Thursday, December 5, 2013

March 9 to 16, 2003

March 9 last night we had a spike of warm temperatures and some heavy rain showers, then cold and an inch of snow by morning. While relaxing on the porch before taking a hike to see what the brief thaw and rain had done, I saw four mute swans out in the river and the ice shore -- catching some winks. At one point an eagle flew over, scaring all the goldeneyes and mergansers. The swans looked up and resumed their nap. Of course, on my way to the ponds, I went to Sheldon's rock first to get photos of the swans

Most enjoyable were their curving golden necks. Then as I was there the eagle flew over again

which sent the ducks flying again

and the swans had the river to themselves

Then off across the golf course, this time with just my boots. Perhaps a mistake. The first twenty steps I went knee deep in the hard snow, it was somewhat of a charge, but the last fifty steps was a bit tiring. There was more picking at the deer carcass -- crows I suppose.

Neither of the otters came out at the Big Pond, though the light snow had drifted and was drifting a bit. Still I think I could tell.

I expected more from the Lost Swamp Pond otters. Indeed wondering if they might breach the dam, in part, prompted me to come out (I am due for a day off from this touring.) But there was absolutely no sign of otter activity, nor any sign that the beavers came out, nor did I hear them humming. It was brisk and getting colder. I sat for a spell, pondering how different the world must seem under the ice. I had hardly snapped a photo on this day. Then down at the Second Swamp Pond beaver lodge, I saw that the beavers had come out again, making two trails up into the snow,

one toward some birches, and the other up to the downed maple and oak on the rock. There were marks of lumber being dragged down, but none was left on the trail. And I thought it interesting that a beaver gnawed on an old standing project with no hope of cutting that during a winter's interlude.

Not having snowshoes or skis on enabled me to get
on my belly and extend my arms all the way down the hole they used. There was a bit of muddy water at the bottom of it and I held my camera just above that and fired away

I continued up the ridge toward and East Trail Pond and an pileated woodpecker entertained me, and let me get somewhat close.

And that turned out to be the extent of the day's activities. All was quiet at the East Trail Pond and on the way home through Otter Hole Pond. I did see two interesting tracks: dusted over snowshoe hare tracks

in the usual spot between the Big Pond and Lost
Swamp Pond, and fisher tracks.

As Leslie drove on County Route 100 near the crossroads she saw what she thought was an otter crossing the road. Perhaps that's more likely at those fields than a fisher, but fishers do cover territory and maybe I saw the tracks of the same animal, two miles from the crossroads.

March 11 I took a day off from tracking, 15F and 20mph winds were bad enough, and I also needed relief from the glare of the snow in the bright sun. Today it started snowing a little before 8, so I hurried off on snowshoes to see tracks before they were covered with fresh snow. Since January 19 when I first saw the otter family in the East Trail Pond I have been in a "zone" with this tracking, almost as if the otters and I were communicating with each other in some way. Today, all the otter signs were so tentative and equivocal that I entertained the thought that a chapter had ended. However, at the hole near the old beaver lodge of the Big Pond there was a stain in the snow but no discernible tracks to it, and only the slightest brush of activity out of the hole still half closed by the old snows. I restrained myself from walking in front of the hole to see how solid the ice along the shore was. My initial reaction was that nothing had been out, but the more I think about it, I'm not so sure. I didn't take a photo because the snow was falling thick and in my face. Rather than going down to the dam, I hurried to the Lost Swamp Pond. My expectation of dam breaching was again disappointed, and at first glance there was no look of otters being out. However there was a small hole freshly open that is between the two holes they used the other day. The tracks from it appeared to be the old tracks going to the next hole.

Activity, I guess, but an amazing lack of it for a 48 hour period. Down at the Second Swamp Pond there was no evidence that the beavers had been out again. However, at the East Trail Pond, the beavers had almost finished the meal they had stuffed into their hole two days ago.

I couldn't be sure if they had done any more foraging but it didn't look like it. There was no activity, nor hint of activity, at the otter holes. Then I went back to check the Second Swamp Pond dam and saw nothing but an old mink trail going into Otter Hole Pond. I took the short cut otters had taught me long ago between upper Otter Hole Pond and the little ponds below the Big Pond. The snow was quite nice falling amidst the cedar and pines there. And I noted a grove of poplars just situated far enough from too beaver ponds to have survived during the last decade of intense beaver activity. At the down stream side of the small dam holding back Double Lodge Pond, there was what appeared to be a hole used recently by an otter.

Just a short jaunt as befits the juvenile otter I think is here, and no scat. This otter has been timid about advertising his presence. I came home up the first valley to the golf course, and saw some nice porcupine work along the creek below the big rock.

The tips of branches and the tiptop of the tree were gnawed bare in three red oaks.

A young maple had been liberally tasted. No fresh tracks though. The snow stopped when I got home, and the wind will probably soon blow it off.

March 13 last year I saw beavers and an otter swimming in the commodious pool of open water behind the Lost Swamp Pond dam. This year everything is locked in ice. As I hiked out in the morning, it was 15F and cloudy. Yesterday the temperature stayed around 34 and there was wet snow in the morning. The snow was now icy, so I hoped to be able to discern tracks made yesterday in the wet snow, and those made today on the ice. Good luck. I did see some day old tracks, either fisher or coyote, that I hoped would lead to the deer carcass at the foot of the valley but I don't think they did or they were swallowed by the stomping around the carcass.

No doubt meals have been had off it, including some scraping on a leg bone

And, as always, the head seemed most popular

But I couldn't isolate any tracks around all this. I'd like to show that eagles have been here, but I suppose they would land on the carcass and pull apart the meat without having to touch the surrounding snow. The porcupine returned to the den in the rocks just up from the Big Pond, and it peed as it went down into the den and then, I think, it came out and went I know not where. I did not notice any fresh gnawing in the trees nearby. I should note the lack of activity in the second valley, where we had actually seen a porcupine. Is it possible the usually popular cliff of fallen rocks became too snow encrusted? At the hole where I expected signs of otter activity, there was only a slight hint of it. There was some muddiness and muss

but no scats and no prints that I could see. If an otter had come out, it was this morning. Down at the dam, I hit pay dirt. The most generous otter scats that I've seen down there in a while

I stuck my camera down the enlarged hole which seemed to lead to two forks. The photo taken in the direction of where my guess is the leak in the dam is, shows an interesting view

There is water there and the appearance of room to maneuver in. I reset the settings of my camera and now am able to get better quality in the scat shots

The bones and scales are what I expect. The large yellow item is a mystery, and there looks to be tiny snails that survived the otter's digestive tract. There were some muddy slides going down the dam to the hole the otter had made before. There were no slides on the ice that I could discern. I went to look at the hole below Double Lodge Pond dam which had the look of being used and then there was a hole ten yards down into the water, and muddy slides from that,

but they led to a smaller hole the next dam down which I think only a mink could use. No sign of anything going down farther. Off I went to the Lost Swamp Pond, expecting to see signs that otters had been out there, and I saw absolutely nothing but maybe a small raccoon coming up the dam. Then to add to the confusion, at the Second Swamp Pond dam I found otter scat, and blood, outside a hole in the snow leading down into the little pool the beavers had fashioned there in the late fall.

This was a small pile of scat, and I walked away from it, but this line of thinking brought me back for a close up: This pond had been bone dry two summer's ago and rather depleted last summer. What were the otters eating?

And this scat seems to have few scales and bones -- more pollywogs in the diet? The bigger question was: who are these otters? There was a hint of a trail over to the hole the beavers were using near the lodge and shore, but the beavers had been out so much there was no evidence of otter activity. Then to follow this otter thread, up at the East Trail Pond, I found a hint of activity on the ice around the east hole at the dam, and, flecks of blood, that hardly register on a photo, around the hole and leading to it! Two years ago, at about this time, I found blood and otter slides and could trace the outlines of a fight between otters in the pond and one that came into the pond. But I couldn't deduce a fight from just the blood I saw today. As for the beavers, they came out again at the Second Swamp Pond.

There were enough trails leading to disparate areas of gnawing so I think it safe to say that more than onebeaver came out. They continue to gnaw on an old cut of a tree still standing, seemingly ignoring the easy branches of trees already down. And they worked in an area they haven't been to in a while. It looks like they gnawed an elm briefly for openers, and then worked on an ash with more gusto, and then cut a birch and then cut it again.

As I stood next to it, I remarked to myself that their cutting the ash just above the level of the snow was worth noting, but looking at the photo, it seems likely that they ignored the low cut, which may have been made a while ago, and began anew with a higher cut. The East Trail Pond beavers have also been out. At the hole next to the lodge a log wedged into it has been stripped. And leading from the hole at the shore of the pond is a trail of nibbled and gnawed sticks.

which presents a contrast to the clear approaches to the hole in the Second Swamp Pond. I pressed on to Meander Pond and at its head found the largest patch of bare ground formed over what must be a warm, if not very proficient, spring.

I've seen robins here and many deer tracks, and today a raccoon's tracks. Down at the beaver bank burrow, I found a bouquet of branches around the frozen hole the beavers had been using.

Otherwise I didn't spy any major new activity around the pond. In the past Audubon Pond has been popular with otters in March, but, so far, not this year. Still no signs of activity. I walked around South Bay and was rewarded for avoiding the boring trek across the Bay ice. Down in the cove a dead deer frozen in the ice near the shore was partially revealed,

and its head cut off and posed elegantly on the ice a few yards from the rest of the carcass.

The only scavenger's tracks I could be sure of was from birds, though obviously fox and coyotes have paid their respects. I also went up to Otter Hole Pond, and scared an eagle off its perch on one of the dead trees. There was no sign of otter activity in those ponds, though a mink had been out below Beaver Point Pond dam.

March 14 According to forecasts, this is the last day of winter. A thaw starts tomorrow. So I took a photo of the Lost Swamp Pond dam as seen from just beyond the beaver lodge by the rock

an eloquent testimony to the strength of the winter. What will it look like in a week? To back track, we didn't see anything new going down the valley or at the otter hole in the Big Pond. Nothing new at the spring pool, nor at the dam above the pond. I saved the dam below for the return trip. Once again there were no signs of otters in the Lost Swamp Pond. This is perplexing, especially if it is a mother and pup, as I theorize. Not a combination to lay low for too long. I carefully checked the stream below the dam, thinking they might be favoring that bit of running water, but there was no sign of fresh activity there. However, down at the Second Pond dam, there was a fresh scat, albeit a small one.

and an otter had been out of a hole further below the dam.

However, there were no signs of activity at the next dam down -- the little upper Otter Hole Pond dam. I took close-ups of the scats. The old one, what seemed remarkably gooey yesterday, now showed many fish scales in it. Compare the photo below with the one I took yesterday.

The fresh one looked completely gooey, today....

Over at the beaver hole there was no sign of activity. We didn't go on to the East Trail Pond, but cut back to the Big Pond -- the same route I took yesterday. At the Big Pond dam I got on my knees to see if I could see any tiny snails in yesterdays otter scat. I used tweezers and magnifying glass but couldn't see anything like tiny snails among the smelly fish scales. It smelled over the scat and parts of it looked freshened. So perhaps an otter had been out. Meanwhile Leslie was seeing a flock of 50 white birds circling high in the sky. I couldn't see them, and they flew off to the north -- hawks? snow geese? Too quiet for the latter, I think. Going up the first valley to the golf course, we saw fisher tracks,

probably made by the same fisher who went down the second valley.

March 15 the thaw arrived with bright sunshine and with discretion: it slowly crept over the freezing mark. So we could still walk on the snow and ice. Ottoleo went with me and tried to climb up the ridge to see the porcupine den he discovered a few weeks ago, but it was too icy. By a small opening in the creek, we saw some bloody prints, rather small. And then down at the deer carcass, there was blood on a ball of ice under the tree five yards from the carcass. Halfway between that and the tree was part of the lower jaw of the deer.

Was the blood from the thawing carcass, or had there been an attack on one of the scavengers during the chilly night? Probably the former, but shouldn't visiting a deer carcass be somewhat dangerous for smaller animals? As usual as the old melted tracks began to look lively again. However, even with that I couldn't conjure up any otter activity at the hole down by the old beaver lodge. And there did not appear to be any fresh activity at the dam hole, save for one scoot from hole to hole into the creek below, but that freshness could easily have been from the melting. At the Lost Swamp, I was momentarily excited to see that the first hole the two otters had used when they entered the pond was open again, and there was scat near it. However, the hole was small, the tracks leading to it were much like mink tracks and the scat, though of generous size for a mink, was stringy like a mink's.

So I think a mink was around. I crossed the pond where the otter had been with high hopes but there was absolutely no fresh activity. The beavers in the pond still hadn't broken out of the ice either. As I walked down to the Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw a dark brown lump in the hole by the north shore. I was pretty sure it was a beaver, so I gave Ottoleo the camcorder and asked him to take video if the critter moved. Meanwhile I went down to check for otter scat. There was nothing fresh. I got on my belly to take a photo of the day old scat, but it had sunk too deeply in the snow to get a good image, but it didn't look scaly. Meanwhile, Ottoleo had seen movement, but back down into the hole. He thought the animal might have been a muskrat. Down at the hole we saw a wet spot on the ice where it had been,

but no leftovers such as a stick or some grass. I looked around and saw that beavers had been out. They had gone further up the rock knoll, and in the other direction where the birch they had double cut had been cut again and the trunk pushed along several feet from where it originally stood. That effort still didn't bring it down so the beaver began to cut it again.

Also some more gnawing on the nearby elm. These beavers don't leave a trail of nibbled sticks to their hole, only big logs out in the field that they haven't moved! As we went to the East Trail Pond, I told Ottoleo that beavers would probably be out. So I sent him up toward the lodge with the camcorder. I was busy taking photo of otters scats at the three holes behind the dam.

This was perplexing because I could not see any otter slides into the dam from any direction. However, the prints I could see on the icy snow were very faint.

Given the choice between assuming two otters had been here for a week without showing themselves, or that somehow the otters I had been watching elsewhere had made it to this pond unbeknownst to me, I choose the latter choice, I guess. Since I'm losing the snow, this may remain a mystery unless one day every otter in all the ponds dutifully comes out to scat on the snow. I took a close-up of the very black scat, usually associated with dining on frogs, and in the close there is something looking like a very small part of a frog's leg in the scat.

Meanwhile, when I joined Ottoleo he reported that he saw a beaver just outside the hole by the edge of the pond and that it went into the hole as I walked up. I opined that the beaver shouldn't be that touchy about our presence at this time of year. We walked up to the hole, but heard no gnawing below, but there were more leftovers than last time I saw the hole.

Then we went up to check the hole by the lodge, and after I took some photos of evidence of fresh work there, Ottoleo pointed up on the ridge and there was a beaver dragging a pretty good sized sapling, or small tree, down the hill.

It was headed for us, and even though we were a few feet from the beaver's hole, I advised standing still and taking pictures, which we did. The beaver paused a couple of times to adjust its jaw grip on the tree.

Then it paused because, I think, it knew we were there. Still it took up the stick and moved closer to us. Then it dropped its stick and came down toward the hole, obviously alarmed and thinking to make its escape into the hole.

It hissed at us,

scampered almost to the hole, then backed away and ran in its hippity-hop fashion up passed the lodge and along the trail to the other hole,

where the other beaver had gone, and dove in the hole. A brief wave of the tail was the last we saw off it.

We had backed off a little -- Ottoleo from apprehension and me just being polite. I thought the beaver looked quite beautiful and healthy, and displayed strength and speed. We went home via Otter Hole Pond, looking in vain for signs of otters having been down there. Of course, we talked about that beaver most of the way home. What if we had been coyotes? Well, we weren't.

March 16 It got down almost to 20 last night but it warmed up rapidly, and save for a few hours around noon, it was sunny all day. 50 degrees is a shock. I needed snowshoes today. Because of the snow becoming honeycombed and collapsing, tracking was impossible. However, curiosities can still abound. When I first saw the deer carcass at the foot of the valley, there was a major urine mark on the tree nearby. Amazed by the blood, I forgot to photograph the pee. Since then parts of the carcass have periodically been left under that tree. First parts of the skin, then a ball of blood, and today two balls of stomach fodder

Is a fox or coyote trying to call attention to its claim on this meal? Usually the fodder, as I call it, and intestinal innards are dragged away from the meat. Not so this time which increases the contrast in the destruction of the deer.

As I feared, with the melting of the ice, old scats reappear and the task at hand becomes making sure what I see is not fresh. With the deteriorating ice not registering any prints, the whole enterprise is a guessing game.

For example, I had not noticed the white mucous on the scats at the Big Pond hole, and they look moist. But in other years I've noticed how such things take a while to dry out.

However, since the pond is getting water back in, I suppose any otter emerging from the hole must have wet feet. Wouldn't they leave muddy prints? Same story at the dam hole -- old scat re-emerging, I am pretty sure. However, I think an otter may have come out of the other hole. I've given up on otters reappearing at the Lost Swamp Pond, but I thought this would be day for the beavers to come out. It didn't look like it, and it looked too wet to go check up close

plus why would the beavers want to come out at the lodge. They must make a hole along the shore, but I didn't see any. Down at the Second Swamp Pond, the beavers had been out, and the wet depression near the lodge, underlines the point I made above. There is no comfort in just a hole near the lodge. They want a pool, and it seems they let the heat create it.

They seemed to be collecting food in three areas, the knoll, small saplings to the north and their birch work where they cut the trunk down finally, and segmented logs and removed some

While I was certain the scats I saw at the East Trail Pond holes yesterday were fresh, the growth in the scats today seemed tied to the melting. Anyway, no fresh activity that I could see, but it would be very hard to see. I hoped they might pop out at the lodge, but they didn't. There were scats at the inlet hole but they seemed old. A bad time for tracking -- not only do I see all the old otter scats, but a month of my walking and skiing around is re-emerging. The beavers were a different story. It crossed my mind that we might have traumatized the beaver we saw yesterday, but not only was the stick it had dragged down processed in beaver fashion, but the beaver made a new hole in the ice about ten yards from the lodge, and five yards from the shore, above the channel that they had been using to get to the hole on the shore.

Looking beyond the log jammed into the hole about 18 inches deep, I could see water with innumerable sticks, most gnawed, floating in the water.

I went to Meander Pond via Shangri-la Pond. In other winters, I frequented this route, but since the critters haven't been up there, neither have I. I tried to capture the moist rocks of the canyon wall in the golden setting sun

From where I stood in the middle of the pond, I could hear and see the dripping water at the cave.

The Meander Pond beavers have often entertained me at sunset, but not tonight. They have been out, of the same hole, working on branches on the north side of the pond. I crossed the puddles of South Bay and heard, but did not see, several redwing blackbirds in the marsh. I also heard and saw some gulls, flying high in the sky. And heard, but did not see, some geese.

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