Thursday, October 24, 2013

February 10 to 16, 2003

February 10 we had about two inches of snow yesterday and maybe an inch this morning so if the otters had been out this morning, I should see some nice fresh tracks, and, if they had been out yesterday, I should see some old tracks. I
went on snowshoes, anticipating tracking the otters into high places. The temperature was in the low 20s and cloudy, though the sun peaked through now and then. Not an inspiring day, and the porcupines in the second valley seemed to have the same opinion
-- none had come out. I went directly to the Lost Swamp Pond and on the way saw no signs of rabbits, but a few more grouse tracks, snowed over, so probably from yesterday. When I got to the Lost Swamp Pond there were otter slides at my feet, but not fresh,

There are three distinct slides, but that doesn't mean three otters made them. They moved along the south shore and fashioned at least two holes in the snow, and ice

This one had done enough stomping around for two

But here, it looks like only one otter went in. They were heading up pond but I didn't see any more slides or holes in that direction. However, back down pond there was action at one of the spots favored by otters over the years.

That hole looks as if it certainly got under the pond. And there was a tunnel under the snow to another hole

and then there were slides behind these holes going up that gentle ridge where I have so often sat watching otters

I didn't check where the slide went yet, because I wanted to see what was happening on the north shore of the pond. I walked around the pond shore, past all the holes they had made earlier, and none of them had been used. Then at one of their old holes, I saw some tracks coming out and about and then
heading up pond.

At first look, they looked as old as the slides
on the south shore, but I soon saw that they were fresher, indeed, probably made that morning. I took a photo to show how the hole came out from under the ice

and then began tracking them since they were heading in the direction I wanted to go in. It was easy to see that there were three otters, and frisky ones at that

so I assumed this was the family I was tracking. One or two of them explored the top of a boulder, then they turned right and headed for the Second Swamp Pond

There they didn't go toward the beaver lodge, but toward the dam

favoring the south side of the dam, away from
the beaver lodge on the north. They danced around the half frozen pool below the hole the beavers put in the dam,

and then headed down toward Otter Hole Pond. At the open water at the flooded over middle dam of the pond, they stomped about some more. There was a foray going up to the south slope, and I wonder if this activity is part of the mother's process of separating from the pups,

but the trails of the three otters formed again and they didn't go down the pond, as I expected, but crossed it and then veered up toward the East Trail Pond.

They ducked into and through the confusion left by an old fallen tree, making three neat jumps over a large trunk

and then went up the ridge, an ancient otter route, and slid down into the East Trail Pond. The trails seemed so fresh now that I got my camcorder out. Down at the pond they opened three of the holes near the dam. At the one below the mossy rock

they left a huge pile of scat;

not so much above the hole in the dam, and then there was a hole, without scat, at the foot of the steep slope to the east of the dam.

The hole had been well used and I noticed a trail going up the slope. But first I checked the lodge, where there was fresh scat.

A close-up of the hole shows how the otter negotiates the lodge. This is a dry hole and it probably uses the holes from inside the lodge to get down into the water.

But I'll have to check that after the spring thaw to see if they dug a hole into the lodge. And they opened the hole which they had opened on January 19,

once again leaving scat.

I also checked the hole opened by the otter that came in after the three otters had left. It was snowed over, pretty good proof that these were the otters who were there Janaury 19. I expected the trail up the slope by the dam to be one of those short forays, perhaps sliding down into the rocks where they had sometimes denned. I was wrong it headed up along the ridge toward the Second Swamp Pond. Then it crossed a slide down into the pond, and I thought the trail I was on must loop around, but it didn't. So I think that slide down might be from the one otter who left the Lost Swamp Pond two days ago. When I was following the two otter trails two days ago, I remarked to myself that I caught the otters not strictly taking the highest ground because there was a higher rocky knob on the ridge they
avoided. This otter must have read my mind because it slid directly down to the base of the rock

and then went straight up,

gained a large fallen birch trunk, scampered
along that,

claimed the high ground and then slid down toward the Second Swamp Pond.

Then just at the point where it reached the old slides, side by side by side, left by the family,

it stopped and went back toward the East Trail Pond! affording me a rare view of an otter back tracking itself.

This time it took a gentler slope back. I didn't track it back there, because I knew I had other tracking to do. My immediate impression, other than the otter was making a fool out of me, was that this was the trail of the mother trying to separate from her pups, then having regrets when she picked up their old tracks and scent. This is sentimental thinking to be sure, but.... Meanwhile I formed an idea that the tracks I saw on the south side of the Lost Swamp might lead to the Big Pond dam where I might find fresh scat, signifying that four or five otters had spent the night in the Lost Swamp Pond. However, the
trail up the south slope went no farther than an old tree stump. But I still went to the Big Pond Dam, and lo and behold there were old otter slides there, and holes into the dam, including one at the south end which otters seem to prefer.

I had been at the same area two days ago and there were no slides. Unfortunately there was nothing fresh. I went down to the next lowest dam and there seemed to be no otter activity there. As I headed up the first valley, somewhat plagued by the softening snow, I had much food for thought. I also startled a grouse and saw an eagle flying high over the snow covered ponds. We have not seen an eagle for two or three weeks, perhaps because there are fewer ducks out on the river.

February 12 snow started a little after midnight, and ended in the morning, giving us 6 inches inches on top of a base of 15 inches or so minimum. The northwest wind was kicking up so we detoured from crossing South Bay on skis and went along the South Bay trail and then up at the New Pond. Good thing we did because greeting us at Beaver Point Pond dam was an otter slide coming down

At least two otters went into the Porcupine Hotel,

through it, and then up the ridge to the south,

heading toward the Big Pond -- an exciting way to start tracking. We couldn't follow on skis, so we ascertained that they didn't come from the Meander Pond direction, and then we went up to Otter Hole Pond, where there were slide up from behind the dam and then over.

However, there were no slides coming into Otter Hole Pond. Of course, since the snow just ended this was all fresh and so it seems the otters spent the night in Otter Hole Pond dam or the nearby beaver lodge. We went up to the East Trail Pond and there was no otter action and all the holes were covered
save for one at the lodge, but while it was strange that it had not been snowed over, there was no sign that anything had been out of it. The Second Swamp Pond was quiet and at first blush it looked like nothing had been to the Lost Swamp Pond. No tracks at the dam or the hole otters had left from a few days ago. However, the smell of the pond was persisting and there was no open water near the dam, and the wind was coming out of the west, so I went down to the holes in the ice at the west end of the pond and sure enough there were otter slides at an open hole.

They came from across the pond and came down from the ridge above the mossy cove.

Sometimes the trail separated into two. I got the great notion that as the snow was falling the mother otter left her pups and that now the pups were revisiting old dens to look for her (pretty good training when you think of it, and, the mother must separate if she just implanted eggs for a spring
birth). Again, we couldn't go over the ridge, so we went to the Big Pond dam and sure enough there were slides, severely drifted over with blowing snow, at the lodge

and dam and a trail led from the lodge toward the Lost Swamp Pond. I wondered if I was getting an authentic bead on the trails otters used year round to go between these ponds. We battled the fierce wind and back tracked the otters over the Double Lodge Pond dam

and over the Middle Pond dam and below that we could see slides coming down the ridge to the north.

We had successfully tracked the otters, but my
conception of what was going on was shaken because at points along the trail through the first swamp ponds, there seemed to be three slides! Certainly there were no segments of the trail with three side by side slides like the family usually left, but.... I'll have to go out to the Lost Swamp Pond tomorrow morning and see what comes out. Chickadees and nuthatches weren't bothered and we heard waxwings around the Lost Swamp Pond but didn't see them. Some bittersweet berries were on the fresh snow so perhaps they had been there. Plus between the Lost Swamp and Big Pond we saw what might have been a rabbit trail through the deep snow. Then just before we got home we saw a brilliant fleet of cirrus clouds high in the sky and near the sun flattened rainbows in the icy clouds.

The sun stayed out affording a relaxing time on the glassed-in porch. Golden eyes and mergansers are still about -- easily a hundred goldeneyes, perhaps 20 mergansers. They all flew away at one time, but I didn't see any eagle cruising up the river.

February 13 minus 14 when I got up and minus 5 when I headed off across the golf course on snowshoes -- I expected to be tracking otters, and at this time of year, that means climbing. I was lured into climbing up the rocks of the second valley where Ottoleo had seen the porcupine a five days ago. There was traffic to and from the den, and I fancied that the moss and grasses at the rock overhang seemed more frosted perhaps because a hot porcupine was inside. However, the going was too steep and I only got half way.

The porcupines in the lower part of the valley were active too. Down at the Big Pond, there was nothing new from the porcupine down there, but a mink had used a hole at what I now know is a little spring,

and this brought back memories of that grand winter when the beavers used a hole there to forage in the nearby woods all winter. There were no new tracks of interest, all the way to the Lost Swamp Pond. I did see and hear a crow. I studied the tracks we saw yesterday and became more convinced that only two otters made them -- two trails with a similar pattern of snow churning strides. Then as I examined the hole the otters went into, the ice gave way, One shoe got soaked -- and I would soon find out I was all wet in more ways than one. All of
the few tracks around the holes along the pond were from deer looking for a drink. There was no sign that an otter had been out. All was quiet down on the Second Swamp Pond, save that a pileated woodpecker flew off. I admired the trees that had

-- no evidence that the beavers had gotten to them for any trimming. It's too cold for them to get out. I went on to the East Trail Pond, even though I suspected no otters were there. However, at the hole near the mossy rock, a bit of snow was cleared and scat exposed.

I knew there was a large pile of scat here five days ago, and I tried to convince myself that the wind uncovered this old pile, but that didn't make sense. And there were no coyote tracks about, so one of them didn't uncover it. What uncovered came from the hole -- and what a shy mink it would have
been. So.... and then up at the lodge where yesterday we convinced ourselves that a hole in the snow had not been used by an otter,

there was a trail about two feet long out of the hole -- but no scat.

There was no activity up at the inlet creek. So, I have to conclude an otter poked his nose out since we were at the pond yesterday. There was no fresh activity at Otter Hole Pond dam or Beaver Point Pond dam -- except a fox pranced over the latter. I decided to follow the otter tracks from yesterday
to see if I could deduce the character of the otters who had made them. If two pups, deserted by their mother, made them, then they should follow an easy trail to the Big Pond, much as otters might take any time of year. At first blush it seemed like the otters were on a rational course, they went along the first ridge of rocks on the ridge, but then as they moved well into the ridge, they didn't go to the left up to a relatively easy way across -- a way I've often used, instead they went up,

and briefly tunneled along a large rock before
continuing up. Perhaps I could have rationalized this as pup behavior but then above the rock, the trail that had been one trough, breaking now and then into two troughs, became three troughs.

So I stopped thinking and enjoyed the ride up the bosoms of snow, pausing, and even dropping to my knees to get a better photo, at the high point of the journey. I could look around and see that the promontory I was on matched the height of all neighboring points that I could see.

The otters didn't go straight down, but angled and then rather than continue on an easy route, dipped down and out of another gully. My wet foot was getting cold, and I had seen the rest of the route, so I went down to South Bay for an easy way home. Fifteen minutes by the fire allowed me to pry my
frozen shoe off. So, as far as I can tell, the otters are distributed just as they were a week ago. One otter in the East Trail Pond, and three in the Lost Swamp Pond, but I could be wrong.

February 14 I had wood to chop at home on a very cold and sunny day, and during breaks I could watch the goldeneyes and mergansers from the porch. I saw some tracks going to Goose Island, so I walked around to Sheldon's Rock to check them out. I flushed large deer from out of the rocks -- probably sleeping in the sun. The ducks were doing some frisking about, more flapping, and beaking the water, than snapping their heads back. With more mergansers than goldeneyes there is not as much diving.

Later I saw a duck strangely curled on the ice near us, and when it got back into the water I saw that was a hooded

February 15 headed across the golf course, with
it minus 5F, and when I got to the woods, just up the ridge from the golf course, I was immediately warmed not only with a pee marked porcupine trail but with a cornucopia of pooh coming out of a tree trunk

This is on my usual route and I am amazed that I never noticed it before because it must have been more than a night's work. It took the tracks to show me the significance, how fresh, the den was. Down the second valley the porcupines keep up their end of winter's bargain. Down at the den by the Big Pond the porcupine had done some work just off the den

but then continued walking far along the woods, as far as I could see. Why do they set such a premium on shopping around? There were deer tracks on the Big Pond that I had to check because deer checking for holes for a drink follow paths that an otter would. I saw one hare trail in the usual spot. And then on the Lost Swamp Pond, a fox or two had made the rounds.

No sign that the otters had come out, which was a little worrisome but spared me some heavy hiking. So I continued on to the East Trail Pond without incident, and then was pleased to find, that, even with the bitter cold, an otter came out of the hole below the mossy rock by the den, freshening the scat pile and leaving some nice prints. It didn't venture more than two feet from the hole.

I got on my knees, stuck the camera in the hole and shot blindly and the result is a world free of snow with a ceiling of ice

The lack of snow under the pond ice where the water had drained away never struck me before, and perhaps adds to the attraction and warmth of these galleries

What would be nice is to find an arrangement which also shows the under ice latrines of the otter, even fish remains, but there is probably usually many twists and turns before one reaches water. The otter didn't come out at the lodge, or anywhere else that I could see. However, both a mink and fox dug into a mound, looking for muskrats I suppose

The tracks around the hole were blurred, but then when leaving, the mink separated from the general path.

There were also mink tracks along the Second Pond dam and around the Porcupine Hotel; a fox was also down there. The weather will get even colder for the next two nights and day, so I don't expect an otter foray soon. Meanwhile, the hooded merganser is still out on the river, and today one Canada
goose was about.

February 16 we're having a rather long period of sustained cold. At 8 AM it was minus 10 F, and still minus 5 F when I went out at 1 PM and minus 2 when I got back at 3 PM, plus there was about a 10 mph northeast wind, and high clouds cheated me of any reflected heat. Not expecting any otter forays, and
expecting to appreciate speed in my appointed rounds, I went off on skis. Getting down the second valley was easy and once in the woods the wind chill was defeated. Yet, the complexities of managing the skis through the forest litter, distracted from
checking a tree where there might have been a porcupine browsing! Plus the struggle to keep my hands warm, kept the camera in the pocket until I go them warmed up. But there was little to chronicle anyway. Most animals wisely tried to shelter themselves
from the cold. No sign that the otters even stuck a nose out at the Lost Swamp Pond. I braved the wind again and looped around the far lodge. It had been visited by canines, but not by otters. Even the East Trail Pond otter didn't stick a nose out, and since I had still not taken a photo, I was worried that this would be an
unillustrated episode of my adventures. However, as I headed up pond, aiming for Audubon Pond, I noticed a wide trail coming down the steepest part of the ridge to the north of the pond

There was some porcupine work on the tree it led
to, but I've often seen deer on this slope and I think that the deer made the trough. It's easier for me to climb these snow packed hills with snowshoes, so perhaps it is easier for deer too. The greater depth of snow is at the foot of the ridges, so
going straight up and over probably saves energy. I didn't expect any beaver activity at Meander Pond, but was surprised by how eagerly the deer browsed one of the trees the beavers felled the last time they were out a few weeks ago.

There was no evidence of otter activity at Audubon Pond. I braved the stinging wind and crossed the South Bay ice to get home. We're going away for three days and when we get back the temperature should be above freezing!

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