Saturday, November 16, 2013

March 1 to 8, 2003

March 1 just below freezing when I headed off across the golf course. I went on snowshoes because so much ice has fallen off trees that I feared with just boots it might be like walking on marbles. And the "marbles" were still falling but I made it unscathed -- one major hit about six feet away. Because of the falling ice, tracking wasn't easy -- especially of porcupines who weave in and out between the tree trunks. And the area around the dead deer was a bit pocked. There might have been a bit more pecking at the carcass but nothing major. Because we have not had any fresh snow for almost a week, the best way to tell if an otter has been out of one of the holes is to see its prints or slide are on top of mine. At the Big Pond hole, I didn't quite see that, but I think there was a fresh scat. The amount of activity is consistent with my current notion that there is only one otter there, and as far as I could tell, it still is there. Down at the dam otter tracks came out of the hole it had used about three days ago, and crisscrossed the dam,

almost slid down behind it, and then headed down stream across the ice of Double Lodge pond. There were spots of blood on the dam, so the otter probably had a bite of something. However, there were also crow tracks on the dam and pond. The otter tracks went down to Double lodge pond dam, and it looked like the otter tried to dig two holes into it,

then went below the dam and perhaps nosed into a bit of open water there. Then the tracks showed that it took a brief foray into the grasses along the side, came back, went back up and over the dam and found a hole in the ice

at about where the inlet creek comes in, not far from the old lodge and burrows over there. I walked circles around the hole

and the little pond itself and as far as I could tell the otter was still there. Both the otters in the Big Pond seem to have been acting like juveniles. I was also impressed with the bird tracks on the pond, crows I assume. One even seemed to have pecked my old prints. I walked up to the lodge of the Lost Swamp Pond beavers again, heard some beaver noises in there, but still no sign they tried to get up on the ice. While in the woods I didn't tarry to look at the ice about to fall, on the pond. I noticed how the ice separated from the trees as it melted.

About half way down the Second Swamp Pond, I saw an otter slide coming out to my old trail and then turning around once it hit the trail.

I tracked it to the edge of the pond, heading from and back toward the East Trail Pond. I went down to the beaver lodge on the Second Swamp Pond, no activity there, and as I braved the barrage of ice up and over the hill to the East Trail Pond, I picked up the otter slides again. I saw that the otterhad come over the rocky knoll about the dens just east of the dam. Before checking that out I eased over to see if the beavers were out. They weren't but they had been. I sat on a bit of their recent work

and waited for them to appear. No such luck. Even when I sneaked up on the hole by the lodge, with camcorder running, a beaver didn't scoot through the hole heading for pond water. There was fresh work in and around the hole.

I always find these arrangement of sticks and gnawings fraught with meaning. I noticed that the ice fell off the trees markedly faster when the sun was out. There was no fresh otter activity at the lodge, but even from there I could see that there had been major activity out of the hole east of the dam. There were mud stains radiating from the hole,

and when I got closer I could see that there was a wider array of scat.

Unfortunately the slides up and around the hole and dam were very light and hard to read. There was more scat at the hole in the center,

none at the hole to the west. And I could see browned slides below the dam, as if the otters went out that way. I went slowly down the frozen ice covered creek, and while I could see slides going down the creek, I could also see prints coming back. Still, through the shards of ice, I thought I could see three slides down until about half way to Otter Hole Pond. I went down to that pond which, of course, was free of the falling ice, but saw no fresh slides there. The otters probably went back, but they could have gone up on the ridge, or cut up to the Second Swamp Pond dam, though I should have crossed their trail if they did that. Snow is predicted and I certainly could use a clean slate of snow for tracking. So, it seems, the three otters who came into the pond the past few days have rattled the otter that had been there. That otter left the pond, thought better of it, and returned. I still suspect the dramas I am watching are the efforts by the mothers to separate from their pups. The otter that left the pond and returned did not take the route the family that had been there earlier took, which might mean something. Of course, it took a more direct route toward the Lost Swamp Pond which is where, I think, it had been before. The maddening thing is that I will never see evidence, let alone see the otters themselves, that will straighten this out. There should be even greater dispersal in the near future. I went home via South Bay, to avoid the falling ice, and walked up on the cattail marsh. There I had the perfect angle on what the ice had done to the cattail heads

I've been seeing the seeds wafting in the light breezes for the past two days.

March 3 yesterday the temperature hovered in the mid-30s with a kind of drizzle now and then. I should have gone out, but snow was forecast and I imagined the delights of tracking after a fresh snow. Early in the evening a cold front roared through sans snow, and by dawn the temperature was minus 14F, and when I headed off a little before one, it was up to about minus 3. While the snow was hard all the ice from the trees had crashed down on it and never had a chance to melt. So for peace of mind, I strapped on the snowshoes. The ice made tracking almost impossible. It seemed that the porcupine up on the ridge above the golf course had been out -- there seemed to be fresh work and more scrapping of scat out of the tree trunk, but I certainly couldn't see any tracks. And there evidently was more digging into the deer

especially into its chest

almost as if some small animals dug in there to keep warm. Because of the circle of ice around the carcass, I couldn't see any tracks. I despaired of being able to tell if otters had come out, but I am pretty confident there was nothing new at the holes in the Big Pond and the pond below. I walked up to the Lost Swamp Pond beaver lodge again -- no sign they had tried to get out during the brief thaw, and today, I heard no mewing inside. I did see fresh tracks at the dam, a muddy climb up from the bottom of the dam. I am pretty sure a raccoon did that. I decided to cut directly across the Second Swamp Pond and head into the East Trail Pond where the beavers are active. I kept thinking I was seeing fresh beaver tracks, but because of the ice it was as if they were tiptoeing. None of the smears I associate with beavers. Yet judging from the different lay of the lumber outside the hole, there is no doubt beavers had been out.

I heard no mumblings or rumblings from this lodge either. Over at the lodge where the otters stay, it looked like new scat, but not especially fresh, nor did the hole into the ice looked squeezed through. However, up at the inlet hole, there was unmistakably fresh scat

and almost certainly from just a few hours before, because the scat was still moist in the cold air

I take these close-ups, hoping the technique might enable me to identify what the otters are eating without touching the stuff. A close up of another pile next to the one above

suggests to me that there might be bones of a small mammal or bird, in the scat, though most of it looks like fish scales. I also got on my belly and thrust my camera in the hole. With a trickle of water below me, and the smell of the pond highlighted by the definite odor of otter scat, I felt as if I were plumbing otter-worldly mysteries. One photo is of poor quality but does show the levels of ice that had formed along the edge of the grasses

and then one shot showed the protected galleries under the thick ice that remains

I will continue trying this until I get a photo of an otter below winking at the camera. Down at the dam, an otter had been out at the hole near the mossy rock

-- the scat was moist and in a new spot. But I couldn't be certain if the other holes had been used. The lava at the east hole was working its way to China. A better indication of recent use was how the hole had been widened into the grass on one side.

Now I went back to the Second Swamp Pond, angling for the lodge, to see if the beavers had been out and then to check the dam and ponds below for the otters. The beavers have not been out, but going just behind the dam I saw four otter slides!

I was only expecting three. The two below seemed older, but there was no sign of otters coming back, so

so I don't know. They went to the area where the beavers made a hole in the dam and it seems that got under the pond there. No scats, and no sign that they came out. However, as I walked down over Otter Hole Pond dam I saw some muddy slides coming out of the a brief bit of open water below the dam

However, the prints in front of the slides seemed tiny

I was convincing myself that a very wet mink might make a big muddy slide, when almost bubbling up out of the low ice along the main channel through Beaver Point Pond, I saw what looked like otter scat.

and half muddy trails coming from it.

However, at Beaver Point dam, the old otter hole into it did not look much used. Then, yet again, there looked to be scat in the creek below. This scat could be very old and revealed by the thaw, but it does look moist. Still, I have trouble thinking that even with the icy freeze up, that the otters who wrote so legibly at the Second Pond dam would turn so inscrutable. The New Pond was filled with ice shards, but I scowled at it and scowled down the outlet creek which was mostly frozen. I saw hints of mud, but how could otters leave an area with such stealth, and four otters at that! Yet, I have difficulty explaining how four otters could be galavanting about, with at least one otter remaining in the East Trail Pond. I need fresh snow. If I ducked low enough when I looked at the outdoor thermometer at home, it was one degree.

March 5 The temperature warmed and at last, beginning last night, we got some snow. With about 4 fresh inches in the morning I headed across the golf course on skis -- with a good bit of icy snow blowing into my face. Once in the woods I was quite comfortable, and skiing conditions were almost perfect with the fresh snow over the ice. There was a deer in the flat at the top of the second valley. Of course deer was about the only tracks I saw. The deer carcass presented a curious sight blanketed by the snow save for a hole in the snow leading down to the hole in its belly.

Probably the heat from putrefaction kept the door open, but it's nice to think of say a chickadee getting down into the deer's chest to keep warm. There was no sign that otters had been out either at the Big Pond or Double Lodge Pond. Then just as I was beginning to think that I was just out for the exercise, I saw a deep trough in the snow just off my usual route to the Lost Swamp Pond.

The snow was just getting deep enough for the deer to make a trough in it, but I could see this was not made by deer. It wound in and out of trees and eventually to the big rocks next to the Lost Swamp Pond. On the pond the snow was drifting so the trail became less distinct, but I saw it duck into one possible hole, and then get into a hole, and come out of a hole nearby, and make a brief foray away from the hole and back.

Of course, the otters had been here a few weeks ago so there was no mistaking who made these tracks. I didn't notice any divergence, but the trough was so smooth I think at least two otters made them. I went around the shore of the pond, suspecting that the otters who came into it might have left it earlier. But there was no sign of that. At the dam, I saw a robin flapping above the pools of water below the dam. As I went down the Second Swamp Pond, the snow seemed to be letting up. I saw two otter slides coming into the holes the beavers had made near the shore just below their lodge

and the hole they made for was quite open, and dry on the bottom

Of course, I did not expect to find two otters going from the East Trail Pond to the Second Pond, unless I could find evidence of otters leaving Beaver Point or Otter Hole ponds and going back to the East Trail Pond. So I checked and saw nothing but faded mink tracks along Otter Hole dam. Though it certainly didn't look like it, I thought it might be possible that one otter made a round trip between the East Trail and Second Swamp ponds, but the trails heading up from the hole east of the East Trail Pond dam disproved that

At least two otters made them. There were no signs of otters at the hole in the middle of the dam nor on the west side. As I went up to the lodge, I watched a raven gurgling and bobbing in the air, and just then, an eagle flew up from one of the trees. It landed on a tree below the ridge to the northeast, and as I moved closer, thinking of a photo even though the snow had picked up, it flew off over the ridge. Of course, I looked hard for carcasses, but saw none. There was no activity at the lodge. Then I went up to the active beaver lodge, and there was no activity there. Beavers seem disinclined to come out while it is snowing. There was also no activity at the inlet hole. Skiing down to Audubon Pond was easy and uneventful. No activity at Meander Pond, nor, save for a mink trail, at Audubon Pond. When I got onto South Bay I saw what might have been a trough, but it was short, and though I skied down the shore to the rock the otters favor, I saw no more hints of a trough. So, I don't know from where the otters going to the Lost Swamp Pond came from; and the recent subtractions from the East Trail Pond, four otters and then two otters, don't balance with the number of otters I thought were there to begin with -- four. So the usual March otter confusion.

March 6 cold cloudy morning, and even a wind in my face heading up the golf course. My fingers froze on cue as I reached the edge of the woods, then I was distracted by a bounding trail to my right and an apparent trough to my left. I had to investigate, for otters have come to the golf course. The bounding was probably a mink and the trough was definitely made by the porcupine coming down off the ridge and it had walked down to the golf course pond for a drink. Up on the ridge, the porcupine den I had been watching was unused. So the thirsty animal could be the one I had been watching. No porcupine action down through the valley, and the only thing to sniff over the dead deer was another deer. Down on the Big Pond, I was gratified to see my conception of things confirmed. An otter came out of the hole beside the pond, scatted, and made a short foray of about ten yards, toward the upper dam

The prints around the urine soaked scat were firm in the snow.

Then down at the lower dam, an otter came out of the base of the dam, made a short foray down the stream, also about ten yards, and then returned.

I think these are not the same otters, and that the siblings abandoned by their mother have stayed in different parts of the pond. I simply can't picture a young otter going the hundred yards or so between the two holes under the ice. As I was going over the Big Pond dam, I saw an eagle fly off from a tree just above the Double Lodge pond. As I moved on another eagle flew off. Both went behind the trees to the northwest. Then after I checked the holes down there for otter activity, the two eagles reappeared and one, a mature eagle, flapped, hovered and spread its white tail. Then another eagle flew over higher than the first two. I snapped away with the camera, not expecting to get a good photo,

but one has to do something. Then as I moved off toward the Lost Swamp pond, a half dozen crows flew along the tops of the trees. I decided to take my summer route, up and over the ridge, hoping to cross the otter trail I saw yesterday. No such luck. There were many deer trails and perhaps one of them used the otter trail and obscured it. But that was not my only disappointment. There were no fresh signs of otters at the pond. I did see a robin again flying out of the pool of water below the dam. I was also hoping to see fresh signs of otters at the Second Swamp Pond, to where, by my calculations, two otters came yesterday from the East Trail Pond. There was nothing new at the hole they entered, nor at the dam. Only deer had come to bust a hole in the ice below the dam to get a drink. As I came up to the East Trail Pond, I saw two trails coming out of a hole in the snow behind the dam.

The slides were made by a large mink or small otter, and whenever I entertained that debate before, I've always, upon further investigation decided the slides were made by otters. But before investigating, I checked the other holes. While there was no typical otter activity, there was a look of something using the hole to the east of the dam, and the hole in the center, behind the dam. Then I looked up, drawn by a raven's call, only to see an eagle fly off from the top of one of dead trees in the pond. The eagle flew to one of the trees just off the dam. Then the raven flew right over me, gurgling and doing a tilting dive and lilt almost right above me. Then the raven flew off and seemed to harass the eagle, or at least prod it to roost in a different tree. Adding to my confusion when I looked up later, I saw a large hawk right above me. Back to otters: There was no activity out of the holes at the lodge or the inlet creek. Of course, I went up to see if the beavers had done anything, and indeed one at least had been out. The trail to the left of the bank lodge ended abruptly about ten yards out of the pond. A trail to the right went up and over the slight bank of the pond.

I could see the fresh work in the hole, and judging from the disposition of the snow, it looked like the beaver had come from the pond side of the hole, not the lodge side, but that's a tough call. Anticipating that I might have to follow a fresh trail down to Otter Hole Pole, I went back to the East Trail Pond dam. I looked again at the old otter trails above the hole east of the dam, and realized that there was another slide, fresher, that came down the slope directly into the hole.

So an otter came back to the pond. Then the tracks going down from the dam only went down about twenty yards and then turned back, returning to the dam I continued on down the stream and found nothing but deer tracks the remainder of the way.

March 7 it was ten below zero in the morning but almost 20 when we headed off. I chose snowshoes today, anticipating a wild otter chase. Going up to the valley we crossed one porcupine trail in the upper flat, none down in the valley. A fox or dog visited the deer but didn't make any headway on the frozen corpse. Down at the Big Pond, the otter had been out at the usual hole

and it made another foray out, much like the one it made yesterday.

I take this tentativeness as an indication that I am dealing with one juvenile otter. At first thought, it seems like a daunting situation for a young otter. But on reflection I reason that having access to relatively small pools under the ice, where fish might be easily had, might be just what an otter wants. There have been no great thaws to complicate things under the ice, and judging from what it looks like above, plenty of spacious galleries to operate in. Down at the dam, there was no unequivocal fresh evidence of otter, and the sunlight made everything seem more lively.

Meanwhile Leslie had gone up to the spring pool and saw some strange tracks there, which, after some discussion, we decided might be a snowshoe hare coming for a drink. There was also muss over a gap under the ice, but no otter signs. However, I did see an old trough and soon realized that this is the trail of the otters who came into the Lost Swamp Pond two days ago.

We tracked the old slides as best we could, and though we couldn't definitely connect them, it seems they must. Now fresh otter signs at the Lost Swamp would have been nice, but there were none. Ditto for the Second Swamp Pond. Before tracking the otter who went up the slope east of the dam, we checked on the beavers. They had been out,

which is remarkable because after I had seen them yesterday, temperature about 20, the thermometer plunged to a night time low of minus 10. So between two periods of the supposed maximum temperature for out of pond activity, the beavers had been quite active, even dragging an ungainly log half way down to the pond.

At the top of that trail, there were more trails away from the pond.

And this time they came out of the hole they had made at the edge of the pond.

Rather warm looking on a cold day. Then it was back to otter problems. Having someone else along is not always a treat because Leslie says, looking at the slide on the hill, that the otter went out of the pond. Impossible, in my view, but there was a gap in the slide. Anyway before arguing, we tracked, and the slide simply went up to a tree on the ridge, sniffed it, and doubled back on itself.

So we were both right. We went home via Otter Hole Pond where there was no activity. We crossed the South Bay marsh as a shortcut -- perfect conditions for that and I got a photo of the small patch of usually inaccessible phragmites out there.

March 8 a thaw begins, but 32 degrees and cloudy is rather visually dull. No matter. I was going out to let the otters finish a few stray thoughts I had been having. I had decided that the otters who came into the East Trail Pond probably left the area via South Bay. And, still remembering how big the print of one of the otters was, I think this was a group of males. And that while at the East Trail Pond, that almost two year old male I continually accuse of lurking around these ponds, joined them on the romp to Otter Hole Pond, but didn't continue on with them, but came back to the East Trail Pond. But first things first. Thanks to the thaw a fox got some red meat out of the dead deer.

Not any new porcupine action, and then the otter. At first glance nothing seemed new, but then I saw prints in the snowshoe tracks I left yesterday; no new foray nor much new scat if any, but the otter had been out.

I got down on my knees and took some photos as I held the camera in its hole. One shows the icy way to the other hole, well mudded by the otters

Turning the camera to the left, you can see the edge of the sedge and a path that might lead to the old beaver lodge nearby

Down at the dam, it looked much like before,

save that there was a new hole into the pond along the old trail.

So an otter had come out and followed its old tracks, and then entered that hole. I didn't go down pond, because I had another mission: see if the slides going from the pool up pond also came into it from the east. I had no luck finding any old slides. Refusing to think that otters had been up at the pool without me noticing, my guess is that the otters came in the pool and took refuge there during much of the snowstorm, so their tracks in would have been covered. Then it was on to the Lost Swamp, where, if otters have not come out, I would have a bit of explaining to do. But since I was a way east, I crossed over through the brush to the upper Lost Swamp Pond and checked on the beavers. They have not made a move to come out, but I could hear harmonizing hums and gnawing inside. At first blush nothing seemed new on the Lost Swamp Pond. Then I saw some action over on the ice below the old rolling area, and sure enough two otters had left the hole, and left a good sized scat.

However, I soon noticed that two otter slides came in from the dam. I went to the dam and saw how the otters came up the creek and up the dam.

So these might be two different otters, unless.... I tracked them as they sniffed all the old holes and opened one more,

and then they went up and over the ridge, the north shore slope as I always call it. They slid down onto the Second Swamp Pond

and then to my utmost gratification they went up pond, broke the ice of the creek thrice, left some muddy tracks,

and then went up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam. The otters had laid low for two days, managed to get to the other side of the pond under the ice, come out, made a tour, and came back. Plus I think one slide was larger than the other. Could this be the mother and pup that had joined the other family in the fall? So one mystery remained, was there an otter in the East Trail Pond? The beavers in the Second Swamp Pond hadn't used the hole an otter made, but as I stared at it, I saw that something had come out of it since I last was there. However, it gave the light impression of a mink, and as I tracked its two by two prints back to the East Trail Pond, its trail remained mink-like, though large for a mink. Indeed at one point there was a slide almost as big as my snowshoe.

Again this was a trail that left the East Trail Pond dam and then returned. So confusion remains, because there was absolutely no fresh signs of otters in the East Trail Pond. Only so many otter mysteries can be cleared up in a day. The beavers had been out, and I waited for sticks in the hole by the dam to shake but they didn't.

They hadn't come out of the hole at the edge of the pond. Since it was thawing, I decided to check on the Meander Pond beavers, on the way I saw evidence of deer browsing the lichens.

at one of the most beautiful stretches of rock along my usual route

I had my camcorder cocked as I approached the Meander Pond dam, but the show was over, and, amazing as always. Once again they made a new hole, cutting the ice at an angle not far from their burrow lodge.

This is the fourth different hole they have cut this year. And their work was like petals of a flower, going in all directions: a branch,

a trunk hanging in the air,

a trunk just below the snow

and, of course, some long trails.

There was nothing new at Audubon Pond, save for a mink to hit some of the old hot spots, who, perhaps, like me, was perplexed that they are so cold.

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