Saturday, October 19, 2013

February 2 to 8, 2003

February 2 The temperature has been around the freezing mark for the past two days. However, there was no sun, and so no major melting. Last night there was some light icy snow. I went off this afternoon on snow shoes, prepared to slog it out. The snow is heavier but still not nearly hard enough to support any weight. I went around through the dump, and noticed nothing new until I got up to the Porcupine Hotel dam where there were muddy paths from the open part of the stream up to the rocks. There were no slides or tunnels so I suspect raccoons. Up at the lower side of Beaver Point Pond dam, I saw that something had been over the dam, and perhaps tunneled into it.

I walked out onto the dam and looked into two holes on either side of the dam. I studied the prints, and certainly if a raccoon didn't leave them, then an otter did. However, the holes through the snow and into the pond were rather neat and it is hard to imagine either an otter or a raccoon using them.

There was no otter slides up to Otter Hole Pond and the tracks I could get close too were smudged. Up at Otter Hole dam there was no major evidence of plowing but also no evidence of a raccoon's explorations along the dam. Finally all the tracks and track patterns seem unlike a mink's. Well, I left that quandary and braved the slush of Otter Hole Pond, and entered another mystery. It didn't take me long to see the beaver about 30 yards off the pond, behind the knoll, trying to cut down a tree. I didn't see any tracks coming out of the holes in the pond near the shore, so I assumed the beaver had gone up and over the knoll and came down the other side. I could see that other trees and logs had been gnawed since the last snow fall

I moved closer to the beaver and despite the slush of the snow, it didn't notice me. The beaver worked steadily on the tree, going around it in the usual fashion and unfortunately I was between switching my camera off and my camcorder on when the tree slipped straight down. It's possible that this was the second cut on a tree hung up after the first. I'll check that later. When the tree slipped the beaver jerked, but didn't panic. As I've seen before, the beaver moved its head down along the snow as if he expected there to be freshly fallen wood. An indication, I think, of how poorly beavers can see. It could only lift up some branches that had already been there, and, then, perhaps it sensed me, by smell I'd assume, because it started moving back toward the pond.

I had moved half way up the knoll, and the beaver went in the general direction of the holes in the pond. However it first stopped at a girdled white oak and gnawed up some more of the girdle, rather eagerly

then it continued back toward the hole. It moved steadily but not easily through the snow. It couldn't get its body nor tail above the snow, so with all that drag it went slowly. I thought it looked thin, but it also seemed like it tried to make the going easier by stretching out its body -- perhaps to streamline it, so to speak, to meet less resistance from the snow.

Unfortunately I was facing the wrong way to get a video of it going into the hole.

When it reached the old hole, I lost sight of it, and thinking it had gone into it, I climbed up the ridge. When I was able to look down on the lodge, I soon noticed that the beaver was in the second hole, or rather outside of it. I think it went down into the first hole, found it frozen, and then moved on to the next hole. It actually seemed to be drinking or at least nosing down into the pond water for some morsel

There was an opening by the lodge, and tracks around it, that could have been made by an otter, even a slide, but I saw no otter tracks coming into the lodge area.

I also noticed that there were no tracks coming up the knoll or going around it from the other side away from the holes. Well, I should have gone down and around again to see if I could determine how the beaver got to the tree, but I was getting chilled and there were otters to check on. As I went out to the Lost Swamp, following the old otter trail, I couldn't see any sign of a new otter trail. Up at the Lost Swamp, I saw immediately that there was nothing done to the dam, but that at least one otter had been out that day along the tunnels going to the rolling area, and an otter had been out of the holes there. The "yard" in the ice around the lodge had a different look, but otters had definitely been out on it

The black shapes in the frozen over brown slush, might be scats. But, as far as I could tell, instead of going only to the lodge, they went to the old burrow den in the bank a few yards up pond

and that's where I found fresh scat

I decided to go home across the ponds, and not go back the way I came. I went slowly and without too much trouble. The beavers in the lodge up pond didn't seem to have come out, though I didn't slog up close enough to the lodge to be sure. The deer had done much browsing in the snow under the huge bittersweet vine curling up a tree, evidently enjoying what the birds dropped.

There was a flock of cedar waxwings in the woods between the two ponds. It's funny how difficult it is to place the high pitched zeezee the waxwings make. I heard them but kept looking in the wrong direction to find them. I didn't check anything at the Big Pond, because it seemed like nothing other than deer had been there. I did take a photo of the spring pool on the south shore. Two years ago this was the principal area where the beavers lived, and fashioned their escapes from under the ice. This year the pool is almost reduced to mud.

Something had come up to the edge, but hadn't waded into it. I fear this pond is quite anemic under its huge load of snow. Porcupines have been active in the valley. Walking up it I must have crossed six trails. A dozen deer at least, out on the golf course. Next I'll have to see what the East Trail Pond and Meander Pond beavers are up to, before the next deep freeze.

February 4 Last night after a brief period of freezing rain, there was a thaw and, today, fierce winds that whipped up water just before the head of Goose Island and sent waves scudding down what river remains open. Our cove remained pocked with open spots

and some mergansers couldn't resist them

Most of the ducks, mostly goldeneyes kept out as best they could along the edge of the ice. Several times I saw them fly up into the 40 mile an hour wind, if not 50, to gain on
the waves, not that they seemed to drift back much. I bailed the boat which was floating on about two feet of water that was on top of the ice which looked to be a foot thick.

February 5 beautiful sunny day, cold after the thaw, and I planned to head off on snowshoes, but they were in the car trunk and that was frozen shut. So I drove over to the Nature Center with my skis and tried to attack the problem from that direction. The groomed trails were icy, so I had to walk down the hills. But skiing along and on the ponds was perfect. I first paused at the bridge below the Short-cut Trail pond and
studied what looked to be a perfect otter slide

It wasn't fresh, so it could have been an old deer trail, but it certainly was an otter route and continued up the Short-cut Trail pond. I took my usual route up to Meander
Pond and was diverted from the otter trail by what looked like fisher tracks

There were also fox tracks about, and the raccoons were finally out and about. What confused me about the supposed fisher tracks was that there were so many of them in
places. However, I noticed one visit to a tree that a fisher had visited weeks before. Then when I got up to the Meander Pond, the beaver activity diverted me from the fisher tracks.

Not only had the beavers been out but they had felled some trees. They came out from two holes, the one just below the main dam which they had used before and which had a line-up of lumber waiting to be pulled under

and a hole about midway between the dam and the burrow den.

It is hard to figure why this would be a weak point easily broken. Perhaps the weight of snow had fractured the ice there. No sign of any break out at the lodge, but the top of
it was well vented. Meanwhile I couldn't see any otter tracks and the deer trails crossing the pond began to look a bit like that otter trail I saw back at the bridge. Then as I skied down the East Trail Pond, I found a new otter hole, a good twenty yards up pond from the other hole

which is not what I would suspect -- the pond must be precious shallow here, but obviously otter-friendly. Looking at the eruption from another angle, you can see two more holes out from under.

Meanwhile the original hole, has a look of being briefly used but nothing as fresh and wide as was at the other hole. Before going to the dam, I went over to see if the
beavers had broken out from the bank lodge, and they had

Indeed, as I moved up to get a close-up of the hole

a beaver dove into the water below. An otter probably came out at the lodge in the middle of the pond, and there was evidence of some activity at the dam

But nothing major. Since I was on skis, I postponed again my closer inspection of the hole in the dam

From a distance it looked like the otters had been up on the dam above the hole, but I couldn't see any scat from that distance. When I turned to go back up the pond, I saw
another small hole in an unlikely spot from where one otter at least came out to take a loop

I get the impression that the otters first returned to the dam, recognized that the pond there had collapsed and refroze at an inconveniently low level, so they went up pond
again and eventually discovered a productive pool of water, now isolated in the shallow pond.

That pool is well in the background of the photo above. Of course, now I had to check the Lost Swamp Pond to see if otters were still there. I did that in the late afternoon,
after freeing the snow shoes. I went across the golf course and down the second valley, and the going was easy. Raccoon tracks decorated the valley floor and once down on the Big Pond I walked up to the spring pool to see what the thaw did to that. Raccoon
and crow tracks surrounded it, and there were splotches of mud, but I don't think there was much feasting on the remains of the fish -- even though they had been frozen

At the Lost Swamp, the lodge near the dam was all frozen up. And at first glance it didn't appear that the otters had been active recently. The smaller middle lodge
betrayed no activity; the hole they put in the bank to the east of the pond seemed dormant. Then I noticed an eruption in the ice up near the muskrat push-up,

and it looked like otters had checked that area out. However, I saw no sign of them up at another favorite spot -- the upper arm of the pond behind the long upper dam. At the
rock next to the lodge where they had been staying, a coyote or fox had scraped the snow off some old scat, and I couldn't resist taking a close-up

However, it is possible that an otter did the uncovering because I did see what appeared to be fresh otter prints on the snow around the rock. Then I saw evidence that an
otter had been around: scat around a small hole behind the dam

and scat along the rocks leading to the rolling area. Here is what a fresh, wet scat looks like in a close-up

I reasoned that I could see otter trails out of the pond by walking down the Second Swamp Pond in my usual fashion. I did and I didn't see any trail, save that very
infrequently I saw what appeared to be a fresh otter print in my old snowshoe trail down the pond! Then at the beaver lodge I saw a strange hole next to the lodge

In other years I've seen otters do that. The beavers had been out of their new hole and from it there were wide trails up to fresh work

Then coming out of that hole, I saw fresh prints that again looked like otter. However, the beaver activity diverted my attention from that. Either the 50 mph wind we had
yesterday finally knocked down the oak they had been working or a last bit gnawing had done it

plus the smaller maple nearby was down. Then I went back to check the tree I saw the beaver cutting the other day. As I suspected I had witnessed a second cut and to my
amazement the beavers were in the middle of their fifth cut

Each time the tree was cut it fell straight down and the log stayed firmly in the deep snow. I had trouble wiggling the logs. Meanwhile the prized branches had finally come
down low enough for the beaver to get at them. Off a ways I could see that the beavers have continued making second cuts on the large poplars

I walked down to the dam, looking for an otter slide and a shortcut home. I didn't see anything definitive as a slide coming from the Lost Swamp pond, but there were slides
frozen in the slush and on the snow leading to a pass in the snow over the dam down into the pool, liberally running with water, that the beavers had created. There were also prints that seemed plumper than otter, but the ice around the open pooled was carved much as an otter would do it

I walked down to Otter Hole Pond, expecting to find classic otter slides but I never did. I did find this classic otter remain behind Otter Hole dam

However, the trouble with finding the bullhead head there is that that ice might have formed after the brief thaw, and if the otters were around then, there should be fresh
scat and slides around. I begin to think once again, of that single otter who left when the three otters came in. Plus there is that family of two that had been around during the fall. All this is quite exciting, if not quite legible. Otter Hole Pond was leaking too,

which raises the question, did the otters have anything to do with that? However, until I see scat in the area, I'm not going to blame anything on otters.

February 7 a cold morning in the low teens with clouds dissipating. We headed across South Bay on skis, an inch of fresh flakey snow yesterday and last night helped, and then we went up to Audubon Pond. I could see the snowed over remains of an otter slide, up and around the drain, and then across the pond to the causeway. I couldn't see slides on the next pond up, but the snow would likely drift over that. The beavers had not been out again at Meander Pond. Some fisher like tracks entertained us. Then the East Trail was, or had been, hopping. An otter came out of the up pond hole I had first seen on the 5th 

The hole into the ice was evidently sculpted by many ins and outs,

but there was only one squirt of scat and not much plowing around the hole. We saw about the same scene at a little hole beside the lodge.

and down at the dam, an otter came out of the gallery formed by collapsing ice just below the mossy rock where the otters scatted in the summer and fall

It struck us that one otter could have done all this activity. I confessed how much I enjoy seeing this evidence of otters emerging from the dark pond below. Leslie craved otter trails to follow. Meanwhile, at least one beaver had been out this morning, despite the cold temperatures. There was a path from the hole in front of the bank lodge

I don't think the otter made that little foray to the left. Back at the lodge there was a mouse trail,

The trail disappeared into the mound of snow around a dead tree trunk. As always getting to the Second Swamp Pond on skis was dicey, but easier than I expected. There was no fresh activity at the Second Swamp Pond lodge. Then as we went up and over the ridge beside the Lost Pond dam, we discovered what appeared to be an otter playground, and Leslie got her wish

complete with tail imprints

It's hard to visualize what the otter was up to, perhaps resting belly-down on the ice. Then there was a race along the edge of the pond with two distinct trails: one large

which we assume was made by the mother otter. The churned up trail nearby had the look of two pups in a chase

There were also forays up on the ridge -- by mother and pups, if we are deciphering the slides correctly.

There was no activity around the beaver lodges, even the lodge up pond, though we didn't get that close. We returned via Otter Hole Pond, paying close attention to the dams to see if there was yet another otter around. However, there were no fresh otter slides and tracks. A fox walked along the Second Swamp Pond dam and down at the Porcupine Hotel dam, it looked like a fisher nosed into a hole behind the dam

The last track to enjoy was a mink hopping to and from the old South Bay dock lodge. And so, it seems, the otter family is still in the Lost Swamp Pond and a single otter
is in the East Trail Pond -- perhaps the same otter who left the ponds on January 19 when the three otters came in. Plus seeing the evidence of playful activity at the Lost Swamp Pond suggests that the otters are doing well -- last year we found a dead pup
in late Janaury. There is no indication that they have any interest in putting a hole in the dam. Perhaps the pond is shallow enough to provide productive foraging.

February 8 Ottoleo's day with the Kingston Field Teen Naturalists was stymied by a long line at Canadian customs, so we went off on snowshoes here to check on the otters. We went down the second valley, and while I was content to stand below and point at the porcupine trails up into the rocks, Ottoleo climbed up the cliff, found a recent porcupine den,

and then found a den with a small porcupine inside, evidently sleeping

(And the photo shows something odd -- the black shiny thing in the back, which I assume are ice)

This critter was in the upper end of the valley, and judging by the tracks there is still activity in the lower end of the valley. Plus a porcupine had visited the old den in the small outcropping of rocks just off the Big Pond. Meanwhile, I was snarling over fisher-like tracks, trying to make certain identification. Unfortunately they went in the direction we weren't going in. As we went down to the Big Pond, we saw a crow on the snow in the middle of the pond. I thought it might have dropped a fish it had scavenged from the spring pool. We went over there and saw crow tracks around the pool. There was some pecking into the ice above the dead, but it didn't look like
any crow had speared any of the dead fish.

Going along the surveyor's line to the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw more rabbit tracks than I ever had before,

including some large snowshoe hare sized tracks. Thickets like these

are not that unique around here, but this is the only area where we've ever seen rabbit tracks. At least one grouse was back, judging from the tracks. The Lost Swamp Pond is
rather busy with the tracks that Leslie and I have left, but from a distance it looked like there might be something new at the dam and perhaps the lodge. However, when we got over there it was plain to see that no otters had been out. Rather than take my
usual route down to the Second Swamp Pond, I thought I best go up the pond and go over what I call the north slope, in case the tracks we saw there yesterday didn't loop back as we supposed, but went out of the pond. I noticed how they had dug into the
slope just where the old muskrat burrows were.

At the last of the holes they had made before, I noticed that there was a fresh track. We followed that and found two more fresh holes and then two slides which I first
thought were going out of the pond, then realized that at least one was coming into the pond.

The slides went below the north slope and then at that area just beyond the downed tree with many limbs coming into the pond, where otters had often been two years ago, we saw a large hole in the ice, not refrozen, and much otter action.

Then we saw two slides coming down into the pond from the west slope, and a trail going up the steep south slope and then a slide, not quite as steep, coming down. We back tracked the slides coming down from the west, and they were perhaps the finest slides I've ever seen, neatly forking at places.

As usual at this time of year, the otters claimed the highest ground before sliding down. We back tracked the otters down to the Second Swamp Pond which they
uncharacteristically crossed rather than follow up, and then down to the beaver lodge where they made a play to get into all the frozen-over holes, and seemed to have failed. There we saw a third slide but later detemined that at least one of the otters looped over to check the dam. The last time otters came from the East Trail Pond to the Second Swamp Pond they took the low road -- a very sensible route that I've continued to follow. This time they came down from the high ridge, though I must say they didn't
go the absolutely highest point of the ridge. Then we saw where they came down from the East Trail Pond dam,

and I saw scat above the hole in the dam and fresh scat at the hole near the mossy rock. Yesterday we figured that there was one otter in this pond. I went back to the holes
where an otter had come out yesterday. The far hole showed no activity, but an otter had been out at the lodge hole, but again, looking like one otter.

There were no trails coming into the pond that I could see. I went back to the Lost Swamp Pond and noticed a trail going up behind the downed tree. That trail left the pond, and only one otter I think. I tracked the otter going out of the pond to the south. It checked a hole beside a rock on the way up and ducked under rock, but scrambled up to the top of the ridge

and continued into and a little beyond the grove of poplars that the beavers had cut two falls ago. It made two little rhumba jogs in the snow

and after the second one beelined back to the Lost Swamp Pond. One possible interpretation of what I saw, is that an otter left the pond, went back to the East Trail Pond and chased or was chased by the otter there, which would mean there are now four otters in the Lost Swamp Pond. The trouble with that is that I didn't find a trail into the East Trail Pond. Another scenario is that there were two otters in the East Trail Pond and they moved to the Lost Swamp Pond, and then one moved on going
further to the east. Complicated, but with otters at this time of year, anything is possible. With such good conditions for travel otters could go for miles. Meanwhile a ferocious wind picked up and I took a wooded route home, going down the First Swamp ponds which showed no activity worth mentioning. While tracking the
otters, I did catch this curiousity: an insect gall, I think, placed in a woodpecker hole.

In tracking the otters I kept an eye out for blood, in case these otters were fighting as they chased each other, but I found none, and certainly no signs of tusseling. The
two otters might not have been travelling together for all I know. All in all, perfect sport for early February. Here's a video I took of the otter tracks, just as confusing as what I wrote about them:

No comments: