterday but today we suffered. Six of the 10 buckets we hung on maple trees to collect sap were blown off. We did get enough sap to eventually boil down to a quart of syrup. We also checked the Deep Pond for beaver activity. It was also warm while we were gone and more ice melted and the holes the beaver has been using were bigger. We saw one stripped stick on the ice just off what is now the biggest hole, where the inlet creek flows into the pond.

Otherwise there were no beaver signs, and despite a light snowfall this morning no tracks.

Back on the island, I headed up the golf course and then to the valley to check on the dead porcupine, which sounds like grim business. However, especially in the winter, carcasses can be colorful and thanks to the cold keeping them from deteriorating, they can take on a life of their, which sounds like a silly thing to say.

The carcass had been turned around and flipped over.I assume I was looking at the well chewed tail bone.

Yet the head was still oriented the way I remember it. Coyotes are most likely to twist a body around, but wouldn’t they be shy of the quills? Why not just assume that a fisher keeps coming back? Unfortunately the light snow of the morning had melted. There were no tracks around.

The guts also looked like they had been moved around and perhaps enough bites taken to spread some porcupine poops that had been inside around on the snow.

As I walked away I looked back and took a photo to put the meal into perspective, certainly not a feast.

As I walked down the valley, I looked for signs of porcupine life and finally saw a den. Since I didn’t notice it last time I was here, a case can be made that a porcupine has used since the other porcupine died nearby.

I stuck my camera into the gap in the rock and the flash revealed a pile of poop. I haven’t observed porcupines enough to tell how fresh their poop is.

But some of the poop appeared to be on top of ice. I got the feeling a porcupine had been here recently. As usual, I checked on the porcupine den just above the south shore of the Big Pond. As I approached I heard a porcupine whine from the den. But when I got to the den I didn’t see the beast, nor hear it.

I took a close-up of the entrance to the den. There was no trail through the poop. If I hadn’t heard the whine I would say, judging by the way the den looked, that a porcupine had not gone down there in a while. The dead leaves that had been blown in the hole didn’t look walked over.

However I did see another nearby tree with its trunk rather generously stripped. I hadn’t noticed that before.

As I walked down to the Big Pond, I heard and saw water flowing down one of the old beaver canals and under the ice of the pond.

Since the water had not start filling up above the ice, there must be room under the ice to accommodate the flow. As far as I could tell water has been running out of the holes in the dam all winter. No water was flooding back up to the lodge.

It certainly looked lifeless. Nor was there any activity on the Lost Swamp Pond. Here too no water had swelled over the ice. That flooding is rare unless there is also heavy rain, but I thought with the ponds so low to begin with run off alone might flood the pond. The open water behind the hole in the dam was bigger and water was rushing out.

The little pond below, Upper Second Swamp Pond, had much more water than ice but I didn’t go down to check. That pond had become so small last summer that I should no longer dignify it by calling it a pond. Down at the much bigger Second Swamp Pond, the run off is inundating the upper end of the pond or at least melting more of the ice. I can’t go out and see if the water is over old ice.

All to say, the final thaw is beginning, but most of the creeks have been running all winter. Unless we have a lot of rain in the spring, things might get dry rather quickly. This is pointless thinking I usually never engage in. At this time of year I am on my toes to see beavers come out of holes and trotting along otter slides over hill and dale. I finally got up to where some beavers live. The East Trail Pond is brimming with water and now I can hear water rushing out of two holes, the one that a beaver or otter dug and one where I think there a muskrat burrow in the dam finally wore through and made a hole.

As I walked up the ridge on the East Trail, I saw that a beaver had gnawed a good bit more of the white pine just up from the hole in the ice. It appears the beavers want to cut it down, not just get a taste of pine resin.

As I went down the ridge, I didn’t see any gnawing on the oaks that I could be sure was new. So I had only the gnawing into the pine to contemplate and it looked rather sticky.

The hole in the ice below was iced over but I still sat for a while in case a beaver stirred. None did. The Indians, it is said, thought pregnant beavers were prone to gnaw evergreens in the spring. Sounds good to me, but I’ve noticed them cutting pines in all seasons. Sometimes they make generous cuts into bigger pines but don’t go so far to cut them down. I took a photo of the pond.

I couldn’t see any holes in the ice, yet.

March 7 major warmth today, heading to 60F. We walked around South Bay. As we rounded the end of the north cove we saw a deer carcass out on the ice.

The carcass looked quite fresh, rather bloody, but there was no blood on the ice near it. It was not far off the shore.

Leslie went ahead and saw some interesting things. There were white deer hairs up on the trail.

As well as some of the deer’s guts.

A bit farther up on the ice and closer to shore, we could see blood and bits of the deer strewn about.

The ice was too thin and wet for us to walk on so we couldn’t a close look at the remains. It looks like coyotes attacked the deer on the trail, hence the tail hairs, and then killed it out on the ice and dragged the carcass around. Coyotes do much better on the ice than deer, who don‘t do well at all. We had two very cold night, around 10F, that froze the upper part of the bay. In today’s heat that ice, an inch or two thick, was melting and the west wind was pushing water up on it, though its depth was a fraction of an inch. What we saw looked liked a magical mirror from a Surrealist movie with fluttering wavelets when the water had depth enough to try to slow the wind.

Leslie kept wishing to skate on it, which would have been instant death. We never saw ice so alluring.

Where the ice ended the choppy waves broke the ice into clinking square sheets. Leslie sat to enjoy the cacophony. I continued on to the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay. Usually I hope to see fresh scats in the latrine, but today I looked forward to not seeing them. I am rather taken with the idea that otters had been visiting the latrine to signify their intention to mate and then the race of two otters around the bay and the up and over the north shore of the bay was a fruition of those conversations. With mating done the message board at the latrine has become silent. So I was pleased to see no fresh otter signs at the latrine. I continued on the South Bay trail going along the Narrows to check another latrine otters have used occasionally over the years. There were no scats there old or new. I was pleased to see some fresh beaver gnawing on a huge willow trunk.

I took a photo of the tree from another angle to show what old gnawing on the trunk looks like.

While there were no scats in the sometimes otter latrine, there were white deer hairs. There was very little ice in the Narrows. Any deer carcass that had been on the ice there had sunk into the deep water. Looking north through the Narrows there was little ice as far as the eye could see. Most of the ice that formed a few nights ago had been blown away.

I went through the mostly snowless woods to Audubon Pond, which remains ice covered save for a growing hole around the drain which animals seem to avoid. Wise animals, falling in the two foot wide drain hole would lead to a 50 foot flush through a pipe to the creek below. With no beaver activity to chronicle, I deigned to notice a porcupine’s gnawing on a maple up on the embankment.

This was probably done by the same porcupine who gnawed on trees along the South Bay trail beginning last fall. The gnawing in the photo below was done in the fall.

The gnawing on the smaller tree below was done about a month ago.

I have been remiss in keeping track of porcupines in part because at this time of year I can cross ice covered ponds and don’t have to walk in the woods that much. Off hand, I’d say there are as many porcupines as usual, minus that dead one in the second valley and maybe minus one in the woods at the end of South Bay. I walked on the trails to the ridge over looking the East Trail Pond, and before I took a look at the pond I noticed that a tree the beavers cut had fallen across the path off the trail that overlooks Shangri-la Pond.

I had not noticed any beaver tracks up here when snow was on the ground but I could also not remember noticing this work in the fall. Other than the tree that fell, a beaver tasted one tree and half girdled another.

That girdling looks like it could be relatively recent. I’ll have to keep my eye on this. I went over to check Shangri-la Pond. The beaver family now in the East Trail Pond spent the winter of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 here. The meadow below was damp but hardly a hint of a pond which, when the beavers were there, filled the valley.

As I went down to the East Trail Pond I looked for any hint of a beaver trail all the way up the ridge and saw none. I don’t think the beaver did any gnawing since I was last here, not even on the big cut into white pine just above hole in the ice along the north shore of the pond

The hole was not open thanks to the last two cold nights. However comparing the photo I took of the hole on the 4th with the photo taken today, it is clear that the hole is bigger and that a beaver had probably used it.

In the afternoon we went to the land and because it was warm we stayed longer than usual. Assuming that the Deep Pond would not have changed much during the last few cold days and that the beaver probably didn’t come out, I headed off to the First Pond to resume sawing a white oak. I went via the Turtle Bog, which is all ice save for a few spots along its west edge.

Within a month we should be seeing Blanding’s turtles here. I also checked the ice covered Bunny Bog and sat there a while because there was a flock of birds about. All I saw were chickadees who were quite entertaining. Most them stayed low in the shrubs and now them flitted down on the ice.

I assumed they were getting bugs. Then I headed down to the ridge south of the First Pond and started sawing. When the beavers were here Leslie wrapped chicken wire around the trunk, which seemed to save the oak from the beavers. But something else managed to girdle the tree just a few inches off the ground.

There happened to be porcupine poop around, though no porcupine gnawing on the oak or nearby trees. That girdling probably weakened the tree enough to make it a good candidate for my cutting it down. It was good to be back at work at the land getting firewood for next winter.

March 8 we had a spring storm, warm, rain, strong winds. We got to our land just before the rain started and after we collected maple sap, I checked the Deep Pond. I went through the woods below the Third Pond and after seeing that there were no signs of beaver activity at the Deep Pond dam, I walked along the high slope of the pond. The rain got serious and added to the depth of melted water on the pond.

The only open water for a beaver to swim in was where the inlet creek came into the pond.

It would be dangerous to get too close to that open water so I couldn’t tell if the beaver had been up on the ice. I did manage to get back along the inlet creek and saw that the beaver came out and nipped some shrubs.

I walked back to where there are some larger maples but the beaver had not gone back there. I did pick up a few small deer ticks. We both got large deer ticks how on our pants as we collected the sap.

March 9 At the tail end of yesterday’s spring storm we got a little snow, but it warmed up so quickly we didn’t anticipate easy tracking. We drove over to the entrance to the state park and then walked on the trails to the East Trail Pond. As we rounded the end of South Bay we heard the frequent calls of the male red winged black birds. (Some have been around out house since the 4th of this month.) There was still snow on the ground in some shady areas and there was a hint of a trail on the ridge north of the East Trail Pond.

But I couldn’t see any new beaver gnawing on any trees on the ridge. No beaver had resumed gnawing the pine just above the hole in the ice.

The water in the hole had iced over during the relatively chilly night. However it was warm enough for a beaver to break ice. We sat and watched and listened but all we heard were the chickadees who seemed to be enjoying the sun. Leslie saw two hawks circling high over head. It looked like the sun had already melted the ice along the lower north shore of the pond.

Most of the pond is still frozen but there are weak spots all over though no open water except along the shore.

The next part of the pond to open up will probably be the upper north shore under the high rocks that will warm up nicely in the sun.

I headed down to the dam to see if the beavers had been out there. Despite the creek flowing into the pond just behind the north part of the dam, the open water there had iced over last night.

I walked along the dam and soon saw trails of broken ice. I saw no signs of beaver activity along the dam but there was no better candidate for breaking that ice than a beaver.

As I walked along I saw more broken ice and perhaps some indication of what the beavers are after. I think they are diving for the rhizomes of the cattails that are in clumps behind the dam.

Most of the bubbles under the ice seem to orient toward the cattails not the dam.

Beavers are constantly teaching me that I only see the half of it. Most of their life is under the water. I walked up the south shore of the dam which the beavers seemed to abandon once the ice got thick. However, one could now swim back into the burrow along the south shore that I know a mink and an otter visited during the winter. There were no bubbles under the ice in front of the burrow.

I took a photo of the lodge in the middle of the pond. I could have probably walked on the ice and gotten a close look.

But this pond is deep enough again to make a long walk home with wet boots and pants unattractive.

March 10 After a hot day that brought deer ticks back to life, a cold front moved in and surprised us with a beautiful snow squall that gave us almost a half inch of snow. However this morning it started to warm up again. I hurried to try to do some tracking. I wanted to eventually get over to the South Bay otter latrines and decided to look for fisher tracks on the way. I didn’t see any on the ridge on the way to the Big Pond -- after the one snowfall I saw several trails there. Rather than go to the Big Pond, usually only graced by coyotes this winter, I went down to the Middle Pond. Over the years the spruce groves on the north side of it have been prime fisher territory. There was enough ice left on what remains of the Middle Pond to afford some good tracking thanks to the coating of fresh snow. At first look the pond was trackless.

Then I saw one deer trail crossing the pond. I also saw deer trails going in the spruce grove. There just wasn’t enough snow to register the tracks of smaller animals. I actually saw a red squirrel and while I saw a couple of its prints, it was hard to see its trail. Then I crossed what will soon be a vernal pool and saw prints that weren’t left by a deer.

They looked more like fisher prints than raccoon prints. I tried to follow the animal’s trail without much luck. But I bumped into a tree with some old porcupine gnawing on it and come to think of it the tracks look more like a porcupine’s shuffling than anything else. But I fancied I was on the scent of a fisher and continue wandering in the woods up toward the Lost Swamp Pond. Usually the snow is so deep in the woods at this time of year that “wandering” is not what I usually do. Anyway I crossed another deer trail and then a nondescript trail that seemed more like a fisher’s but I couldn’t really see it or get a photo. Really I was limited by a narrow band of time. The snow ended a 7pm and I was out at 10am, 15 hours for animals to prowl or relocate, evidently very few did which doesn’t mean that they aren’t here. I deserved to see some clear prints on the pristine snow of the Lost Swamp Pond, but saw none.

Rather than continue on my usual route to the East Trail Pond via the Second Swamp Pond, I decided to walk along the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond and then down to the Otter Hole Pond. That’s a route along which I’ve twice gotten good videos of a fisher. However I didn’t see any nor did I see any tracks. Of course, Otter Hole Pond hasn’t held much water in years but the ice and snow on what little water remains gives the old pond a look of having possibilities.

Because of that I guess, I got the great notion of walking across the pond reasoning that if I went through any ice I would just sink into a bit of wet meadow. Looking at the high ground that more or less separated the upper from the lower pond, I thought I saw a path of good ice to the other side of the pond.

I was wrong and rather far from the north shore both feet went into the water which ran over the top of my boots. I got up on more solid ice and no longer saw a clear path. I was too far across to go back. I made it without too much trouble, getting over to where I knew the channel of the creek coming down the from the East Trail Pond was and then managing to get to the north shore with big strides confident all water there was shallow. Stupid. There was snow on what ice remained on South Bay which wasn’t much. I expected to see the deer carcass on the bay surrounded by tracks, but I really couldn’t see any.

The snow on the otter latrines had just above faded away. I thought I saw fresh digging at the docking rock latrine, but I couldn’t see any scats near it.

The snow wet the ground and made old digging look vibrant. Then I went up and walk along the Audubon Pond embankment and saw that the pond was still ice covered and I saw no tracks on the new snow. Then at the east end of embankment I saw a bold veering trail that looked like it was made by a fisher.

The tracks were on a cold spot and in surrounding areas the snow had melted so I couldn’t track the supposed fisher. As usual I walked down to the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay. Here too the wetness made the old scratching in the ground look fresh but I didn’t see any new scats. Walking back along the South Bay trail, I took a photo of the bay showing how far the ice has retreated.

That’s it for winter in South Bay. There was small raft of common mergansers along the north shore but I couldn’t get a good photo. They must be migrating because they were very skittish and flew off, not like the mergansers who winter here who are generally slow to fly off. I didn’t expect to see any tracks along the trail and then I crossed some snow covered ground and there were strange tracks in groups of four that look more like human baby feet than anything thing else with well defined toes.

Fisher prints bunch together but are usually spread out a bit more vertically. I doubted that it could have been made by two raccoons leaving their usually 2 x 2 prints. There was also a trail going the other way which didn’t make identifying the tracks any easier. I was almost glad most of the snow had melted so I would not be forced to identify the tracks. Then as I rounded the bay, I saw the same type of tracks in the snow, now plodding along.

Since these were more 2x2, I guess they are raccoon prints. Hard day tracking after a promising light snow.

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