Sunday, February 12, 2012

December 18 to 31, 2011

December 18 back from Syracuse, I had a chance to take a quick tour of the beaver ponds. While we had been away the weather had been warm for the season, but on our return the temperature dropped well below freezing and we had a light snow. Since water is still flowing through the Big Pond dam there was open water right behind the dam.

There were no animals signs to be seen, but the snow had a frosty look about it. Plus a large patches of the ice had a frosty look that couldn’t quite conceal the stabbing crystals formed by water that must have frozen despite some perturbations from the wind.

I found that frosty ice easy to walk on. The clear ice was a bit unnerving as there were frequent fractures as I walked on it. I estimated that the thickness of the ice was at least three inches and thus should support me, but there were what looked like holes in the bottom of the ice sheet, which I have difficulty accounting for. Of course, I saw bubbles under the transparent ice but I couldn’t associate a trail of bubbles with what appeared to be holes under the ice.

Of course, I came out hoping to track otters or beavers but I wasn’t surprised at my enjoying what amounted to tracking ice. It is hard to describe the pleasure of letting the imagination loose over an extensive sheet of ice. It is likely that a muskrat did swim under the ice and I could get a sense of a line of bubbles, but they didn’t tell me a story.

I soon chickened out and headed for solid ground and found that areas where the frosty snow stood up as if on alert were safe to walk on.

If the pond was at its usual winter depth, a muskrat might be using burrows over along the north shore near the dam and in the dam itself, but I don’t think the water is deep enough for muskrats to comfortably use those burrows. Indeed, since I didn’t walk over much of the pond ice, I shouldn’t jump to a conclusion that a muskrat is here, let alone muskrats. As I looked down on the old bank lodge on the southwest shore of the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw a trail of bubbles under the ice

This is the second time I’ve seen bubbles under the ice here which makes a more convincing case for muskrats being here than at the Big Pond. I was able to walk on the pond ice. Once again the white ice seemed firmer. Then I saw a line of cut green grass. My first thought was that a muskrat had cut it, but clearly given the length of the line of cut grass and the lack of the more substantial vegetation muskrats also like to eat, I decided that the ice cut the grass as it formed and two sheets of ice joined.

That said, I have difficulty picturing it. Seen after the freeze, it is difficult to imagine the amount energy expended as water freezes. The ice was not any thicker than the ice on the Big Pond so I decided to limit my stay on it. I headed over to the deep channel between old dam in the center of the pond being careful to only walk where I knew the pond was shallow. The ice over the channel was clear and I didn’t see any bubble trails, just bubbles here and there.

Of course, as usual, before making any other observations around this pond, I checked the otter latrine in and above the mossy cove. There was nothing new there. The ice in the west end of the pond looked thicker so I walked on it and tried to focus on some abstract art made by the ice crystals.

Then I crossed what looked like slides on the ice left by a deer

But I didn’t see a clear deer print. When I got to the edge of the clear ice that I was shy of walking on, I could see that dead tree stumps were a main source of bubbles under the ice.

The stump of every tree in the pond cut by the beavers that I could see had bubbles frozen in the ice around it.

There were no signs of recent otter visits to the latrines on the north shore of the pond. Water still gushes through the hole in the dam so there is a generous patch of open water there. Bubbles remained frozen in or trapped under the ice that I could see behind the dam, but just as likely from rotting vegetation as animals.

Then I headed along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, where there were no signs of animal activity and headed down the north shore of Second Swamp Pond. The last time I looked at ice around the old bank lodge below the knoll I saw plenty of bubbles, obviously left by an animal swimming under the ice, but there were very little today.

When I got over to below the old East Trail Pond dam, I saw a porcupine’s trail in the snow roughly where I’ve seen one ever winter for as long as I can remember.

The downed trunk in the background of the photo above, that the porcupine went under, was well traveled by a mouse or two.

Then as I walked on the board through the middle of the East Trail Pond meadow, I saw that an animal preceded me. The imprint of 5 toes suggests that it was a fisher.

However the animal did not have a the typical fisher’s gait as it went down and back on the boardwalk. And it seemed to have a longer gait coming back. But Rezendes’ guide to tracking shows a gait like that with the hind paw coming down on the front paw print. But then why wasn’t the return gait, likely a fisher in a hurry, the more typical 3 x 3 prints?

I saw where the animal walked up on a log crossing the boardwalk and then turned around. That behavior is characteristic of a fisher, perhaps especially out in the open without protection of tree cover (fishers can climb trees), but nobody has ever explained to me what a fisher has to fear when it is out in the open, except another fisher.

When I crossed the log, I took a photo looking back showing the commotion the fisher and I made in the snow.

There was a good bit of water flowing out from the creek that once formed one of the two main channels of the pond when it was in all its glory. The old boardwalk doesn’t cross it but a dead tree conveniently fell across it.

On the boardwalk on the other side of the creek, there were coyote tracks.

Of course, what I was looking for were trails made by beavers or otters going across, not along, the boardwalk. I saw no none. But when I got up to the north end of the East Pond dam, I saw that a beaver had broken the ice behind the dam, leaving trails of bubbles under the ice.

Water flows into the pond from a creek coming from Shangri-la Pond and the valley to the north. I saw that a beaver had been under the ice up to a small dam the beavers made across the creek two years ago.

No beaver went over the dam and into the pool of water behind the little dam.

I headed up the ridge on the trail and then went down to check the otter latrine. I saw that the tall tree in the pond that the beavers had been cutting for a month or so finally blew down, but not into the pond like the tall red maple, but onto the ridge. Bad luck for the beavers.

Turning back toward the latrine below the ridge, I saw a trail in the snow likely made by a beaver coming up to inspect the new wind fall.

I saw no signs of recent activity on the otter latrine, and no trail of bubbles or broken ice down below on the pond. There were some ghostly crescent shapes that I have no idea what might have caused.

Looking out at the pond there were some beige patches under the ice but they were shaped like the bottom foraging of beavers or muskrats.

I went back up the ridge, following the beavers’ trail and found that a large branch had been cut off the tree that fell onto the ridge.

Beavers sometimes seem oblivious to wind falls, but over the years members of this family seem to keep track of when and where big trees they cut fall. And once up on the ridge again, a beaver resumed gnawing the trunk of a tree that no beaver had gnawed since the spring.

There was a nice trail of bubbles under the ice below the ridge. At least one beaver in the family likes to roam around under the ice.

I didn’t have the time today to check up on every tree the beavers are currently gnawing. Plus on cold days, taking gloves off to take photos is no pleasure. I did take a photo of another tree that recently fell, landing on the oak that the beavers gnawed so it split. They had stripped a good bit of bark off that and then, bang, another tree fell on top of stripped trunk.

As I walked around the pond I didn’t see many bubbles under the ice until I got to the burrow on the south shore of the pond where I have been seeing bubble trails whenever ice has formed. Today there was a grand procession of bubbles complete with a huge patch of white ice that started several yards out in the pond

and led to the burrow in the bank. I don’t know how to account for that mass of bubbles.

Bubbles don’t only come from the animal exhaling. Beavers are inveterate farters, and bubbles come from air trapped, so to speak, in their fur. Perhaps the number of bubbles correlates with the length of time in the burrow. More air nestled into the beaver’s fur as it dried out. Pure speculation. Continuing along the shore down to the dam, I saw where a beaver bucked up a good size block of ice which looked to be at least 2 inches thick.

A few feet away there were cracks in the ice. I got the impression that a beaver tried to crack up the ice there and could not get the leverage it needed.

My guess is that the beaver tried using its head to butt up through the ice, found it too difficult and repositioned itself in deeper water where it could buck up its back and break a good chunk of ice. Then it could push up through the nice sized hole. I headed home via the South Bay trail. Most of the year I can use exposed to rocks to get across the little creek flowing down to the north cove, but when water is rushing down the creek, I have to use a rather sketchy log bridge. Three years ago Ottoleo and I dragged over an freshly cut elm trunk to bolster ancient and slowly rotting trunks. As I crossed it today, I saw the prints of a fisher crossing the other way.

Often by this time of year there is a good start of snow cover that will last well into March.

December 23 I got a chance to take a hike in the afternoon and headed to the East Trail Pond via Antler Trailscattering a healthy herd of six or so deer along the way. We’ve had cold nights but just dustings of snow. So the East Trail Pond presented a gray sheet of ice and a little snow where the sun has not been shining.

It crossed my mind that I should compare the photos of the pond this December with those from last, but not only was the pond snow covered most of last December but the dam is higher now, so there is more water in the pond. I think a close analysis would show that the beavers have eaten much of the pond vegetation but before and after photos might unfairly make that point. Anyway, today I was looking for signs of immediate life that always take more of an edge off the cold than long term studies. A week ago I saw a huge trail of bubbles under the ice outside the burrow in the south bank of the pond. Today I could see that there had been open water there longer than anywhere else along the shore, but there were no bubbles under that newer ice.

However there were frozen bubbles under the ice all around that newer ice, including a trail that seemed to come from the lodge.

The best I can say is that it is easy to see what might have happened but difficult to explain. Enough vegetation has died back so that I can get a better look at the lodge in the middle of the pond. The snow cover now helps to accentuate the cache pile near the lodge.

I didn’t see any broken ice, the best hint of warm bodies, not even behind the dam. I decided to walk out along the dam until I could sense a dry trail down to the boardwalk and then head off to the Lost Swamp Pond.

I didn’t see any broken ice as I walked along the dam but looking up toward the lodge I saw a short trail of open water heading toward the dam.

Then behind the dam I saw where the trail led to a good array of bubbles frozen under the ice.

The level of the water behind the dam is about as high as it can be. As dams go, since it is relatively young, there is not much bracing below the dam, neither logs nor mud pushed over the dam. It looks like it would be easy for otters to breach the dam. Last year otters did not pay attention to this dam but they’ve scatted on the dam this fall. In the 10 years, more or less, that I’ve watched this family, I don’t think they have ever had their dam breached by otters. The beavers themselves did break their dam at Meander Pond to make it easier to go below the pond and cut a clump of alders.

I managed to find a relatively dry path from the middle of the dam to the boardwalk where I found no tracks at all. I had an itching to see something I suppose because over the years I have grown so accustomed to seeing beavers as the sun goes down. So I decided to hike over to check the Lost Swamp Pond dam and then return to the East Trail Pond and sit up on the ridge north of the pond and hope a beaver comes out into the patch of open water around the lodge. Of course, I checked the Second Swamp Pond along the way and looking down at it from above the lodge below the knoll I saw some patches of open water and an array bubbles that might indicated animal activity, muskrats I presume.

There were patches of open water in the pond but it didn’t look like an otter or beaver made or used them. Those bigger animals can rule ice this thin, not so the muskrat. Or, to be fair to the muskrat, it is able to get what it needs in the pond without wasting energy contending with the ice.

I crossed the valley along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, and as I approached the dam, six black ducks flew off from the open water behind the hole in the dam. I braced for more ducks or geese when I got up to the Lost Swamp Pond, but there were none there. Here too there was a patch of open water behind the dam.

But the rest of the pond was frozen over and I didn’t see any bubble trails or broken ice. There were no new otter scats in the latrines along the north shore of the pond.

Disappointed I headed back to the East Trail Pond. As I headed up the ridge I saw a trail of bubbles under the ice going to the northeast corner of the pond. The beavers have been gnawing on a few trees over there.

Then I found a rock to sit on, not warm but not too wet, and studied the open water around the lodge.

The potential for a beaver to emerge from the water seemed great. Dare I say the water around the lodge seemed pregnant with beavers, but none appeared. A shifting wind played on the water, nothing else. Then looking down at the otter latrine on the rocks below, I saw what looked like scratching in the snow and fresh black scats.

But when I got down to the latrine I saw that there were no fresh scats, no new scats. And the scratching looked like unexceptional melting.

The beavers have been going up the other side of the rock. Their trail there looked hot,

and led to more gnawing on their latest windfall and a tree next to it.

So I didn’t see a beaver, but felt close to them all the same.

December 27 with cold nights and cold enough days, South Bay froze over and over the years I’ve found that as the bay freezes, otters tend to make a mark in the latrines along the north shore. I couldn’t check the latrines when there was a light snow on the ice but I knew that any scats deposited wouldn’t disappear for at least a week. Yesterday the wind picked up and with it the temperature and the ice was broken well back in the bay and cleared out. Most of the snow melted. So today I knew I wouldn’t see otter slides but I would see scats. Of course I always hope that I’ll see where otters broke the ice as it merges with the water, but no such luck today. The ice only stretched half way up the coves where the water is rather shallow.

I haven’t seen signs of otters visiting what I call the docking rock latrine for months so I was pleased to see some fresh scratching through the leaves down to dirt.

The scat next to the scratching was not fresh. There was one rounded bolus and some stringy scats on the log and leaves that could have been left by just one otter.

There were three groups of scats down on the rock sloping down to the water, which, of course, could have been left by two or three otters.

They too were not fresh but one had the whitish remains of a fish in it as well as scale-laced black.

A group of scats gave the impression of containing deposits left on different days, but the contrast in color could also arise because the scats came from two otters who visited at about the same time.

I anticipated seeing otter activity at the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay. By this time of year, especially since we’ve had some snows -- wet and heavy for all of one or two inches, the grass is matted down and the wind has bunched leaves together. So the latrine looked ruffled by the wind and scratched by otters.

But I soon saw that an otter had been there. There was a generous scat or two half concealed by leaves.

Then I headed up to Audubon Pond to see what the beavers there have been up to and to check for otter scats. The beavers continue to make slow progress girdling and cutting the two big ash trees off the southwest corner of the pond.

Cutting into that big ash strikes me as difficult and dangerous work for a beaver and I can understand why there is slow progress. I wonder if the beaver comes and gets some nutrition from the girdling and then expends those calories in that laborious gnawing into the other tree. The beavers cut a smaller ash nearby a bit deeper in the wood, but it fell into another tree.

When I was last here a month ago I saw two thin ironwoods the beavers had just cut down and saw today that they had trimmed all the branches and cut a log or two off the end of the trunks, but no stripping off of any bark on the trunks remaining, which is their typical treatment of ironwoods.

Then I checked their work around the vernal pool back in the woods. The two trees they were cutting a month ago were in the same state of not quite being half cut but another small tree looked like it was cut to the point that the wind might blow it down.

But thanks to having cut down three larger ash trees along the little rivulet flowing down to the pond, the beavers can keep the trees by the pool in reserve (though I am not confident that they think like that.)

They have neatly trimmed and segmented the trunk of a smaller ash tree.

And then they cut down another big ash by demonstrating to me once again how to cut down a large tree by cutting from opposite sides about a foot apart.

However, they cut more deeply into the lower cut and I don’t think I would hazard my head so deep into a tree that will split down and fall right where my teeth might be gnawing. So far the big tree has not fallen down quite low enough for the beavers to get much off it. But gravity may tell. The beavers could cut down a hickory tree holding up the large ash. Instead they cut down a tree near the ash that fell on top of the ash.

When I got over to the old bank lodge in the middle of the west shore of the pond, I saw some otter scats that looked about as old as the scats I saw in the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay.

However in general the area where the otter latrined did not look well used. There was no evidence of scratching or scent mound building. Of course, there is a steady fall of oak leaves here covering up what an otter might have done.

It would seem to me that otters could live all winter off the fish in this pond, but none ever have. While the beavers don’t appear to be using the bank lodge, they are coming up on the nearby shore. They cut a tree 10 yards off the shore and trimmed the crown and are working on the segmenting the upper trunk.

And they are cutting a hickory tree closer to the pond. Last year a beaver stripped a small patch of bark off the bottom of the trunk and the top of a root. This year the beavers are cutting the tree down. Evidently it takes time for beavers to reconcile themselves to eating shag-bark hickory bark.

Meanwhile they are making very slow progress on the two remaining hickories on the small peninsula on the west shore of the pond, a few gnaws in the last month, and they haven’t cut off the branches of the last hickory to fall.

Needless to add, their cache in front of their bank lodge in the embankment forming the south shore of the pond is getting larger.

I’m still unable to identify the stripped logs in a cache so I don’t know if the rather large log frozen in the ice is an ash or hickory. Since ash is the lighter wood I assume it is that.

I should be able to identify logs that haven’t been stripped but after all these years looking at beaver lodges, I’ve never had the patience to do it. More important to note is that the beavers keep pushing up logs above where their burrow must be. I doubt if they fuss about the species of the tree from which the logs came. They simply want the protection logs can give.

Walking down the embankment I saw many bubbles under the ice below, some of the them as large as a beaver. I also saw where a beaver came up on a flat piece of ground and nibbled sticks.

In the late afternoon I went to our land and had a chance to look at the Deep Pond dam. The beaver has added two big logs on top of the dam -- too dark for me to speculate where it got them from.

There were plenty of bubbles under the ice behind the dam and some patches of open water down behind the east end of the dam. And it looked like there was open water in front of the bank lodge.

It may be a few more weeks before we can take long hikes at our land. Sooner the better.

December 31 we had an inch of snow two days ago and a thanks to continued cold there is a good bit still around. A thaw is supposed to start this afternoon, so I headed off first thing in the morning hoping to see some otter slides and other tracks. As I walked along Antler Trail I was often following deer tracks, but I didn’t cross any fisher or porcupine trails. The edges of the Big Pond were still snow covered and at the southwest corner of the pond just behind the dam I saw a circle of coyote tracks around a clump of grass.

There was nothing new at the dam, which continues to leak liberally, but the pond ice was safe to walk on. The wind has shaped the snow into patches on the ice. Those white patches are easy to walk on, plus I could follow the coyote tracks in the snow. Judging from where the coyotes went there is not much happening in this pond. They didn’t stray near the dam, nor lead me to any grassy muskrat lodges or get that close to the beaver lodge on the north shore of the pond. But the water in the pond froze when it was at a relatively high level which leaves the impression that the pond is large and deep and should be a going concern. During the summer when I looked up pond from the dam, it looked like tall grasses had swallowed the whole upper end of the pond just leaving a narrow creek, but today as I walked up the pond, I could see a wide upper pond beyond a narrowing in the middle of the pond.

During the summer I had speculated that the lodge on the north shore of the upper part of the pond was covered with tall grasses. Not so. It is a little high above the ice but looks like a beaver could use it.

However, I know how shallow the water is there. No coyote seemed interested in sniffing the lodge. And there were no mink tracks around which is a better indicator that there is nothing warm inside the lodge. However, between the lodge and the upper end of the pond, which for years had always been a part of the pond, was now almost all wet meadow. That used to be a favorite place for otters to fish because, I think, fish were attracted to some springs up there. I picked my way through the grass clumps holding out a slight hope that the beavers might be in the pond above. However, in the years beavers did live up there, they always kept the Big Pond dam in repair. I found the dam of the upper pond in complete disrepair and there is not even a semblance of a pond where one used to be.

The meadow seems to be spreading down the valley, rather than closing in from the sides. We’ve had a wet year. A dry year might spell the doom of the Big Pond, unless some beavers come along and repair the dam. I seem to be incapable of making a study of all there is here for beavers to eat. This upper meadow is surrounded by thick clumps of osier. And as I walked up the ridge to the north, heading for the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw that there were fresh shoots coming out of the stumps of the shrubs the beavers ate the last time they were here, and much of the same types of small willows and other brush difficult to identify that they ate before. I fear the beavers need more substantial trees, or what grows back does not taste as good. I followed deer trails through the brush on the ridge until I got to the east-west trail that the land owner maintains. Deer and coyotes also used that trail. I kept looking for a likely place to turn down to the Lost Swamp Pond and as luck would have it, I found a narrow trail that took me to a wondrous sight: an oak tree with the trunk almost completely stripped by porcupines.

The tree is in a clearing with no other trees near by which added to it magical appearance. There were many dead leaves on the branches so this is all recent gnawing. Indeed I could see a fresh porcupine trail coming to the tree, and wood chips on the snow.

Usually the trees I see getting this treatment from a porcupine are maples and a bit thinner than this white oak. Since there didn’t appear any area near by convenient for a porcupine to den in, I assume that attraction of this tree is that its bark really tastes good. It was easy getting down to the Lost Swamp Pond from there where I got a good view of the southeast expanse of the pond. 

I tried to keep on the snow patches as I walked out toward the dam. In most years, this pond freezes solidly but it is easy to see by bubbles under the ice where beavers and muskrats are swimming. I didn’t see any bubbles under the ice. The only sign of life I saw out on the pond was a tiny lichen growing out of a crack in one of the dead trunks still standing in the pond.

One coyote trail did come from the lodge but I had never seen the lodge area looking so lifeless. The ice around it was thick and featureless revealing no bubbles from any animals under it fashioning a winter world around the lodge.

Then as I walked from the lodge toward the north shore of the pond, I heard some barking coming from the west end of the pond. I did not like the sound of the barking which sounded aggressive and from a big dog. Then I saw a large coyote cross the middle of the pond occasionally barking, but moving away from me as it did. I haven’t used the camcorder in several weeks and was a bit ham-handed in getting a video of the coyote as it ran into the woods south of the pond, but I did capture some of its barking. When I got to the north shore I saw that there were trails made by three coyotes, and I looked down pond and saw another large coyote. This one did not bark, but it kept looking at me as it angled over to the south shore, angling so that it kept the same distance from me, say a little under 50 yards. I have seen coyotes before, but only one at a time, and when they saw me they always increased the distance between me and them.

This coyote seemed to be moving behind me and gaining some high ground. I continued over to the north shore and saw the trail of a coyote going over to sniff at a burrow in the bank.

My next impulse was to track the coyotes along the north shore of the pond. I saw the tracks of three, but I had been getting the impression that the coyotes were having a frustrating time on the ponds without even a whiff of beavers and muskrats. So I decided to gain some high ground. I went up the ridge north of the that section of the pond. When I gained the top, I saw the third coyote following the same route the other two took to the south shore of the pond. That somewhat reassured me that the coyotes had no interest in me and I went over to and down the northeast section of the pond toward the dam where I thought maybe the coyotes had been feasting on a deer kill, which might explain their barking and looking at me, the marplot of their feast. However, I didn’t see any kill, and then I heard loud barking followed by sharp and ungainly yipping bordering on yowling. It was an unsettling sound and my first impulse was to get away. At least it was only one coyote, but though I couldn’t see it, the noise seemed directed at me. I started moving faster and thought it prudent to pick up a small stick. Years ago I had been briefly surrounded by coyotes as I sat above the old Middle Pond at night trying to see beavers. But that was before I had ever seen a coyote and in my mind still pictured the smaller western coyote when I heard an eastern coyote. Eastern coyotes are a very big dog and I’ve always appreciated their deferential flight when I’m around. The noises these coyotes were directing at me did not seem deferential. Fortunately all was quiet at the Lost Swamp Pond dam. I took no photos and soon felt more at ease when I got on the other side of the Second Swamp Pond. However, the coyote kept up a pattern of loud barks and sharp yipping. I didn’t think the sound was getting closer but then again I didn’t think it was getting farther away. I photographed a porcupine trail in the knoll over looking the Second Swamp Pond, and took a photo of the ice patterns which were much like the earlier patterns that I thought could have been made by sliding otters.

Clearly the wind and water flow were making the patterns not otters. I didn’t toss my stick away until I got to the East Trail Pond. The coyote kept up the pattern of barks and yips but now it sounded distant and more plaintive than menacing. The video below gives some idea of the barks and combination barking and yipping, as well as a good look at the second coyote I saw.

I finally decided the noise was not directed at me but was the effort of the youngest of the coyotes to get a response from the older coyotes so it could join them. Indeed the coyotes might have been unnerved at my getting so close to them before they realized I was there which might have prompted the older coyotes to disperse and lay low for fear I was hunting them. Easy things to think of once I was a half mile from the barking coyote. I didn’t see any fisher tracks in the Fisher Woods, nor on the boardwalk across the East Trail Pond meadow, where I saw tracks a few days ago. From up on the ridge I took a photo of the snow covered lodge in the middle of the pond, and saw no holes in the ice and snow.

I did see a deer trail down on the pond. I sat and listened to the now far away coyote's call which slowly resolved itself into a series of short yelps not untuneful, like the start of a light aria. Then they stopped and I headed down to South Bay to look for otter signs. I didn’t see any but I saw some other interesting tracks. As I followed their trail I wondered why two minks ran on the park trail.

The best I could figure was that they wanted to make time and found the inch of snow on the trail easier to negotiate than the slick ice of the bay. I veered up to look at Audubon Pond. No signs of otters there either and ice and snow enclosed the beavers’ bank lodge and winter cache.

On my way to the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay, I saw that I was following a fox trail. It didn’t continue to the latrine. Its nose probably told it what my eyes soon did: nothing happening there. I did see some holes in the ice just off the rocky shore and I tried to conjure them into an otter fishing and bumping up holes, but there were no slides in the ice or on the snow. On a warming sunny day the ice along this north shore of the pond is quick to begin melting.

There was a large flock of a couple hundred ducks out beyond the end of the ice, in the channel going from the main channel of the river to the Narrows. At first I thought it was a flock of Bonaparte gulls that sometimes make brief visits here, but judging from the video I took,

they were ducks, mostly common mergansers. It’s not common to see so many of them here before the ice closes all the river but the channel in front of our house. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat swimming from the ice to the shore, and just missed getting a photo. I also saw an eagle fly off a branch offering it a good view of the river. Going back on the park trail, I picked up the fox tracks again and saw a fisher trail crossing it, going down from the ridge to the bay. There were some ice fishermen on the bay. If they hadn’t been there I would not hazard going on the ice. But I was a bit tired and needed a short cut. The north shore is always hard to get on because it melts out but I found a branch just above the melt water and got on solid ice, only 3 inches thick, but if the ice fishermen risked it, so could I. I saw a fox track in a patch of snow out in the middle of the bay,

which made a strange last photo for the year.