Saturday, December 21, 2013

March 17 to 31, 2003

March 17 It did not get below freezing last night and today, with 50 degree temperature and hazy sunshine, the snow crystallized into ice balls. When that extended deeply there was a pleasant slush as I walked, but too often there was a collapse through layers of snow below. A weary walk even with snowshoes but worth it for the livelier dripping today, though the ponds have not opened an inch, even old holes through the ice aren't expanding. And worth it to see evidence that the animals are still going about their business. The lump of deer "fodder" under the tree had been smoothed out

and the carcass begins to look depleted. I was surprised at how little has been ripped apart from this carcass. The scapula begins to appear but remains attached, and not one leg has been ripped off. Are small animals the principal diners?

Once again it was easier to say there was no sign of fresh activity at the otter hole on the side of the Big Pond, though the thaw reveals more scat and another hole into the snow bank and a subtle one at that.

How reliant one becomes on fresh snow to elucidate what's going on. To conserve energy I didn't go down to the dam today. I went straight across the deteriorating pond onto the bepooled Lost Swamp Pond, a bepool being water on top of the ice. I walked down to the beaver lodge, but could see no signs of beaver activity. Too wet to walk out of the lodge. I walked down to the Second Swamp Pond, into the wind, and reasoned that if the snow on the knoll behind the lodge was soft, I might get up there quietly enough to sneak up on a beaver. Well, the snow was not quiet, indeed rather deep. A bit exhausted I sat on a trunk up on the knoll below the cedars. Chickadees visited but no beavers. I did admire the work they did on a large white oak branch that seems to have assumed a perfect height after falling.

I pressed on up and over the ridge to the East Trail Pond hoping to keep upwind and thus see the beavers. With spyglass I did see a beaver lumped outside the new hole, head down, nibbling, but as I struggled down the hill, the noise I made must have sent the beaver into the hole which my previous harassments had probably inspired the beavers to build. When I got over to the hole, I could see that the log of yesterday was stowed below

Then I checked for otters. Still no new activity at the lodge. At the hole below the mossy rock I was perplexed by a white mucousy scat that did not look juicy fresh, but I am sure I would have noticed and photograph such a scat if I had seen it before.

I saw a fresh track going down into the hole but it looked more like a raccoon print than an otter's. There was nothing new at the middle hole into the dam. At the hole on the east side of the dam, the old lava of scat continues to reappear, but the mud outside the hole looked moist and fresh beyond what the thaw might do.

Plus on the scat that may well be old was goo that I think is fresh. So I think otters are still here.

I decided to go home the way I came. The idiots at Thousand Island Park were once again burning in the dump and going back toward that meant almost choking smoke. And there is some safety in using the holes one has already put in the snow cover. I checked the Second Swamp Pond dam on the way. Enough water is gushing through the dam now to form a small stream below it. More scat appeared in the area, but I think it is old. The snow is so soft there, an otter moving about would have to leave more of an impression. Going up that pond along the edges of the melt pools, and then across the other ponds seemed to save me much effort. Going that way also gave me another perspective on the deer, seeing it from below.

How deflated it looks, and how strange the remaining ball of fodder, as I call it. Then what made the slogging ordeal worth it after all, was the spring-like dripping of water onto the lush lichen wall of a granite rock face

Almost tropical

New bird arrivals: killdeer and, out on the river, ring necked ducks. By later afternoon the channel was opening in front of our dock -- c'est l'aviron!

March 19 it went well below freezing last night, so I set off to the tour the ponds a little after 8am so I could take advantage of the firmed up ice and snow. And if I hadn't been detained waiting for otters to appear, I would have managed brilliantly, but at about 11 am the snow started collapsing with each step. Back to the beginning: the deer carcass was rearranged, curiously. Parts are gathered in rather than pulled apart.

I still envision a large bird in-gathering, but I think the eagles have left the area. Three muddy trails radiating from the widening pool near the old beaver lodge that the otters had been using forced me to pause.

Raccoons might not have dragged so much mud, but there were no scats. And the trails looked methodical, like a raccoon's. Down at the dam, there was a rush of water going through and snow had collapsed where the hole had been. Yet there was a trough from what remained of the hole

leading to one whitish scat that I usually pin on otters.

At the Lost Swamp, the beaver lodge way up pond looked changed, and indeed, when I went up to it, I saw that the beavers had broken the ice and luxuriated in a pool.

I didn't see the remains of much work and all was refrozen and quiet. Then back down at the dam, I was startled to see otter scat, sunk in the snow, but looking old.

There was nothing else on the pond ice that struck me as otterly, but there were three trails on the dam coming up from the little pool of water below the dam.

I would think that if the scats were old, they would not be sunk in the snow the way they are and the trail up the dam in the middle certainly shows the energy of an otter, and not of a mink or raccoon. Down at the Second Swamp Pond dam I saw more otter activity.

Not only were scats in the snow, but the snow on top of the dam was churned up;

there was a new tunnel in the snow, and there had been a small hole in the ice of the pond behind the dam. Below the dam water continued to gush out. Of course the flooding and refreezing on the ice behind the dam precluded seeing where these otters might have come from or gone to. I expected it to be too cold for beavers to be out, but I saw much evidence of rather long forays in the wet snow yesterday. A beaver went to the foot of the ridge to get several small alders.

And near the hole in the pond, the beavers cut the elm they had sampled a week ago,

and seemed to be ready to cut it again in order to get it down. A pool of discolored water had collected around the lodge but I didn't see any evidence that the beavers tried to break the ice below and make a pool of water to swim in

As I ducked under two trees on my way to the East Trail Pond dam, which I'd been doing all winter, I suddenly noticed a tree in front of me that looked as if the beavers had just cut it.

I saw a plodding trail to it and wondered if my feet could be so small and choppy. Then as I moved forward toward the dam above me, I looked up and saw a beaver, wet and disheveled sitting on the crest of the dam.

I took some still shots and then got out the camcorder and recorded some grooming. Then the beaver waddled forward and then turned, giving me a profile as it nibbled some wee thing on the dam.

It didn't seem to notice me in particular, but seemed to notice that things weren't exactly right and it waddled back over the dam and disappeared. When I got up there I saw that it had made a near hole angling up through the ice, above five yards from the hole the otters have been using.

As I stood near the holes I heard otter screeching from below the ice. My first thought was that the otters were reacting to the beaver. I moved up the hill slowly and quietly and sat on a dry birch trunk and waited for otters to come out. I waited a half hour, in vain. Then I moved up higher on the knoll to see where a beaver trail coming up to it ended, and I noticed a hole in the snow where the old beaver lodge is and perhaps a hole down into the pond from that vantage. Then I noticed a head moving in the hole.

I thought it was an otter's head, but there was no noise and the video is not good, but from the video it looks more like a beaver's head! Still, it would be a move more characteristic of an otter and it came to the hole from the direction of the otters. So.... I decided to go to the other side of the pond to get the wind full in my face, I eased down the way I came up, trying not to disturb the otters, but when I eased passed their hole, I elicited a growing chorus of screeches. They were upset at me not the beaver. My vigil on the other side of the pond was in vain, but on the way and back I chronicled several scats and many prints and slides.

My guess was that the four otters who left a while back had returned. I went down stream to Otter Hole Pond and found activity at Otter Hole dam, including a rush of water through a new hole.

All winter there had been more leaking from the hole on the north side of the dam. Today there was no leak there and all the water was coming out from the middle of the dam, below the fresh otter scats.

There was also otter activity on Beaver Point Pond dam, including some bloody remains, and finally down at South Bay, where there was a great rush of water down the creek, I saw four otter slides coming up out of the bay. Once again I am juggling a great many otters. Two were in the East Trail Pond and now I have to add four more again. Perhaps the two went back to the Second Swamp Pond and then from their up to the Lost Swamp Pond. And there seems to be at least one otter in the Big Pond. I saw three hawks, perhaps the same one twice, but my mind was under the ice so I let them fly over without much scrutiny. I need a fresh snow. Instead, rain is in the forecast for tomorrow.

March 21 the rain came yesterday and last night and this morning dawned in a fog. I knew there was still much snow in woods and swamps, but I girded myself. I had a plan. I drove over to the TIP dump and walked in on the impression in the snow made by heavy equipment brought in after the recent ice storm. Then I trusted I could cross a bit of Beaver Point Pond and get up on the south-facing ridges and have easy passage to the East Trail Pond. I soon discovered that the ponds were impassable. Where water had not pool a foot deep over the ice, the deep slush gave way to a foot of water below. I made my way across the dam, which did not have the look of a recent otter visit, and then tried to follow where I remembered high ground and tree trunks to be. A pretty good memory got me to the ridge in pretty good shape. There might have been otter activity on Otter Hole Dam, but I saved that for my return trip. Gaining the ridge I tried some photos of the pond below.

and then I tried to stitch together a panorama

Not bad; it was that dull a day. The ridge was easy walking, and I even found a glove I dropped back when the snow was only six inches deep. And from the ridge I soon saw a beaver up on the East Trail Pond dam grooming above the hole into the pond where I saw a beaver the last time I was here. And soon after that, saw that there were two beavers.

Then I saw that a beaver had cut some trees along the creek below me, and then I saw a beaver, about 30 yards down the creek, nibbling sticks.

I tried to sit in a relatively dry spot up on the ridge to see what might happen. The beavers at the dam seemed immovable as they groomed, but the beaver by the creek ambled another few feet down stream and nibbled more sticks. Then it ventured closer to the creek and fell through the ice into the rushing drink. It managed to turn around, swim a little upstream, and climb onto to ice, which broke, more ice which broke again. And then it marched on through the deep wet snow, heading up the ridge.

This astounded me. I've watched beavers in the snow for three winters now, and before they always had traction, if not a good angle to get back to safety. This beaver was chin deep in snow, really swimming in it, going further away from the safety of the pond as it went up a ridge. To get back to the pond rapidly it would have to go back to the firmer ice and snow along the creek, which is really too shallow to offer safety,) and then go up hill to the dam, and then up and over a six foot high dam. As it went up the ridge it seemed to be shopping for the right tree, found a good one, skinny and tall, easily cut it and then laborious took it down to the creek and then instead of nibbling it there, as it had with the other sticks, it dragged the stick all the way back to the pond.

The bigger beaver hunched at the crest of the dam didn't seem impressed, and the other beaver hunched in the hole seemed in the way, if the industrious beaver wanted to take the sapling into the pond water. That worthy retreated a bit, cut the sapling in half and started nibbling the more tender part, for which, of course, it didn't have to bring the sapling all the way up to the dam. The other problem was that these beavers were right in the way of my self-appointed rounds: checking the holes for otter scat, going over the relatively snowless ridge to the Second Swamp Pond to check on those beavers, and then to get up to the Lost Swamp Pond where I thought otters had moved. So I went down to the dam, hoping to get a good still photo of the trio and gently scare them back into their hole. I did noticed as I got closer that the bigger beaver had deigned to nibble the industrious beaver's offering.

I had paused at a place on the dam that gave me a good vantage on the hole in the ice behind the dam, which otters seem to have been using because there was a good bit of fresh scat on the snow above it

And then a beaver surfaced at the hole. Fortunately I was taking video of the three beavers, so I trained the camcorder down on the beaver below me. I wondered if it would slap its tail when it noticed me, but it didn't notice me.

It even climbed out of the pond onto the ice ten feet in front of me and started grooming.

The beaver groomed as beavers always seem to groom, methodically, often with two front paws going at once, pushing away the folds of its belly fur, and at times bringing the big back feet into play one at a time. But I was so close that I could see its fingernails.

I also noticed that its tail seemed to missing a piece. A curious thing about a grooming beaver is that it seems to become a ball of fur without personality; its eyes seem to disappear; its head and nose seem to shrink. How different from a beaver nose up floating in a pond. Because of this disappearance of personality, I lost any sense of what pleasure the beaver be getting out of this. The only indication of that was how it kept going over the same places -- a true massage; only now and then giving the impression of worrying repetition, though some spastic scratching was evident, especially with the back feet. I wanted to sneak out my camera and get a good still, but I dared not move. Twice snow collapsed into the creek below us and each time that happened the beaver stopped grooming and assumed an alert pose.

Then a few moments after the second alert it plunged back into the pond and disappeared. So I resumed my debate over disturbing the beavers as I moved on. The three beavers were still on the other end of the dam, then I saw a beaver come up at the hole atop of the old back lodge (pretty good evidence that it was actually a beaver I saw in that hole the other day.) I assumed it was the beaver that had just been grooming before me. Four beavers persuaded me to retreat, and I did. Of course I turned back to see if I was after all disturbing them, and right in front of me, a beaver came out of a hole I couldn't see up on the dam and slid down the dam into the pool of water over the ice. Obviously the beaver I had been watching hid in the dam. It half walked and half swam through the pool

until it gained the water over the true hole through the ice. I could tell it was looking for me

Well, now five were arguing me away, so dared myself to cross the rushing creek, and after securing all my cameras, made a successful dash across a slippery log. Now I was all anticipation: what would the Second Swamp Pond beavers be up to? Nothing. They weren't out. I didn't go up to see if they had been out and instead went across the dam. Going was tough and I had to conserve my energy. There was an intriguing rush of water through the high hole the beavers made. Swooshing eddies on the other side of the dam gave the impression that fish were running. The hole through the ice behind the dam was larger

and it looked like two gobs of fresh otter scat on the dam.

That inspired me to go up to the Lost Swamp -- very tough trudge, and largely in vain. I could see a beaver in the pool outside the large lodge way up pond, but there had been no activity near the dam. No otters had been there.

As I went along the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I got the impression beavers had been out there unbeknownst to me because some beech trees were gnawed. At first I thought porcupines did it, but one at least was gnawed in beaver fashion.

So I huffed and puffed and slushed and sludged my way back to the car and to home.

March 22 rain in the morning but it cleared up at about 11 am and the sun made a beautiful day. We tried to get out on the river, chasing the swans around the island,

(the geese are also back, with two pairs vying for the nesting space on our side of the island,) but the wind picked up and we only went as far as the ice bridge to the island. The better part of it remains 6 inches thick. Then I set off on a hike to the Narrows to see if otters might have been there. Yesterday when I walked along the little causeway of the first South Bay cove, I saw a pale pile perhaps a scat with an almost whole fish in it

which I thought might have been left by an otter. Today I saw a black scat that was definitely otter.

One must be fishing in the small opening in the bay caused by the water rushing out of the first swamp ponds. There was more dramatic rushing water at the second cove,

but no otter signs there. It was easy walking up the north shore of South Bay. I paused to look at the deer carcass on the ice.

There was open water in the creek channel and holes along the side for a ways, but then it was solid ice most of the way. So I figured the Narrows would be completely iced. I went up to Audubon Pond and found some otter scat on the embankment above the drain.

Otters had been there a few days ago, but it didn't look like they stayed. And as far as I could see they had not come out from under the ice any where else in the pond. While I was there two hawks flew low over the trees. One had something in its clutches, both were rather vocal. I headed for Meander Pond, enjoying the south slope of the big ridge to the north. The Meander Pond beavers were not out. The pool below the dam was completely opened.

During the spring thaw almost all work looks fresh, so I suspiciously eyed the work along the north shore. I doubt if the beavers have been there but judging from the open water, they could be swimming over from their lodge. Going up the East Trail to my favorite otter viewing rock (in warmer seasons) I saw what kept an eagle around the East Trail for the second half of the winter.

I was struck by how much the arrangement of this carcass was like the one in the second valley to the Big Pond. Even the scapula was pulled out in a similar fashion. I found a place to sit that afforded a good view of the East Trail Pond dam, and in a few minutes I noticed a beaver on top of the old bank lodge. It soon disappeared and didn't, as I hoped it would, reappear in the holes behind the dam. Then I checked for otter scats. I am almost certain there is fresh scat on the ice above the hole in the center of the dam.

It is right where the beaver was grooming yesterday and I surely would have noticed scat there. Also suspended in the water below were what looked like a half dozen beaver scats,

first I've seen this winter. I am wondering if the beaver on the dam yesterday is an outcast, actually living in the dam, which might account for its nipped tail, and somewhat strange behavior. But, on the other hand, there are plenty of empty beaver ponds around. Over at the hole where I heard the otters screech, I found that a beaver put a small stick and some grass in it.

Surely the beavers have taken over this corner of the pond -- it was still too hard going in the slush and snow to check and see if otters might have moved into where the beavers spent the winter. With the pond refilling that might be a good place to find fish. When I stepped on the bank above the hole, I heard a beaver swim out into the water. There is much scat arrayed around the hole and some looks fresh. There are other places for otters to den here, even four of them. I took the dry ridge back to the South Bay trail and so avoided other confusions.

March 24 It got below freezing last night. The river was calm and I herded two swans out of the cove,

The geese more or less stayed put, plus a little honking at one another. I saw a channel clogged with floating ice, and saw ring necks on the other side of the ice bridge to the island. Then I headed for the ponds. The snow is mostly gone. To minimize slogging through what remained, I headed directly up and along the TIP ridge and then came down at Double Lodge Pond dam which was leaking like a sieve. I noticed several dead fish, all small, and a dead frog along the dam.

Up at the Big Pond dam all the gush out came mostly from one hole. I saw old otter scat, and I think we can blame otters for putting the hole through the dam, but I didn't see any fresh otter scat. As I stood there pondering that, I saw a muskrat swimming up Double Lodge Pond

With the wind in my face and the rush of water to distract the muskrat's attention, I thought it might swim up to my feet, but it veered off into the grasses. The torrent coming out of the dam was impressive. The hole was three to four feet below the top of the top, looked circular and unimpeded.

A machine could not have drilled a better hole. I saw old scats on the dam, though at this time of year, it is more difficult to distinguish old from new. The pond remained mostly frozen even along the dam

It was easy walking since the water had been low for so long, the mud of the dam was dry. There are no beavers in the pond. Almost at the north end of the dam I found a hole in the ice with a black scat beside it which looked a bit like otter scat. However there was no otter prints on the ice and snow

As I walked along the Lost Swamp Pond, I marveled at how it had not changed all winter, no collapsed ice at all. Then at the dam I heard a rush of water. There were two holes in the dam, high up but low enough to send a torrent of water below.

There was no fresh otter scat on the dam above the holes and all the scat along the dam was floating in the water, which I take to mean that it was old -- though that is at tricky assumption.

especially when there are white scats, which I associate with this time of year. However, at the lodge, on the rock I found one runny fresh scat,

and there were holes in the ice around the lodge, though they did not look well used.

There were no remarkable signs of muskrat activity or of the beavers coming the long way under or over the ice to the dam. So I assume an otter breached the dam. My next trip out I should see more scat and perhaps a fish head or two. On the side of the dam near the new holes I did see a well clipped bullhead head hanging on the side of a rock, lately exposed by the melting snow.

Down at the next dam, the small one patched with grasses by the beavers last year, I was reminded of the hazards of blaming a critter for holes in dams at this time of year. Water was rushing under the dam through several holes. But the holes in the Lost Swamp Dam certainly looked like they did not just happen from thaw and water pressure. The snow had melted enough around the Second Swamp Pond so that I could easily and quietly get up on the knoll and hopefully see beavers in the sun. Well, they certainly had been out. There was a pool of water opened around lodge with sticks floating in the water,

and the hole they had used during the winter still seemed serviceable, and necessary if a beaver wanted to avoid a chilly walk on the ice and take a "warm" water route

but no critters came out for the half hour I sat there, nor did I hear any humming from the lodge. I also lounged above the East Trail Pond dam

and no critter came out to entertain me. I walked over to the bank lodge they used during the winter. I'll have to go back again in order to know if they are still using it -- no more seeing tracks in freshened snow.

The hole along the shore that had looked so impressive in the snow and ice when the beavers used it now seemed, well, rather insignificant.

As I crossed the dam, I saw another ball of beaver scat suspended in the water.

Plus there was mud pushed up on the ice which I blame on a beaver, and wonder if it might not be investigating how to repair the dam where the otters put a rather low hole back in late January.

I couldn't be sure there was any fresh otter scat. However, The otters have to scat in a new place in order for me to be sure they are still in the pond, but I am disposed to think that the scat piles are still growing. I eyed the inlet hole they used during the winter, through the binoculars, and there did not seem to be otter activity around it. On the way home I crossed Otter Hole Pond dam which has its low hole with water rushing through,

and it has old otter scat on top of the dam, but nothing fresh. Our friend Walter reported seeing an otter resting on the ice along the bay of the river near the main channel where the ice is melting rapidly. Yet, I hesitate to say that this is the time for otters to forsake the ponds that have sustained them during the winter. Depends on the pond. In a mid-sized pond well stocked with fish about four miles from the river, the otters are doing well not only leaving lavas of scat but intriguing fish innards on the ice

I'm afraid this might be the insides of the female pike who won't be laying eggs this year. The otters got one last year in this pond, too. Up on the TIP ridge I saw a pileated woodpecker and tried again to gets its portrait with a digital camera.

March 26 cloudy damp morning in the low 40s but the sky presaged clearing. I decided once again to go to the Narrows and this time I made it, with a brief pause to look in vain for fresh otter scat at the South Bay cove causeway. The ice in the Narrows is breaking up, and looked rather ideal for otters with plenty of platforms to dive from and climb back on with dinner.

The river is still low enough to allow me to walk along the rocky shore most of the way. I found one possible otter scat, not especially fresh, but probably recent. I found more raccoon scat, and fresh goose droppings. I also scanned the ice blocks floating in the river looking for imprints of otter slides but found none. There were no fish parts along the shore. I did see two muskrats, one well out in the river coming up on the edge of the ice,

In the photo above the muskrat is a tiny black dot roughly in the middle of the photo, and another under the dock in the Narrows, both hunched over something to nibble, and both rather far away. I walked up the hill and onto Audubon Pond. In other years the otters foraging in the Narrows seemed to den, part of the time, at least, in Audubon Pond. The western shore of the pond is opening up, especially at the bridge.

I saw a pile of scat there, but I think it more likely left by minks.

On the embankment above the drain I saw an otter scat, but I have seen it before, and there were no marks in the remaining ice and snow indicating that an otter had been about. I went back down to the South Bay trail and headed to the East Trail Pond that way. That pond is breaking up nicely in the upper end,

and this too looked like a good place for otters; no so just behind the dam, and of course, that is where I had to look for otter scats. On a cold day I might trust the ice and walk around and check old holes, but not today. And once again I thought I saw fresh otter scat in the middle of the dam above the hole.

though it is very hard to tell. There was also more mud and more sticks pushed into the gap below,

but the water is still gushing out. As I approached the east side of the dam, a beaver torpedoed out from its burrow in the bank, only one. The ice is deteriorating there and the lavas of otter scat are being washed away.

With a beaver lurking there full time, I doubt if the otters get to this corner of the pond anymore. On my way to the Second Swamp Pond, I noticed much beaver work along the creek, especially, to my surprise, girdling of large trees, especially red oak.

With the alarming gap in the dam, with water rushing out, I'd expect beavers to be looking for trees they could fell so they could get branches for the patch job on the dam, or to make a smaller dam below to back up water to ease dam repair. Once again the Second Pond beavers were not out, and I walked along the dam, instead of checking to see if I could tell what they've been up to. There is a hole in this dam too, but the dam still holds back a comfortable portion of water for the beavers. Here again I was squinting down at old scat seeing if I could conger it into something fresh, but I don't think otters have been here in the last day. I had great expectations of otter activity at the Lost Swamp Pond, but all seemed the same, save for one moist and fresh scat on the dam and possibly some fresh white scats on the rock. I did see a collection of whole dead fish behind the dam, but nothing that an otter ate. And two geese were on the dam and two mallards in the pool below the dam. All flew away when I came.

Finally to the Big Pond, which is the big story this spring. This always steady pond has lost most of its water. I didn't devote enough time to studying the curious things on the breaking ice and in the mud below.

It struck me that with such a loss of water, it might have been more of a paradise for minks than otters, and lo and behold as I walked on along Double Lodge Pond, I saw a mink in the pond fishing out things and quickly gobbling them.

I've never seen a mink acting so much like an otter. Then it swam across the small stream -- looking more like a muskrat than an otter.

Then it danced out onto the ice and went behind a clump of grass. With a few shakes the tail looked bushy again.

And the delicacy of a mink was never clearer to me. Just behind the big rock overlooking all the valley, I saw a strutting grouse, but it got into the brush before I could get a picture of it.

March 28 warm breezy day with hazy sun. I decided to take my winter route to the ponds. The first strange sight was two globs of what looked like tar or plastic on the golf course. I touched one and it felt hard, but not like plastic.

Then I poked it with tweezers and uncovered smelly brown feces -- from geese?

Then the first thing to check on the ridge was the trunk where the porcupine had denned much of the winter. As I approached I saw quills, so I cocked the camcorder, but nothing moved. The porcupine was dead and buried in its own pellety scat.

Next stop was the deer carcass, and while rearranged a bit, it was mostly as I remembered it. Walking through the woods, I heard a strange sound up in the pines which I soon decided was made by trunks rubbing with the wind. Meanwhile I was startled by the view I had up a dead birch.

As I approached the Big Pond, I could see that it was rapidly shrinking into a creek. However the old beaver channels still had water and it was possible to get some idea of the otters under ice world from the hole out from under the ice, to the old beaver lodge,

and then down the channel to the middle of the pond

where there seemed to be much room under the ice. There was scat along the channels the otters used, but no fish parts. No signs of recent otter activity. Down at the dam, there was no otter story remaining under the ice, just a grim prologue to what might be a dry spring in what has been the most constant of ponds

-- even the blue flag irises are high and dry. The retreating ice revealed mud showing what smaller animals were up to. I walked around past the lodge, which still has a slight pool of water around it. Tucked into the shore was another deer carcass.

The Lost Swamp Pond still has water, much opened around the beaver lodge, but I could only see a pair of geese taking advantage of it. Going around the pond to the dam I was entertained by more geese. One pair left the edge of open water and sought refuge on the ice. Slow going -- they kept sinking into the deteriorating ice.

This is a sport I use to enjoy but not this year. The poor geese flew off, as well as another pair. Up at the dam I was gratified to see that the two holes in the dam had been patched. I sometimes hold out a suspicion that muskrats can make holes in dams, though I've never thought of a really good reason why. This time, I think, the muskrat left evidence that it patched the holes -- tiny scats on a flat rock by the dam.

I checked the dam and rock by the lodge for fresh otter scat, and save for a white honeycombed blob in the water, which I think otters leave,

I didn't see any otter signs, so I think they or it has left. Down at the Second Swamp Pond the beavers were not out. The channel to the shore was muddy so I think they had been out.

I sat for a while, and sat for an even longer while on the bank overlooking the East Trail Pond. No beavers out today. However, as I walked down the slope toward the hole the beavers use, I had my camcorder running in case one of them torpedoed out. Nothing. I stopped over the hole and noticed a stick in it twitching a little bit, so I kept the camcorder running and out came the beaver swooshing below me. I also noticed some fresh otter scat,

which I didn't expect because I thought the beavers had taken over this corner. Then I am sure I heard an otter snort and it sounded like it came from the ground under my feet! Needless to say, I waited another 40 minutes,

but no otter came out. I couldn't see any fresh scat on the dam, but there was a tiny green blob on the mossy rock. I went home via Otter Hole Pond which is another sad tale. Both it

and Beaver Point Pond

are largely confined to their small central channel. Since beavers from two colonies can poke into these ponds from up stream and this is an easy first stop for beavers coming from South Bay, I hold out some hope that these dams will be repaired. The water is still gushing through the holes deep in these dams, not that I think that I could necessarily absolve otters if I could poke my head through the dams. However, given that this was our most constant winter temperature-wise, with no thaw to speak of, it doesn't seem that natural forces did this. Also I'm thinking now that the beavers might have left the Big Pond because the dam was breached late in the fall, and then the breach was widened, I think, during the winter. The major new appearance today was garter snakes.

I saw four of them. The birds were singing in the warmth, but not many of them.

March 31 some good rain two days ago, and then a flurry and well below freezing last night. Sunny and cold this morning -- back into mittens at 25F. As I expected nothing wanted to toy with that sadly positioned porcupine carcass

I didn't touch it either. I thought to measure it, but trust that its youth is apparent in the photo. For the first time I could pass the deer carcass at the foot of the valley without taking a photo. The "dying" Big Pond was another story. First it didn't look as badly as I feared; there is still a semblance of a pond. The area where the otters stayed proved more interesting than I had at first thought. A few yards further into the pond from the old beaver lodge there was a mound of old grass with a hole on top and one on the side leading to the beaver made channel.

An old scat was near the hole.

I walked a bit in the newly exposed ground but it got too squishy. The next large beaver channel was also interesting, with the beginning of the canal flanked by piles of old beaver gnawed sticks.

On our land a beaver moved into a vacant pond yesterday, no such luck here.

The dam still leaks, but much slower. No sign of muskrat or mink activity. The Lost Swamp Pond was a complete contrast. It is brimming with water, and at least one heron was taking advantage. I carefully checked the north slope for otter scats and did find two fresh ones -- one a gooey brown.

At this time of year otter scats are at their most strange. I didn't see any more as I walked up to the dam, but I did see bubbles under the newly formed ice. However, judging from a tug of fresh greens on the shore, a muskrat probably made them.

I laid down by the dam, quietly enough so the geese stopped being alarmed, but I didn't fool a duck -- perhaps a wood duck, that flew in and then flew right out. A pleasant lie down, and warm in the sun and out of the wind, but no spectacle, save the scenery.

To save the geese from honking I didn't cross the dam and check the rock by the lodge for scat. While there was some mud on the dam, there were no other beaver signs, so once again I am crediting a muskrat for doing the beaver's job. But, I confess to be a little surprised that I didn't see a muskrat. They are usually so encouraging on a cold morning in early spring. I walked down the south side of the Second Swamp Pond so I could cross the dam. The beaver channels along that shore were frozen over, but also muddy. Perhaps beavers came over. If they did they did not leave any sticks by the shore. Down at the dam, the beavers had been active. The dam was patched and repaired.

Few fresh sticks there, but much work on the north shore behind the knoll behind the lodge. It actually took a while to see. I took a photo and a cut birch hung up in an elm, as an apt comment on the frustrations of a beaver's spring. Then I saw that there second cut of a huge poplar had brought the tree down

and they dug in to segment another huge log, a real armful for me, probably two and half feet long and a foot thick.

We'll see what how the beavers manage it. The East Trail Pond was difficult to read. There was a swath of old ice behind the dam, but it soon became clear that it had been raised up higher by more water in the pond. I thought that would make for ideal conditions for a beaver to torpedo out from the hole by the dam. I walked down, camcorder running, but nothing came out. And there the water level looked low. Did the thawing ground collapse a bit? No fresh otter scat atop the hole either. Out on the dam, with the water a foot or more higher, I couldn't tell if the beavers had patched more of the dam. It continued to leak but not as lustily as before. The water level was up to the wooden beam that used to be two feet above the ice level of the pond. There were no otter scats on the mossy rock. So perhaps the otter here has moved to the Lost Swamp. I headed for Meander Pond and up in the pines, where it is always good for birds, I happened into a small flock of golden crowned kinglets

The deer carcass remains in place and in a pose still with character.

Soon it will just be a sad heap of death. Meander Pond is quite full, quite like a real pond, not merely two dredged channels crossing, as it was in the fall. I didn't notice that much fresh work on the trees but there was a small dam in the outlet stream

so there are two small low ponds below the main pond.

Audubon Pond remains lifeless, and mostly ice covered -- old ice. Going around South Bay, I flushed another heron.

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