Thursday, December 26, 2013

April 2 to 8, 2003

April 2 we had snow yesterday afternoon, a little under an inch, and thanks to a cold night it was still on the ground in the morning. I was out the door at 7:30 in hopes of good tracking. Since time was of the essence I didn't pause over the myriad of geese tracks on the golf course, and the geese moved aside as I charged through. Nor did porcupine tracks at the bottom of the second valley down to the Big Pond deter me, though it was good to see that a critter was active. (The porcupine corpse at the upper end of the valley is still undisturbed.) Raccoons had been poking into the remaining holes at the old otter den. Down at the dam, I saw straight away that something had been on the dam, after breaking the ice behind the dam, and my first hope was that a beaver was back. It proved to be two otters. There was just enough snow to show their prancing around on the dam, 

some small, and one good sized scat.

I could tell there were two by the tracks going across the ice of the pond toward the Lost Swamp. Then they veered from that course and took my usual path

Then I lost them in the woods since deer and raccoon tracks confused things. But they had gone to the Lost Swamp. I first saw where they had gone out -- at the north slope. To be more correct I saw one trail out, but enough prints in the mix to indicate two otters. They had also come out at the rolling area, leaving enough prints and scats for two.

Ice behind the dam had been broken, but I saw no scats on the dam. Between the lodge and the dam there were slides and a rumba of slides as if the two otters were playing or fighting.

I found a luscious creamy flat black scat at the base of the rock in the grass,

and saw two slides coming into the lodge. Two geese sitting on the ice, patiently watched my investigation.

Why they sat there, I could not fathom. The otters went directly up and then down the ridge to the Second Swamp Pond. The ice is too weak, of course, so I headed down to the dam. It was evident that beavers had been there, rediscovering the brush they had enjoyed in the fall, and also getting some roots out of the pond bottom. They also enjoyed the little pool they dammed up in the fall. I couldn't be certain that the otters had been through. Something had gone directly over the pond, left no scat or clear prints, and with open water above and below the dam, I couldn't be certain it was an otter. On the north end of the dam, I noticed how beavers had come up and gnawed again on the left overs from the fall

-- even on an elm. Up at their principal winter foraging area, there was only a tentative path up to some logs. It is as if the beavers set out for food and can't help nibbling what they first bump into. While during the winter, they had seemed as if on a mission when they left safety under ice. I went up the ridge to the East Trail Pond, expecting to find otter slides, but I didn't. I expected to see signs of otter activity behind and on the dam, but I didn't. However, I found otter trails down the ridge from Otter Hole Pond, leading to the iced over pond. This confused me a bit. I went up the rock to get a fuller view of the East Trail Pond and all I saw were raccoon tracks. I sat down to think and came up with this: the otters had taken their tour in the evening after the snow. The beavers had been active behind the dam during the night and then the pond froze up this morning. One trouble with the theory is that I didn't see signs of beaver activity either. And why hadn't the otters come out this morning to poop and play? I backtracked the otter trail coming into the pond which appeared to take the old route up from the chaos of logs in upper Otter Hole Pond. 

I couldn't wade into that so I went to dam to see if otters had been there. Something had been there, but I think raccoon. There were no signs of otters on the sad ice of the depleted pond, where, unfortunately no beavers had been the night before.

Instead of heading home, I took a beeline to Audubon Pond, pausing at Meander Pond to see that the beavers there had put up a scent marker, and done some nibbling. And at Audubon Pond there was nothing. Walking along South Bay, I flushed two heron -- and it began snowing. Always a touching sight to see them fly away in the snow. And the snow obscured my view of two big birds on the ice, which I first took for two huge hawks. Then I saw the white tail of one. But the underwings of the other were too white to be an eagle. Meanwhile, all the way around South Bay I was following turkey tracks. The rest of my walk was uneventful, which caused a problem. I expected to see that an otter came in from South Bay heading up to the Big Pond. I saw some big otter tracks and formed the idea that a male was pursuing a female. So I walked up the creek to the Big Pond, scaring ducks, mostly mallards and a few wood ducks, all the way. At the Middle Pond I saw a little muskrat. All to see at the Big Pond dam what I should have seen before. Otter tracks coming into the dam from the east, from the upper end of the pond. But only one otter that I could be sure of -- which suggests another theory. The two juvenile otters who I think have been in this pond since their mother left them a few weeks ago, met up and went off to explore old territory. Of course it is possible that in their tour they met other otters -- certainly the huge scat at the Lost Swamp Pond wouldn't seem to be the product of otters hurrying through. Fancy take over: the two juveniles faced a fight in the Lost Swamp Pond which explains why there was no marking at the Second Swamp Pond dam and at the East Trail Pond dam (their childhood pond) because they had been humbled into laying low. There may be snow still on the ground tomorrow morning -- we'll see. 

April 3 there was another inch or two of snow late yesterday afternoon, light snow off and on during the night, and icy snow as I headed out for the ponds a little after 8AM. I decided to go via the TIP ridge to the East Trail Pond, hoping to pick up where the otters left off. It was easy going through the two to three inches of snow. My plans changed at the creek bringing water down from the New Pond. On the board that had washed down against the bushes along the creek, there were three troughs.

However there was no other sign of something as considerable as three otters coming through. Plus the troughs looked too narrow and near for otters. I went up the creek, flushing ducks and spotting a porcupine trail across the top of the porcupine hotel, but no sign of otters. I crossed Otter Hole Pond dam and something had been up on the dam but again, not what three otters might do.

Probably geese made the muss. So I suspect the three troughs were made by minks or a mink. Or could ducks have perched on the board? I continued on to the East Trail Pond and behind the dam and save for a winding opening well out in the pond, all was slushy ice. When I crossed the dam I saw an otter slide in the ice going to and then going from the hole on the east side of the dam.

There was no evidence of the otter going into the hole or up on the bank. This is not what I expected. But, after all, this was not the best weather for sporting about. The winding trail in the ice began toward the bank lodge the beavers had used up pond during the winter, so I walked over to check that out. I saw some old tracks in the snow made by a small beaver. Then as I approached the lodge, one beaver arched its back and dove under the ice, and then another. Both swam away from the lodge. Here is the view from the lodge.

Two pairs of geese were in the winding "stream" through the ice, but the closer pair flew away. While they might have moved back to it, perhaps the beavers are not especially comfortable in this lodge anymore after it had been high and dry so long because of the hole the otters put in the dam. I waited to see if they would surface but they didn't. Beginning my tour in the middle of the arc of ponds I watch is difficult when the East Trail Pond presents equivocal signs. The otter trail from the dam seemed headed toward Audubon Pond, and I perhaps should have at least checked to see if there were otter signs in the upper East Trail Pond, but it was icy snow after all, and seeing that an otter was still in the Lost Swamp Pond would prove a lot more. I headed off to the southeast, checking the little pond behind the East Trail Pond first. Good chance the beavers have been back here making that "path" in the ice.

The color and consistency of ice during the freezes at the end of the cold season create curious patterns on ponds. This "path" and the "stream" in the East Trail Pond are about a straightforward a pattern as I've ever seen. At the Second Swamp Pond the beavers had been out foraging behind the knoll but the latest snow covered up what they were gnawing. Best I could tell they came out not for their juicy poplar or birch logs, but for some elm. No sign of them coming out along the dam, and no sign of them -- all the lumps in the areas of open water were ducks and they all flew off. There was more open water in this pond because it is more exposed to the east wind. Walking up the south shore I noticed that the ice in the beaver channel had been broken but if a beaver had come out, it hadn't done any major work or left a trail in the snow.

I had high hopes for action at the Lost Swamp Pond, but was disappointed. Geese came to the dam -- no scats anywhere to be seen. However, there were two troughs out of the gray green ice of the pond, and there was a pool of open water beside the small lodge out in the pond.

So an otter could be there. I could also see where muskrats had probably swam about from the dens on the north shore, but nothing photogenic. As I crossed the Big Pond dam, I saw two lumps in Double Lodge Pond

-- large ducks with their heads tucked. Two geese flew in, and those two ducks and two mallards flew out, so I didn't get a good look at them. A mink went over the dam, but no otters today. Going up the creek of the first valley I saw what I first took as geese prints. The further they went into the woods the more curious it seemed. Then the prints seemed more like a turkey's. Song sparrows singing today, and I certainly flushed a good many and wrens, too. Yesterday, late afternoon, we saw what looked like a coyote racing down the road by our house and then up toward the TIP ridge. But this morning I didn't see any evidence of a coyote.

April 4 to everyone's amazement our winter interlude continues with three more inches of snow, low 20s, and gusty winds. The snow is dry and drifting, just like mid-winter snow. With the current precipitation generated by the stationary front to the south of us, I headed off to the ponds, again aiming to go directly to the East Trail Pond. This time a definite otter trail at the creek coming down from the New Pond prompted me to adjust my route.

I could easily tell that the otter had come into the ponds so I followed. The otter didn't fight the stream, but stayed on the bank going the way I usually do. Then it veered to the back center of the dam, went up the dam and into the water, leaving a small hole in the slushy newly formed ice. I saw tracks at the north end of the small dam, thought they were deer, checked, and saw they were otter, coming out. The otter went up the steep rock where I've spent many hours watching beavers, and then went along the small ridge, and slid down, crossed the South Bay trail and slid into South Bay. 

I had been thinking I should check Audubon Pond, so I headed that way, to see if the otter went that way too. I saw no sign of otter but flushed two herons and saw a robin squawking at the elements.

So I went back and continued tracking the otter trail into the ponds wondering if an otter came out of the ponds and then turned back. I saw trails going both ways at Beaver Point Pond dam and the same at Otter Hole Pond dam. The two trails in the half iced over pool behind the dam perplexed me.

They looked roughly contemporary. I saw a hole popped through the ice behind the lodge but couldn't see any tracks on the lodge. I also flushed some song sparrows on the dam.

Their numbers are swelling. I continued across the dam and then went up to the East Trail Pond where there were no otter signs, nor beaver signs and the water was frozen behind the dam. The whole pond was frozen. The east wind kept much of the water of the Second Swamp Pond open and as I approached all the ducks flew off. The geese complained but stayed.

And I saw that the otter, or otters, had been over the dam up and back.

There was slightly more activity on the dam -- displayed by the otter trail coming in. Now I had to duck my head into the wind, warming my mind with the great debate: had an otter come in and gone back out; gone out and come back in; or are there two otters involved? I soon saw that the otter had been up on the rolling area,

but on closer inspection I saw that it had slid down that slope, coming up and over that rocky knoll to get into the pond. It didn't scat at the rolling area and I saw tracks going to the right and the left on the ice. I could follow the tracks going to my left and see where the otter nosed into the dam. Then it went to the rock by the lodge, scatted there -- very small scats,

and then headed across the ice to the open water up pond.

Forgetting the tracks going right at the rolling area, I went down to the upper Second Swamp Pond dam, eventually back tracking the tracks coming in, including this neat vault of a branch with tail impression, 

expecting to find the tracks going out. Save for some old impressions on the ice I didn't see any. I did see a tree sparrow braving the wind.

So I set off for the Big Pond, in somewhat of a quandary, that was soon relieved. I crossed otter tracks sliding down the ridge into the Second Swamp Pond

and back tracked them until they were drifted over with snow. Still I could see clearly that the tracks going to the right at the rolling area, were part of this trail exiting the pond. Drifting snow plays such tricks that I couldn't be sure that the tracks coming out were older because they had been drifted over. Yesterday I wondered if an opening in the ice by the lodge in the middle of the pond could have been made by an otter. Today there was no opening. Unfortunately the light was bad for photos, though rather enchanting to be in. My guess is that the otter was moving during the snowfall which would account for the impressions made in the ice which can get slushy during snowfall. Early in the winter otters came in and retreated when they couldn't get under the ice. This otter found open water. I should just let the otter do the thinking for me, and see what I see tomorrow. I went home via the Big Pond dam; no otter signs there. On the way I crossed porcupine tracks, looked up at the porcupine work in various trees, but didn't see the brute. Again I flushed many ducks who were somewhat clumsy managing the stiff wind

and they seemed to break up into smaller groups and peel back going with or quartering the wind.

April 6 we had freezing rain yesterday morning then intermittent sleet and rain the rest of the day, so I stayed at home. This morning dawned sun-filled, but cold. I was surprised by the ice cover on the snow on the golf course, half the time it supported my weight. I went via the golf course, I guess, because on bright, cold days I grew in the habit of going that way. No tracks to speak of down the second valley. A porcupine had gone into the den in the low rocks near the Big Pond. A mink had gone into the old beaver lodge; no sign that otters had been back. I walked down to the dam on the thin layer of ice over the frozen mud. The ducks in a small pool of water between the lodge the beavers last used and the dam flew off before I could get a photo. However, I did try a photo of the second heron to fly up from Double Lodge Pond. At the dam, right in the center, was a small hole in the ice that, I think, that mink had used.

As I crossed the dam I noticed something swimming in the pool of water, which I first took for a large stranded fish. That fish turned out to be a muskrat's tail and then the rat itself came up to add to the vegetable pile on the ice. I cocked my camcorder just as it dove back into the pool. I waited five minutes for it to resurface, but it didn't. I was left with making a study of the little pile on the ice.

As I walked up to the end of the Lost Swamp Pond, I noticed that there were no new holes in the ice, and hence, I suspected, no otters had been there. Then the smooth ice of the north slope proved to have a squirt of scat and otter tracks going down to the pond.

I followed the trail a few feet up, long enough to see how the otter cleared away some snow, to squirt something on the grass. 

I walked up to the dam, expecting to see some action up there, but was surprised to find no otter signs. Geese enjoyed the open water east of the dam. Two herons and a mallard flew out of the pool of water below the dam. I also saw that a mink had come up the dam and scooted along a log.

I also saw some very faint raccoon tracks, but no otter signs there or at the rock by the lodge. I relaxed a bit on a snow free rock. The geese tolerated me. I went back to where there were otter signs, and could discern not tracks on the ice, or evidence of a hole in the ice. There was a trough that could have been made before the icing, but with the drifting we had, that's a tough call. So I back tracked the otter trail which didn't take the usual route up and over the ridge there. The otter now and then crashed through the ice,

but usually its sharp paws left faint prints, and its belly, faint lines all the way down to the Second Swamp Pond, where, once again, the ducks flew off before I could get a photo. Beside in one of the beaver canals I saw another mink tunnel,

and nearby the urine mark of what I suppose must have been a fox, though the paw prints were extremely small. Ice does that to prints. There were several holes in the ice behind the dam, which I think beavers made.

The otter appears to have come directly up and over the dam without tarrying. A beaver made one foray below the dam of about 15 yards. The pond was mostly frozen over and the beavers reverted to their winter habits.

I could see the ice chunks they had moved out of the pond to form their old hole, which was quite large and with the remains of much activity. One trail out of the hole led to a birch log about two feet off the ground, but there appeared to be only a few bites out of it. In the other direction a short trail led to another birch log. No sign of this colony's usually heroic activity. They must be tired of winter conditions. I angled my way over to the East Trail Pond so that I came down to the bank beaver lodge. No beaver had been out on the snow there, but there was a hole in the ice of that pond a few yards out from the lodge, with a bit of work half gnawed.

As I stood on the knoll over the old bank beaver lodge, I heard beavers mewing, I think from the lodge in the center of the pond. The bank and dam below me looked unchanged save for a raccoon trail, and very light prints near the hole in the bank that the otters had used. Then on the dam I saw faint otter tracks and slides.

No scats were to be seen on the dam and it looked like the otter went in two directions from the dam. Over at the mossy rock there were two holes and I thought an otter might have cleared away snow to smell and then leave a scat. But I saw no sure scat, no sure prints. I guess it could have been squirrels digging. This pond had a thin pool of open water just beyond the lodge in the center of the pond. I scanned it for activity but saw none, not even geese. There was one bit of collapsed snow coming up to the dam, so I think an otter might have made it. I went over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond and found more evidence of one otter coming up and over the dam.

As I stood there taking photos, I saw something flit into a hole in the snow by me. No way it could be a wren, but it was, flitting away before I could get camera on it. Going down to South Bay I flushed ducks, blackbirds and a heron out of the flowing creek. A woodcock flew up from the bank. There were too many tracks at the end of the creek, but I saw again that pattern of collapsed ice that the trotting otter had been making. At the other inlet creek there were two troughs going up and over -- one by otter and one by mink, made before the ice storm.

I should have tried tracking them up the pond so I could be sure that the larger was made by an otter, but squinting at ice is a bit fatiguing. Of course, I can no longer walk on South Bay.

But I think I get the picture. As I've come to expect this is a period of otter touring. I'm impressed with how scant the scatting is and how little evidence there is of fishing about under the ice. The ins and outs I can't account for. However, the otter I tracked two days ago came in and out; now an otter came back in. A likely den is over in the marsh cattails -- I'll check there, if we don't run out of snow first. On the river today two male buffleheads kept up a running fight for a half hour at least, with the female in attendance for the first half of the contest.

April 8 we had a light snow, almost an inch that began a little before midnight and had ended by morning. Clouds remained and periodic bits of icy precipitation. I headed to South Bay to check my theory that an otter might be denning in the marsh around the north cove. At the south cove I saw a fresh otter trail going into the ponds, no scats however. The trail was so faint that it doesn't show up well in a photo. Over at the marsh I wanted to investigate, I saw nothing in the marsh proper, but there was a slide on the ice angling from it.

However, since there was no slide in the fresh snow, the slide was probably made before the snow. As I crossed the creek two woodcocks flew up and landed out in the cove. So I kept the camcorder running as I walked around, but that is a hard shot to get. Up at the docking rock in the middle of the South Bay north shore I found rather fresh otter prints, no scats,

and three slides out on the ice -- heading east toward the ponds.

I went up to Audubon Pond, but other than fox prints and a fisher trail, there was no activity there. The fisher happened to be going my way toward the Narrows through the woods so I followed and passed two urine marks. The fisher took a direct route and didn't walk on any of the many fallen logs. My guess is that it was heading down to the Narrows to mark territory and perhaps for a drink and didn't veer. As I looked down at the Narrows, I saw a heron sitting on a downed tree;

another step sent two up into the air. The Narrows was open and had a few common mergansers, one hooded merganser, a few buffle heads and seagulls. The ice on the fringes didn't reveal any otter slides. However, at least one otter had been up on the big rock that slopes gently down to the river -- again, no scats. I returned via the Narrows trail which goes up the cliff, affording me a better view of the ducks, and of a wee porcupine gnawing away in a tree.

This critter appeared to be as small as porcupines get, and was rather brown. Close as I was I couldn't hear it gnawing, but gnaw it did. I noticed how it used its tail for balance as it went up and down the crook of a branch it was eating on. Compared to beavers, porcupines have slow going with their gnawing. I only saw one otter slide on the ice along the shore, and I assumed it was heading to the east toward the ponds. But when I got back to the north cove of South Bay, I saw slide like impressions on the wet ice, and the prints I could see with the monocular appeared to heading west out of South Bay. Then I saw a slide coming down the knoll overlooking the New Pond, heading into South Bay. I had stepped on it on my way out but was too intent on woodcocks to notice. I backtracked that far enough to see that it was the exact route an otter took out a few days ago. I should have continued to back track, but to conserve my strength I went back to the East Trail and continued up to the East Trail Pond, where the only tracks were from a coyote. It was lively, a huge flock of blackbirds chattered high in the trees below the dam -- pausing into silence briefly until I begged them to continue. I went up the ridge east of the dam (still largely frozen behind the dam) so I could come down in perfect beaver watching position. As I went down the ridge toward the Second Swamp Pond, I noticed I was following a set of otter prints. The light was terrible for photos of impressions in the snow, but with a function called "equalization" in the photo-editing software I can get a more vivid impression -- color completely off!

Seeing so many prints going downhill was a first for me. One expects an otter to slide! There was a slide above and below.

I kept looking for two slides side by side thinking that might explain the many prints in a short space and what looks like two tail impressions. The trail went to the end of the beaver channel, which was frozen over. Confused by the otters I didn't tarry to try to see what the beavers were up to. Down at the dam I saw a confusion of activity directly over the dam to the channel below

and an otter trail going down into Otter Hole Pond from the area of the dam where the beavers have their pool. Once again I headed up to the Lost Swamp Pond with great anticipation. At least two otters may have gone through, perhaps more, and perhaps one that went into the pond on the 6th had stayed there. I found one faint otter trail coming up the north slope, heading out of the pond, down to the Second Swamp Pond -- again, no scats. This otter did not leave any signs at the rolling area,

had skirted behind the dam, but left nary a mark around the lodge. Over at the Big Pond, I saw even fainter otter tracks on the dam. I was so confused by the otters, that I missed chances to take photos of ducks in the Second Swamp Pond, Lost Swamp Pond and Double Lodge Pond. Two pairs of mallards parked themselves on the ice. Plus nary a goose has parked itself on a beaver lodge, usually prime nesting sites. Even now, I think of other things so I don't have to suggest what the otters did, much less explain why. It seems single otters keep going in and out of the ponds. The three slides at the rock along South Bay were not echoed anywhere in the ponds. Going up the big rock from the first swamp to the golf course, I saw that the porcupine there had moved from the small red oaks and into a big pine.

Then up on the ridge I saw this neatly trimmed sapling.