Thursday, June 27, 2013

January 21 to 31, 2003

January 21 ten below zero at 8am, but sunny and calm. When I went off on skis a little before 10, it was zero. I crossed South Bay and all the new tracks along the north shore were from deer, reduced to browsing the dead vegetation from the river still hung up on the low leaning trees long since high and dry. I could still read the track we saw two days ago that we were pretty sure was made by an otter. I could see more clearly that it was the track of a single otter, and it skirted the north shore ducking once into some vegetation but continuing on up the Narrows. So this otter came out between the time we crossed South Bay and crossed back. Was it simply roving, or was it responding to the arrival of the three otters into the East Trail Pond? I decided not to back track it and instead retraced my route of two days ago. There was nothing new in Audubon Pond, nor in Meander Pond. When I went to the old den area they visited in the East Trail Pond, I thought the area looked remarkably stamped down. We had another three inches of snow early yesterday morning followed by a full day of strong winds and blowing. Our ski trail and the otter trails of two days ago were almost obliterated. Then as I followed the otter trail to the hole, I saw that the trail was fresh, very fresh, and probably made by three otters, just as before

Approaching the hole, I saw two looping trails going out from the hole

I could also see that at least one of the otters had come out after we had left two days ago. The best evidence that the otters were out this morning despite the cold temperatures was the fresh scat at the hole, as well as a spot of blood

and it was easy to see how the slushy hole we saw two days ago had frozen hard and thick and how the otters made two smaller holes. I tapped the one above lightly, and it opened.

There were no fresh tracks going to the lodge. However, as I skiied toward the lodge I saw how at least one otter ventured out, checking the base of every tree trunk. The trail from two days ago went directly to the lodge without veering, and here, well out in the wind, the old trails was completely obliterated

The trail went into some grasses in the middle of the pond, then went back to the lodge. There was no fresh scat at the lodge. I went half way down to the dam, and there appeared to be no activity there. Seeing how the otters had been out, and venturing well out in the snow, was remarkable enough, so I didn't go down to Otter Hole Pond to see if the single otter had been there. Otherwise I bumped into a tree sparrow, heard chickadees and heard two woodpeckers in the trees. And as I  sat on the porch as the sun went down, an immature eagle hovered above our yard. As far as we could tell none of the ducks out on the river scattered. After affording us a good glimpse of its intricately patterned under feathers, the eagle went up river we know not where.

January 23 two more very cold, below zero nights. Minus 10 along the river and probably colder in the swamps. Light snow most of today, and I thought of waiting until tomorrow's promised sun but I got restless and went off on foot, across South Bay, to see if I could still track the single otter that came out of the ponds four days ago. I was able to track it
until it came down Beaver Point Pond dam

and as far as the almost open stream up to Otter Hole Pond.

Then I lost it in the large expanse of the pond where much slow could have been blown in. The going was not easy but I made it up to the Second Pond, where the hole was out of service and all the tracks were from deer.

Indeed I heard a deer snort on top of the knoll, moved around but couldn't see it. On the way to the East Trail Pond, I saw some handsome pileated woodpecker work

The lower hole had many wood strips still in it, as if another bird had carried some back into the hole to fashion a nest

Though there is no reason for a woodpecker to clean out its holes. Going down the ridge to the East Trail Pond, I heard and then saw a woodpecker working in the top of a tree. It appeared to be a hairy woodpecker. I got my camcorder out and while I was debating whether or not to try a still photo, the noisy bird flew away. The swamps are so quiet it is no wonder the woodpeckers seem to talk to themselves. I saw in an instant that the East Trail Pond ice was collapsing,

and went to the dam expecting to see evidence that the otters were behind it. However, there was none -- no sign that anything had been at the dam save for one deer.

However, the water was flowing out copiously.There was no sign that the otters had been out at the lodge. Yet, there was no better sign that drastic things were happening than the creaking and cracking of the ice I walked on, and the puddles of slush under the ice here and there. While the hole up pond was
snowed over, the otters had made two little holes in the ice since I had last been there

Plus I could see a gap of at least two inches between the bottom of the ice at the holes and the level of the refrozen water

Ergo, I think the otters have breached the dam and they must have an extensive under the ice world to take advantage of. As I've learned before, there is no reason for otters to come onto the ice to enjoy the below zero temperatures. When things warm up, it will be curious to see how the beavers react to this new dispensation. To get home, I followed the ski trails I had made. And as I came down to the New Pond, I flushed
an owl out of a tree. I didn't get a good look, but I think it was too small to be a screech owl. I was hoping my walk into the virgin snow would break a ski trail, but now the snow seems too deep and fluffy, so that one can not see the logs and rocks from which the deep fluffy snow offers no protection.

January 25 A little after midnight as clouds moved over the temperature climbed from 0 to 10F. We got up in the morning it was 20F, with a light snow. As I went off on snowshoes for a "spring time" walk, I bet that the snow would stop. It picked up and so did the wind. Going up the golf course, all was at my back, and a hwak flew over head. In the second valley, the going was easy in the fluffy snow, but the flying snow precluded any photos. The porcupines appear to have finished work on the straight red oak and now have moved up into the curvy crown of a white oak on the ridge. There were no fresh trails, or recent trails across the valley up around the tree.
Further down the valley there were troughs that could have been from a porcupine. Soon I was back in the wind checking the Big Pond spring where all was snowed over. Neither was there sign of life at the Lost Swamp Pond and I had quite an adventure with head down in the howling wind and snow cutting across the Second Swamp Pond for the safety the grove of cedars on the knoll. I made it but was not warmed by any signs of life. All was snowed over and the wind was straining to blow down the large oak they had been cutting. Here the beavers were deep in their lodge and
the wind was trying to work for them. I headed for the ridge overlooking the East Trail Pond dam, anticipating some action there. The otters did not disappoint me. I could see a gaping hole in the snow behind the dam, three slides scattered behind the dam, several pools of collapsed ice and snow now turned to rich brown slush. Unfortunately the snow was flying right into my face and I couldn't take a photo. However, the snow was letting up. I went around to check the beavers bank lodge, and if the loss of most of the pond water put them in a panic they didn't show it. There was was no fresh activity around the lodge. I tried to avoid the newly formed snow pits, and made my way out to
the hole the otters had been using. They had been out, but not about, and the water level there was a good foot below the ice the otters originally broke through. As I waited for the snow to let up, I watched two deer browsing deer on the slope of the ridge to Shangri-la Pond. Then the snow let up and I took some photos

I returned to the dam and from the safety of the ice and snow on the side of the pond, that hadn't collapsed, I tried to document what the otters had wrought.

The brown spots mark how far the ice had collapsed.

The hole in the dam is certainly where the otters emerged, but I'll have to study it more closely when all freezes up hard again

But I assume that is the point where the otters dug into the dam. As far as I could tell, the water had stopped flowing out of the pond. The otters broke out of an ice galley that formed just below the mossy rock where they had done much scatting

However, they left no scats that I could see. Then I moved up the slope to try to get an angle showing the otters slides along the dam and the holes they made in the far shore in their effort to reclaim one of the dens they used in the summer -- the old bank beaver lodge and its attendant burrows.

I waited as long as the windchill would allow for the snow to completely stop and for the otters to come out an take a bow. No luck on either count. I walked a bit out on the dam to take a photo which I hope will help one visualize what is happening under the ice

The ice hung up around the tree trunks must provide plenty of space for otters to breath. Hopefully we won't have too much more snow that will cover all this activity, and I can show what happened in better light without snow in the air. The snow picked up as I headed home. I avoided the blizzard of South Bay and managed all the ridges. So I know precisely when the otters returned to the East Trail Pond, the morning of the
19th, and I know the pond had lost between two and three feet of water by the morning of the 25th. Thanks to what I have been calling since July, a mother otter and her two pups.

January 28 my hope of going back to the East Trail Pond on the 26th was defeated by a snow storm that added another 8 inches of snow, with snow continuing to fall during the day. Then bitter cold moved back in and on the 27th the temperature did not get about minus 3F. Last night the temperature dropped to minus 20F just after the sun went down. However, clouds moved in and when I went out to check on the otters that temperature was 5F and when I got back to the house almost 20F. The clouds remained with some very light snow. I decided to go out on snowshoes rather than skis, which at first seemed a mistake, as I foolishly went up the TIP ridge which was
quite exhausting as I negotiated two feet of snow. I learned my lesson and stayed level. I saw a hint of a mink track at the end of the South Bay cove and then heading to the New Pond I saw squirrel tracks, half hopping and half burrowing. I almost didn't take a picture of one of the holes a squirrel (I assume) fashioned, but it turned out intriguingly, I think:

Of course the deer left the most evidence of laboring in the snow, causing eruptions here and there

which I distinguish from their beds. The "eruptions" are like craters in the snow as if the deer dropped down into them from the sky, while the beds strike me as snow that has been curled into

This particular bed had a sprig of pine in it. Deep snow in itself is warming and the ground uncovered seemingly warmer still. The deer also broke paths for me, but inconsistently. I angled across the trackless Otter Hole Pond so that I could approach to East Trail Pond dam from the east. Once in the woods between the pond I angled up to a trail which I saw in an instant was made by otters and not deer.

Deer don't leave tunnels in the snow. I followed the trail, as best I could, back to the dam, and was surprised at how lost the trail became along the creek. The otters must have gone out while it was still relatively warm on the 26th since the water of the creek must have refrozen concealing their trail. There was a good bit of activity behind the dam, and the ice was firm enough to get down behind the hole in the dam

I still couldn't determine if that was the hole through the dam. There were new scats on top of the hole, a bits of blood

Then further down the dam I got a glimpse into another one of their galleries

I could see other tunnels including some that might have been the way out. I did not expect the otters to leave so soon, especially with the cold and the deep snow. But I now think the deep snow is too much of an invitation to them to go out and try another pond. Usually during very cold spells there is not much new snow. The deep freeze sets in after a deep snow. This year snowfall has punctuated the cold spell. So off I went
after it. Though it marred the beauty of the ponds, I really didn't have the stamina not to use the otters trail, and it did make the going much easier. The otters took a zigzag route toward the Second Swamp Pond dam, at one point scooting the length of a downed tree. They reached a point below the dam and then did a sharp left turn up to it, and then once behind the dam made a sharp right and mostly tunneled along the dam. They tried to get into the water at the hole the beavers had made and at the old spillway -- even going on the other side of the dam which is usually open water. However, today it was all frozen over and evidently when they traveled it was too. They then went up the
Second Pond with one curious detour. They had gone passed the lodge, then angled back to it, smoothed out a bit of its side

but evidently couldn't find a way into it, and went back the way they came in. Their failure to get in suggests that they were moving as the temperatures plummeted, because I could see that on the other side of the lodge a beaver had gotten out, not at the old hole, which is probably high and dry now but from a hole made further onto the pond

The beaver only made a short foray and left no sticks at the hole, and didn't even pay its respects to the old hole. So I went back and continued on the otter trail. Whenever I've tracked otters going up this pond, they've seemed disinclined to simply take a route up the middle following the path of the water running down from the Lost Swamp Pond. They usually turn to the right as they head up the pond. Doing that with these conditions took them into deeper snow. At one point in the middle of the pond, I measured the snow at 15 inches and the otter slide at 8 inches above the ice. Off to the side the snow was about 25 inches deep and the otters did more tunneling. Indeed they tunneled right into the bank in front of the small cliff that I've often suspected had been an otter den

Usually the otters veer from the cliff and go up and over the ridge, but the deep kept them down and tunneling along the base of the ridge. Though they must have suspected that they were no longer on a pond, they still, at one point veered off to slalom through some trees

as if they can find a hole into the water at one of them. Though I was thankful for the otters breaking a path, as I followed I marveled at their bleak gamble. While I wouldn't call the snow inhospitable, to be stuck in it must seem quite a contrast for otters who had left the comfort of a beaver lodge and dam and a world of possibilities under the ice of the East Trail Pond. Then I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam and
marveled once again, at how well otters can make themselves at home.

The hole to the right was easily opened to the water with a tap of my ruler. I tried to bend down enough to measure the depth of the water and after going 8 inches down thought it foolish to bend over more and perhaps get into the water myself. I was surprised to see that the otters had not opened other holes behind the dam, even where the deer had been pawing. I could see that they had been at the rock by the lodge, and when I got up on the rock, I saw the snow plow job they did at the lodge

In the middle of it all was the head of a small bullhead.

Their development was too grand to get into one photo. To the left of the photo above were two holes into the

and then there were slides up on the rock and some leading down into holes in the snow going to the other side of the lodge

There were no slides leaving the area but I noticed some eruption of the ice at the lodge in the middle of the pond. They were likely there but left no scat or prints. Then I saw that they had made holes in the ice and snow below the old rolling area

In the closeup there is an otter print

It would be interesting to see the otters do this snow plowing or carving, that seems so consciously done, but I suspect are just the results of wild otter action. The way to these holes was principally under the snow from the hole by the dam, and where I could see into the hole, it seemed quite roomy.

When I went out to check the lodge in the middle of the pond I was shocked by very slushy ice under the snow. So I decided to go home using the path I took out, but, first, I felt obliged to peak around to see if the otters might have gone up to the lodge on the other end of the pond. I braved the slush again and from a great distance saw no obvious sign of otter plowing up there, though there was some breaks in the
outline of the lodge and pond, but more likely done by the beavers. And I actually did take the exact path home, save I didn't go up over the TIP ridge. I was too exhausted to vary the route. How easily the otters negotiated the same distance.

January 29 Warmth and a period of sun, and beautiful flakes of light snow when the clouds were over. The deep freeze could be over so I though it wise to document the extent of the river's ice, and check on the ducks. I snowshoed over toward Sheldon's Rock but first paused to take a photo of our cove

The other side of the island, and the main channel looking toward Lake Ontario, is almost all ice. There would ducks in the pools of open water just off the head of the island.

Looking down stream, there is an open, narrow channel below ou and then a string of open lakes along the channel down toward the bridge.

I expected there to be more ducks taking advantage of the largest expanse of open water just where the current picks up as the channel begins, but there was a goodly amount. The air was still so I could hear the ducks diving

When I came out I scared them from a small pool of open water at the end of our cove, very active water as I could see the current bubbling through it. So the ducks soon flew back into it and as I hid behind a tree, I tried to photograph them and take a video. They were quite aware of me, and kept tree branches between me and them. Each duck that swam out so that I had a clear view, hurried back to the end of the pool that was blocked from my view. I sidled down and hid behind a tree that gave me an unobstructed view, an arrangement which,
after a few minutes, they became uneasy with and flew off.

But not before I got one photo of a merganser incoming for a splash into the warm water -- at least warmer than the air temperature.

Yesterday Leslie saw two foxes on the ice, but no such excitement while I watched. Some tracks on the ice, but more likely from deer. As I stood the temperature dropped about 5 degrees below 20 and the fog began rising from the water, playing havoc with the focus on the camera close-ups.

January 30 last night as the temperature plunged the ice fog rose from the patches of open water on river blocking out lights from the far shore. Meanwhile the stars above were brilliant. During the night the fog spread over the island, so that when I took my hike under blue skies there was a steady fall of snow from the glazed trees. I set my sights for the Lost Swamp Pond, again going on snowshoes. Crossing the New Pond, I
flushed a sparrow. These are commonplace by the feeders at home but seeing one in the swamps is still rewarding. Of course, I took my old trail out and then was shocked to find myself sinking into four inches of brown slush as I walked across Otter Hole Pond. The temperature dropped to about minus ten last night and still the slush didn't freeze. The fluffy snow is too insulating. Nothing new at the Second Swamp Pond and at first blush I thought there was nothing new at the Lost Swamp, as the scats and prints near the dam has been lightly snowed over

However, on closer examination I saw that the otters had made a new hole. And at the lodge, they had opened quite a bit more water, which, of course, had frozen over

Plus they had some intriguing new holes along the shore and into the lodge

Though I must say, the prints here seemed light, and not as bold as before, so perhaps just one otter had been out. The otters also broke out of the other side of the small lodge in the middle of the pond

It was curious that they stayed so close to the lodge. I trudged up to the big lodge at the upper end of the pond, and was pretty certain otters had not been out there

They had been out again under the rolling area, and there was fresh scat there

What they didn't bother with was the dam. Otters have breached this dam in other years. I took the precaution of taking a photo of it now, just in case the otters do a number on it, as they've done in other years

A pileated entertained me by squawking over the pond; a crow flew over me as well, and chickadees were in the trees along the shore. As I headed for home, carefully taking the same route as I took in, the temperatures warmed -- the beavers will soon be out again.

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