December 18 yesterday was another day above freezing with some rain, then wet snow. In the mid-20s this morning with an inch of fresh, drier snow. I went along the South Bay trail first, to see if otters might have come in, and only saw deer and squirrel tracks. Then as I got around to the north shore I saw fox tracks and perhaps a coyote's trail. The ice in South Bay has not progressed out any farther and the docking rock remains a good vantage point for otters to fish along the edge of the ice,
but no otter paid it a visit. Audubon Pond was mostly snow covered, with the two holes remaining open, both a little larger but no sign of any animal coming out of them. The beaver's life is now a complete mystery. I did see a hole a fox dug, just behind the bench.
It's nice to track an animal that knows or noses what's under the snow. I went up to Thicket Pond, careful to go to its north shore where the spring is, and I saw open water
and several beaver trails and works in progress.
This explains why there was little harvesting over here before the ice cover. The beavers knew the trees here were a winter meal. As I walked along the East Trail Pond ice, I noticed that something had climbed out of the inlet stream onto the snow. No scat and none of the verve of an otter.
As I continued walking along the ice, I noticed discoloration borne of some slight collapsing of the ice. I didn't see any hole by the lodge in the middle of the pond, but on the bank above the bank lodge it was easy to see the beavers had been out. When I got to the dam I saw that they had taken advantage of the weak ice just behind the dam caused by a log,
and a beaver had gone down below the dam and also up on the ridge. The hole into the bank had been broken wide open but was lightly frozen over now; there was another frozen over pool nearby and tracks went every which way on the bank.
No otter scat though. This level of activity was unprecedented in all my days of winter beaver watching, even more, I think than the Lost Swamp and Big Pond beavers a few years ago. Those beavers had been more limited in their ranging. I followed another trail down over the dam and it went along the creek about 30 yards to a small serviceberry tree which the beaver cut. From there I went on to the Second Swamp Pond with high expectations but there all was snow covered and iced over save for a few very small holes along the dam. The ice wasn't quite firm enough to get close to the dam safely but I think I saw enough to see that they weren't doing what they did last year, fashioning a little feeding pool on the other side of the dam, nor using the big pool they had been using all year. I walked up the ice along the south shore, not many tracks here. Then when I got up to the Lost Swamp Pond I saw a ball of fur in the open water by the lodge.
The wind was almost at my back, a brisk wind too, and as I angled up for a better look, the beaver swam to the middle of the pool, splashed and dove. The beaver had reopened a pool by the dam, but it had frozen over. No sign of more repairs and there was a little more leaking. I walked over to the rock behind the lodge to get the wind between me and the beaver but the beaver did not surface.
A slight snow squall moved through. I was able to cross the ice and at the Big Pond I went down to check the dam -- three small unused holes in the ice to open water.
I also appreciated a huge muskrat pushup close to the south shore. Why some get so big and other stay so small is a puzzle. In this case, the smaller one, one tenth the size of the big one, was further out in the pond. More deer tracks here, but I didn't see any deer today. I heard a pileated woodpecker and saw the usual number of downy woodpeckers and chicadees. I went up the first valley and saw one porcupine trail at the foot of the big rock -- a lightfooted little guy judging from its walk. Didn't see evidence of its labors.
December 20 cold morning with very light snow, indeed, at times, blue sky snow riding a north wind. I headed for the South Bay trail, herding two deer up the TIP ridge -- a doe and yearling. No otters have come out of South Bay. A mink had gone up to the ponds. The ice has extended a little bit. No otter visited the docking rock but I saw a flurry of mice tracks, fox tracks and mink slide to the right of it. Perfunctory sightings and then I warmed to the task and realized it was quite a beautiful day. Two pileated woodpeckers rapped and cackled loudly in the trees, and I heard one in the distance. There's always been a porcupine working the point on the way to the Narrows. I saw its tracks and pee stain coming from a rock with a stellar view of the river, but no work in the trees. It must den out there. I took the high trail to the Narrows, following the porcupine and a fox, and then when I went down to the rock where we saw otter slides at the beginning of the week, I was shocked that I hadn't noticed fresh beaver work in full view of the otter slides (how narrow our focus can get in winter, just when it should widen because everything leaves an imprint behind.) A good sized ash was almost cut, two clumps of serviceberry had been harvested
and most remarkable a beaver had sat in the crotch of an old willow and gnawed a gash into the trunk that's probably ten times its size.
I wonder if this has been done by one of the beavers that moved into Audubon Pond in the late summer, the one that never moved back to the pond after leaving it. Otters had not revisited the rock -- on a warmer day I might be able to get around in the boat again to see if they are still enjoying Eel Bay. Audubon Pond was quiet but the man made banks had been trotted on by fox and one coyote. On the causeway I saw mouse tracks -- the attraction for the canines. They had dug a hole into the snow, and I think into the pond, right at the corner of the pond, evidently getting water there and ignoring the holes at the drains. So I set out to check the active beavers, and at the Thicket Pond and East Trail Pond there was no new activity. On the slope up the pines on the south side of the upper East Trail Pond. I saw two tall trees, maple or red oak, being harvested by porcupines.
The pines nearby seemed untouched by the so-called porcu-pines. Heading to the dam, I passed a strange gate of sorts, that I'd never seen before.
While the beavers had not been out at the dam,
their trails were relatively fresh so I followed the one up the knoll above the bank lodge and was surprised to see that it basically went up to only come down the other side, doing no work to speak of at all. I had fancied that a beaver always gets its stick. The Second Swamp Pond was quiet and I walked up it to the Lost Swamp Pond where the holes were mostly iced over, but since no snow had stuck to the ice, I think it's safe the say the beavers had their noses out of the water recently.
At the Big Pond I went up to check the spring which was flowing nicely, had enough minnows to make some ripples, but they were all healthy and alert and swam away. No sign of any animal taking advantage of the open water. I went up the second valley and in the woods to it I followed what I first took to be fisher tracks, then the small size of the back prints got me to thinking -- a snowshoe hare,
and it did head for the bushes, not the porcupines, who, as it happened, had not been across the valley.
December 21 an inch of snow early in the morning and then a blustery day, cloudy with the temperature getting above freezing. Lured by the fresh snow I went out to check tracks, starting along the South Bay trail. Deer were about, judging by the tracks, and I saw that a mink came down from the New Pond to South Bay. No otter tracks. I went up to Otter Hole Pond, since I haven't been there in a while. Just deer tracks along the dams. There still seems to be water in Beaver Point Pond, judging from how one foot got wet when it went through the ice. I went up to the Second Pond dam, still quiet there, and then over to the East Trail Pond. After sagely writing yesterday that the beaver went up on the knoll and cut nothing, I saw a sapling, freshly cut, half way down the hill.
I could see that the beavers had not been out since yesterday (It was very cold last night.) Again, why is my vision so narrow in the snow? I sat on a log above the lodge and heard some faint humming. I went back to the Second Pond, crossed the ice and got onto the Lost Swamp Pond trying to approach the opening by the lodge without the wind at my back -- a difficult task in a strong wind generally from the west. Nothing stirred in the patch of open water. Coming down to the pond a deer raced across it to the south and I back tracked it thinking that it might have gone to one of the small holes in the ice that the beavers made. No, it had just been grazing in the grass on the bank. I often fancy that a frozen beaver pond is nature's best sculpture garden.
Two dead trees struck my fancy,
as well as a bird nest low in a bush that in the spring is out of any raccoon's reach and probably too low and close to the water for a crow to notice.
The Big Pond was quiet, everything was quiet save for the wind.
December 29 back from an xmas trip and as we drove north the temperature rose. 50 degrees when we got here yesterday and 50 degrees today, and calm. I put the engine back on the boat and we went over to Eel Bay. At the mouth of South Bay, we went over a school of perch. The ice line had not advanced any. The most diverting sight was an immature seagull seemingly standing on the water -- it was on a bit of floating ice. There was a flock of golden eyes that we launched. Of course the snow had melted -- a wee bit remained in some parts of the woods. Otters had not scribbled their presence on the rocks ringing the bay. The sport at hand was watching the eagles. One flew off a low roost in the Narrows as we came through and then scared a flock of golden eyes in the middle of the bay. An immature eagle was roosting on the tree on Mosquito Island. We went up along the north shore of Murray Island, and flushed another eagle. Then Ottoleo saw one fly in and roost on Picton Point and we saw one flying over the Canadian channel, another flying over the far end of Eel Bay, and then another flying off of Wellesley Island, down where the ice line was.
It had retreated a quarter mile since I was last here. So that's seven eagles. I went as far as the rock where the otters had been most active the last time I was out.
We saw several scats, probably relatively fresh because there was a good rain a few days ago. With the grass plot in the middle of the rock it is easy to see why the otters like it. I bet it is a vantage point they use year round. I had Ottoleo let me off at the low rock in the Narrows where we had seen otter slides two weeks ago. There was new scat there,
but not fresh. Several tubular ones,
and if this had been under a tree I would have credited them to raccoons even though they were all crayfish parts.
The looser scats were mostly fish scales and bones.
I took photos of the beaver activity so I could determine if there had been more gnawing -- I think not. Then I headed for Audubon Pond. A small deer moved away as I approached the pond from the west. The pond is still frozen save for holes at the drains, out and in. At the outlet it was easy to see that the beaver had tried to patch its hole -- not too successfully but the ice had not collapsed at all.
And at the inlet there were some milkweed stalks around. Hikers could have thrown them to see if the water was really open, or muskrats might have collected them, or the beaver. Down at the docking rock there was new scat, but rather old. More interesting were some river grasses left on the rock,
probably by a muskrat. I took the trail to the East Trail pausing to check the old South Bay dock, which I had not done all year. I saw some very old otter scats, and also how holes were dug under the ramp back into the bank -- a likely otter den. At the East Trail Pond the beavers have evidently been out at several places. And even with holes along the edges and that patch of weak ice caused by the big blocking log behind it and the dam, they still punched three holes in the ice. At one they went up and over to half cut a maple. Two of the holes behind the dam were open water. Near the bank lodge all was frozen over, but I could see evidence of much nibbling and even more mud packing on the lodge.
I also like how the logs were stuff into and on top of the little hole in the bank.
I sat on the bank above all this and heard gnawing in the lodge, I think from two beavers. One beaver moved the water a bit but stayed put, I think. I studied the frozen leftovers.
No sign of otters, and I think these beavers are well situated to keep them at Bay. The Second Swamp Pond remains a mystery -- no sign that the beavers had come out to take advantage of the warmth. This pond has twice as much water than it did last winter, which might explain why they are less anxious to get out. I didn't cross the ice because I want to approach the Lost Swamp Pond from below the dam. The Upper Second Swamp Pond dam had been dug out, or washed out, probably the latter because there was no other sign of any animal being around save some frozen raccoon prints. As I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond I saw that a beaver was out nibbling on the ice or on a bit a cache. The wind was perfect for observing, but this was typical stuff and it was getting on to lunch time. As I moved down the pond shore there was a great heave of water in a patch of open water below the bank. I soon saw that while one beaver had left, another was still there eating.
This was interesting because it was eating grasses. When it left, after giving me a splash,
I noticed heapings of delicious grasses on the log in the water.
I also saw a fresh otter scat.
At least one otter is keeping an eye on things here. The other curiosity was the sound of romping baby mammals coming from the point across from me -- but without screeching. They sounded too involved to be from birds, but as I walked away a crow flew up out of a bush -- jokes on me. I crossed the Big Pond walking on the ice behind the dam -- a couple of good sized patches of open water which should be investigated more closely, but it being late, I had to move on.