Monday, June 10, 2013

January 2003

January 2 New Year's Eve was warm with some heavy rain, then the cold moved back in, but fortunately not with great gusts of wind so that all the ponds and bays refroze with smooth very skateable ice.

So for two days I let the beavers rest, and without snow, virtually all gone thanks to the rain, tracking otters would have been very hard. And quite a bit of the ice on South Bay was transparent. Yesterday, with a half dozen others, I enjoyed skating over fish, startling all the perch, and boring the bullheads. The mere act of skating over these critters tucked in their winter habitat seems the acme of scientific observation, but one is hard pressed to make sense out of what one is seeing. In all the bottom part of the bay we all saw perhaps three pike, large, commanding and quick. The hundreds of darting perch were their obvious pray. I perhaps saw one perch over eight inches. Yet from that angle over them, seeing them confined to from six inches to three feet of water, it was hard to get the fish's perspective. With all the grasses dead and subdued and considerable stretches of clear muddy bottom. it would seem that hunting would be easy. However, the perch pattern of escape seemed to be to go for yellow brown grassy jungles

Well, generally in patches less thick than the one above. I took the photo to try to capture a trough through the weeds, of which there were a few. Perhaps they are channels formed by patrolling pike. The bullheads we skated over were all large, and all asleep. The one in the photo below seems somewhat rooted to a plant. Others I saw were suspended over sand, with no plants around.

There was no dearth of fish down where the water was shallow, mostly perch, but I saw a reddish bullhead, who was awake and swam below me. I got the impression it might be dying. I also saw a small pike with white on its jaw and a discolored bottom, and slow enough to follow -- another dying fish. I only saw one dead fish on the bottom -- a sunfish. I hoped to get a video of escaping fish but it was cold and cloudy with a strong northeast wind when I got out there. Yet, for all the cold, the brown bay bottom with all the darting fish generated its own lively warmth, and, of course, the skating was effortless and, to a suitable degree, endless.

January 3 almost an inch of snow in the morning and light snow all day amounting to maybe another half inch. We headed off early afternoon, braving the snow blowing in our faces as we walked up the golf course, which always increases the warmth of the woods when we get to them. Since the snow was fresh we didn't expect to see many tracks. We flushed two grouse and then as we approached the Big Pond we sent three deer scurrying. The one we saw best had been doing some patient browsing. There was snow on its back. The wind had blown snow off some of the ice and seeing how clear some of the ice was, I regretted not getting out earlier and touring all the ponds. We went up to the spring pool which was about six feet long, and very clear but no fish -- perhaps one. As we walked onto the Lost Swamp Pond I saw a dark patch up at the lodge, and through the light snow saw a lump that could be a beaver on the ice. So we walked up, and as we did we saw a beaver swimming in the dark patch -- a pool of open water around the cache. And the lump was indeed a beaver. The swimming beaver surfaced with a stick, evidently rearranging the cache pile. With the snow I couldn't take a photo or video; with the wind in our face we could have gotten closer, but we left them in peace. Meanwhile, nothing happening at the dam. We approached the Second Swamp Pond lodge so the wind wouldn't give us away, but as I crossed the ice I was surprised to see the pool next to the lodge frozen and snowed over. There was a fresh poplar log, fresh because bark was still on it, on the ice. We went around to the hole along the shore, which was slushy but open and just as we sat on a birch log to see if a beaver might come out, we saw the slushy water heave.

We waited but nothing appeared, so I think the beaver was lurking under the ice and moved off when it noticed us. Leslie had another idea -- a beaver just swims by now and then to make sure the hole stays unfrozen. We went over to the dam hole, but that was snowed over. Then we continued down the ponds and then across South Bay. Since the snow was so fresh, there was no tracking to be done, but in the gray light and white
snow every rock and blade of grass invited study, especially the grass stalks flat on the snow.

January 5 I headed off in the morning, cloudy but with hopes of sun, and, of course, hoped to see signs of otters. Up on the TIP ridge there were seven deer, brown, and, to me, at this time of year, fuzzy. Going down the ridge I saw fisher tracks, coming to and going across my path. There were no tracks along the South Bay trail, none on South Bay, though the incoming creek had opened a line of ice 50 yards long. Not much
to mention on Audubon Pond. There was no hole at the drain, but one had formed along the causeway, though with no sign that anything had used it. The pond was accessible to otters. I walked up to Short-cut trail pond and tried some photos of grass in the snow

This was the only one that half succeeded. As I walked along the Short-cut trail pond, or meadow, to be more accurate, since it is mostly dry, I saw the fisher tracks checking out trees

I was surprised to see that the beavers at Meander Pond have not been out since the snow. As I went down to the end of the East Trail Pond, I heard a porcupine whine. I went up to investigate

and while I didn't see the p-pine, I did see where it had just been -- fresh scats, fresh pee stains, fresh tracks, and heavy vinegar smell as I followed the trail into the rocks

Then out on the East Trail Pond I found porcupine tracks circling clumps of grass, and perhaps trying to find water. Judging from the pungent smell along the freshest track, perhaps there's a female in heat which accounts for the trotting about. Then I picked up the fisher tracks again, and could see the predator's tracks merge with the prey's

However, further down the pond, I saw fisher tracks crossing another porcupine trail. There was no longer open ice at the in-let to the East Trail Pond, perhaps a patch that could be open. I checked the lodge and the dam, and save for the fisher at the latter, nothing had been around. I had my camcorder out when I approached the Second Swamp Pond hole but wasn't quick enough to capture the beaver going down the knoll toward the hole. Later I went up and got a photo of the log it was gnawing

I eased closer to the pond and saw that the beaver had not gone to the hole. It was poised and smelling and then trotted to and into the hole

I got a photo of the hole

and then checked out the four paths from it and admired the variety of meals: birch, white oak,

and maple

There had been a hole open at the lodge, now lightly frozen over, and the latest poplar log looked stripped.

I was curious about the mud on the ice, and wonder if the beavers put it there to make it melt more easily when the sun shines. Then when I peaked over at the hole along the shore I saw that the beaver was hunched down in it, sniffing the air.

I waited for it to make a move, but it only slipped under. All was quiet across the Second Swamp Pond and at the Lost Swamp Pond lodge. There was only a little open water at the frozen over pool around the large lodge and there were no beavers out today.

As I walked up to the surveyor's cut, on the way to the Big Pond, I saw a tiny blossom on the snow

I looked up and saw a huge bittersweet vine spiralling up a tree.

I saw snowshoe hare tracks in the usual spot between the Lost Swamp and Big Ponds, and then picked up a deer trail to the Big Pond dam. No hole behind the dam, but a good rush of water under the ice and open water below the dam. Then I saw, leaving the dam, a labored mink track, with constant tail drag

I followed that to a tiny hole in the bank of the pond and just outside the hole was a drop of blood.

Following the mink took me up pond a bit so I headed up into the thickets, and by suffering the usual entanglements was rewarded with a view of a venerable birch

So unless some otters slipped into Otter Hole Pond, they aren't around. By the time I got home the temperature was about 26. I think warmth emboldens the otters to roam, but by this time a year, I think of anything over 20 as being warm while the critters looking for softening ice are dependent on the reality of the freezing point.

January 6 Light snow in the morning, another inch, and falling in nice lazy large flakes. I was resigned to a day working inside, but Leslie wanted to see that Second Pond beaver. So we went via the Post Office and South Bay. There were mink tracks at the old South Bay lodge on a dock

I assume the same one coming in and out. Although seeming to avoid the water in that photo, further toward the end of the cover, I think it was in the water. The snow is deep enough now so walking on the ice is not treacherous. So we plodded our merry way up to the Second Swamp Pond and soon saw that a beaver was out half way up the knoll gnawing around the large oak I've frequently photographed.

I first saw it to the right of the trunk then it worked behind it so we were emboldened to come closer. I'm not sure if it was just our being close or the squeal of the camera that alarmed the beaver. Here is the stop action of his flight down hill

And then it stopped at the bottom of the hill, still a few yards from the hole and sniffed the air

We were still a good 30 yards away, and the close-up is just the camera straining to put its pixels to work. After it disappeared into the hole, we checked its path and it looked like only one beaver had been out since the snow going to that one project. We walked around to look at the lodge and there was a smaller pool of open water than yesterday. They are no longer keeping this pool churned up. While watching the beaver come down the knoll, we hid behind the upturned roots of a tree and noticed a squirrel's leaving in a hole about chest level.

All was quiet until we got up to the large lodge in the Lost Swamp and we saw that beavers were out. With a light wind and snow in our face we moved closer, and here is my portrait

The one in front of the lodge seemed about half the size of the other, though it doesn't look that way in the photo. When it swam its whole body was up out of the water, which is characteristic of the young beaver. Both seemed smaller than the beaver we saw at the Second Swamp Pond. The snow was too fresh for more tracks as we crossed the Big Pond and went up the second valley. Leslie was quite impressed with the bittersweet vine and identified it as the native variety.

January 9 Two nights ago we had another inch of snow and last night we had about five inches, so as I went out in the cold cloudy morning -- about 15 degrees -- there was at least 7 inches of snow on the ground and because of the brisk north wind some drifting. For the first time this winter, walking in the snow became a little difficult, and it is near time to switch to skis. Coming down the TIP ridge I saw three or four deer browsing the low limbed trees. I should pay attention to what they are after, but I merely satisfied myself with a photo from a distance

Again I took the route around South Bay, trusting I would learn more there than by crossing South Bay. And I was right. As I crossed the creek coming down from the second swamp, I saw a slide into the running water made by a mink

Then I saw how the mink slid down the ridge above the trail

I must say seeing this lightened my footsteps. Tracking undoubtedly frees the mind and body from the constraints of time and slogging necessity. I was part mink. I could see tracks going into the reeds across the slushy ice and bit of open water. No sign that the mink went under the dock. Going up the South Bay trail toward Audubon Pond, I was following fresh deer tracks. I kept my head up expecting to see some old friends -- at least the small buck with the spikes if not the two bucks with handsome racks, but I didn't see any deer. Of course, I had hopes of seeing otter signs. It was warm enough to relocate the past two nights, not much below freezing. And the forecast was for cold -- not that otters would anticipate that, but if they hadn't moved last night, they probably weren't going to move during the next week of cold. So when I got up to Audubon Pond and stood over the placid 8-shaped hole along the causeway, I looked very hard at the faint indentations in the snow that could have been made by an otter. However, I saw no other signs at all. Proof that it wasn't of ice opening warmth the last few night was found at Meander Pond. The beavers there had not come out, as far as I could see. The only indication that they still flourish was an ample vent hole in the snow covered lodge.

As I went up to the Thicket Pond, I was gratified to see a mink trail -- most likely the one I saw down at South Bay because it was scooting in that direction. I picked up the mink's trail again as it went around the bank beaver lodge in the East Trail Pond looking for a way to get in. It's possible I was seeing another mink -- I wasn't rigorous in my tracking, but a mink trail went over the dam, quite the other direction from the Thicket Pond. Of course I forgot about the mink trail as I headed for the Second Swamp Pond lodge. The temperature when I left was 15 degrees and didn't feel much warmer, so I had an opportunity once again to prove that beavers leave the pond when the temperature is under 20 degrees. At the hole in the ice I could clearly see that a beaver had been out after the snow ended

going up the usual way to the gnawed trees half way up the knoll. But, of course, just after the snow ended it might not have been below 20. The ice had been broken but looked like thick slush, so I walked around to the front of the lodge. A small slushy hole there seemed frozen up but there were beaver tracks going up the knoll and coming down. Also the deeper wet snow was causing discoloration in the ice. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a beaver on the top of the knoll heading down with small sticks in its mouth. I grabbed the camcorder and in my haste pushed too many buttons at once, and when it started working, I had it on pause and not record. But I did see the beaver half slide down the hill and then dive into what I had just told myself was frozen slush. I cursed myself and took a photo of the dust, as it were, after it settled.

I walked up the Second Swamp Pond slowly, turning back frequently and wistfully hoping to see the beaver charge up the hill. But it had gone down and under the ice without its usual posing and pondering so I figure it had sensed my presence. I did take the opportunity to get a distance shot of this storied knoll.

Going up to the Lost Swamp dam a large deer slowly crossed my path and that was my last excitement until I got to the Big Pond. The usual area around the lodge had been open but I didn't go up to investigate. I had heard a few ravens during this hike, but coming out onto the Big Pond I was entertained by the large and varied flock of small birds -- chickadees and nuthatches, to be sure, but also juncos and larger brown and buff sparrows, all rather chatty with a downy woodpecker thrown in for good measure. They were in the pines to the east which made it convenient for me to check the spring pool. I got some action to make up for not getting a picture of the beaver. Similar to two years ago, the pool was percolating with little fish

Two years ago, the pool was deeper, with less vegetation, and the fish were smaller and usually in discrete schools, exhibiting more torpor than turmoil. Today small sunnies seemed beside themselves with wiggling and twisting, boiling up to the surface and then wiggling back down. I also saw some pollywogs and, judging from the video, small perch.

I'm disappointed in both the photo and video for not really capturing the color. The video does capture the manic persistence of the fish. The one above seemingly beached on the ice soon wiggled away and even some of the fish seemingly frozen ghostlike in the ice wiggled out of their predicament. Obviously they've come for air, but once there's a large enough mass of them, it no longer is the simple question of getting a gulp of air. These fish were in heat making paroxysms. As far as I could tell no critter, crow nor raccoon, had discovered this meal. I was pleased to see that a porcupine or two had come out of the snow covered rocks along the second valley up (in this case) to the golf course.

As I followed that trail up, I ran into another mink trail, avoiding the porcupine's trail as much as it could

And, as you can see, there was a smaller porcupine going about, too. The larger trail led to some fresh work

and I celebrated the fine tuning settings of the new camera by showing a porcupine's view of it when it is nose down to work

In winter I find myself rather admiring the glow of the wood, especially of the long dead trees.

The pinks are what gets me. The photo is twice or thrice life size. Still slogging through the still deep snow, I was still light of foot because a mink trail led my way up the valley

When I got home, the thermometer was at 18 degrees. There had been no sun to warm the snow covered ponds, so that beaver had been out in forbidden temperatures, forbidden at least by the experts.

January 10 the sun was out in the morning and though it was about 10 degrees, I was able to get the snow and slush out of the boat and rock it loose from the ice and then broke five yards of ice with oar and bow, and we were out on the river. As I rowed around the east end of Goose Island, we saw otter slides on the rock they usually visit every winter.

I got close enough to see a spread of scat up where the tracks ended. Here's a photo showing the relationship of this latrine to the grand river

Ottoleo did much snorkeling below the rock on the the big island across from this latrine. Evidently the otters thinks its a good place for fish too. We rowed up the island and saw slides on the tiny island off Goose Island

Across from that island, we saw a considerable play of slides under a big willow on Goose Island.

So the otters paid me a visit, (I could have seen them from my office window) and judging from the amount of activity, I bet it was a family. Perhaps they won't return to the beaver ponds until the river freezes up more. The other sport while on the river at this time of year is enjoying the state of the ice. There is a daily breakup of the thin ice that forms in the river every night and just off the point of Goose Island was a beach of ice shards

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