Wednesday, January 23, 2013

December 1 to 6, 2003

December 1 with deer hunting done and back from Thanksgiving trip, I returned to the ponds via the first swamp ridge on a blustery, cold, sunny day. While we were gone there was some snow and heavy rain. No snow remained on the ground but the water was oozing everywhere. At the south end of the Big Pond dam there were dollops of grayish otter scat, certainly not fresh, but given the recent heavy rain certainly not that old.

The dam was leaking generously but all from overflowing. My suspicion that the otters might have put a hole in the dam, judging by the increase of flow into South Bay, didn't pan out. I saw some grasses pushed up on the dam, but certainly not considered beaver repairs. There were no ducks on the pond, but the wind was fierce at times. I continued around the pond to the lodge along the north shore, and found generous piles of scat

on clumps of grass just out of the water.

All the times I had seen otters on the lodge, I didn't notice them scatting in the grass behind the lodge. Again, I don't think any of the scat was from today, but certainly much was from the last week as I could still see the bones and guts distinctly.

This was very encouraging since it suggested the otters survived the hunters with their usual aplomb. As usual I sat a bit to scan the Lost Swamp Pond, watching the gusts of wind across the water, and not seeing any otters nor ducks. I did hear a splash to my left toward where the muskrats live and soon one glance in that direction revealed a rat up on a log nibbling away. I tried to get closer, and it dove, I thought swimming back to the lodge. But as I walked around I blundered right up to it and it dove with a huff and swam back to the lodge. mostly on the surface of the pond. I continued around the pond checking for otter scats and beaver work. There was none of the former at the mossy cove latrine. The beavers perfected the stripping of the maple that fell into the pond,

and they continue to gnaw away at a stand of smaller maples, but they've been at that for a while. One cut tree is hung up and they are doing some sculptural second cuts -- evidently a project for the baby beavers.

They also cut and began segmenting a thin white oak.

As I came around a heron flew off, but not far. I also noticed white poop under its various high perches. This heron may very well be planning to spend the winter. Down by the pond I saw some relatively old otter scat at the latrine they made near some downed maples. Then I saw sprays of scat on the north slope otter trail. Here's a photo of these two areas.

Some of this scat was wet fresh and probably from today or late yesterday.

(It didn't quite freeze last night.) Up at the old rolling area, there was nothing assuredly fresh, but probably a little more scat than the last time I was there two weeks ago. The dam is brimming; the nearby beavers not doing any patching yet.

Down at the upper second swamp dam, the flow of water has almost done the dam in. No worry for the beavers because the water ponding behind the dam below is almost up to this dam. The Second Swamp is as full as it has been in years,

yet the cache in front of the beaver lodge still seems rather small.

Perhaps the beavers are relying on being able to still get to the work around their small pool nearby just below the dam. Going up to the East Trail Pond the wind almost blew my hat off. It was too breezy and cold to tarry so I appreciated the blooming cache in front of the mudded lodge,

and crossed the dam. I found a brown blob otter scat on the trail down to the pond -- these are ageless but given its position on the slope I think it must have been put there after Friday's heavy rain. I found two new but not fresh scats on the mossy rock. So otters have been back here; too bad not while this was the only pond I could watch. I couldn't resist a photo of the beaver gnawing on the maple here. Very expressive testament

I went up the ridge to check Otter Hole Pond, reasoning that a flood of water might rekindle the otters' interest in it. I did find a warm place to sit high up on the ridge, and was dazzled by the gusts on the pond surface -- not unlike a Shakespeare soliloquy with a steady pulse of wind punctuated with pithy exclamations. I headed home by going down to the pond. With all the water the pond looked a little higher but I was surprised to see a lot more water than usual in the long dry Beaver Point Pond.

And then I saw a red oak with just stripped bark right in front of me. But the stripping was a bit high for beavers and the teeth marks were narrow, like a porcupines.

No stripping up on top though, which is odd for a porcupine. Of course, I toured around looking for more gnawing but saw none. When I got down to South Bay I saw that the water was rushing out of the New Pond, so I don't think any beaver has been patching dams. I checked the knoll for otter scat and found a not fresh black one beside a tree on the edge of the knoll and then midway to the other edge of the knoll along the usual otter trail, a creamy brown scat.

So I think otters are still around, at least one touring and probably more than two otters still vibrating between the Lost Swamp and Big Pond. Now to see them; or some snow to track them.

December 2 last night there was a snow squall that gave us just enough snow to cover paths and half cover the grass, and then the temperature dropped. Despite a strong wind, which continued to blow, most of the Big Pond froze over. Of course, I hoped to see otter slides if not the otters themselves but all I saw at the dam were indistinct mink prints. Coming up to the dam, I saw a vole dash between grass clumps, but in the dry snow the tracks were indistinct.

The southeastern portion of the Lost Swamp Pond was mostly frozen,

the rest, open and as I studied that I saw something on the ice next to the lodge by the dam.

A dancing mink soon gave itself away, and, just as it did a few weeks ago,

it dove into the water and back out quickly. Just as before something splashed it. Only this time I saw that the something was a muskrat that surfaced a little ways off from the lodge, and swam toward the mink who was on the ice next to the lodge. The muskrat went at the mink which jumped down along the ice and then the muskrat swam furiously at it and the mink fled up and over the lodge. The muskrat stayed in the water a bit and then swam back to the entrance of the lodge, surfacing with a little bit of a flourish. Then the mink came right back over to where it was. I first reasoned that it must have been a beaver attacking the mink but the video pretty clearly shows that it was a muskrat. So much for muskrats being the patsies of the pond always victimized by the vicious minks. Then a muskrat appeared, right in front of me, swimming to the lodge in the middle of the pond. Going around the pond I was surprised not to see any mink prints on what ice there was along the fringe. The beavers had worked during the freeze as I saw a path in the snow and fresh nibblings at various work stations. There was absolutely no sign of otters, and given that this was the only area of the pond opened, I'd expect they'd make some marks on the ice if they were around. Thanks to the snow I did notice what looked like a large grass muskrat lodge on the other side of the pond. The Second Swamp Pond was almost completely frozen over. The were some intriguing lines on the ice but, much as it looks like it, I don't think animals made them.

There was some cracked ice next to the burrow just up pond from the lodge. At the bank lodge, it looked like beavers had climbed on top perhaps responding to the cold by packing more mud. I went down to the dam to see if the beavers had come out there, but no sign of it. The East Trail Pond was also frozen over save for where the beavers came out to gnaw on the maple.

Of course, the Thicket Pond was frozen over. I noticed some fresh work -- a red oak about to be cut,

but no holes in the ice. I was encouraged in my long hike to find that I was often following the trail of a fox, usually the tracks were indistinct but there were good prints on the bark that fell off the massive ash.

Audubon Pond was mostly open but no sign that the otters had been there. Nor did the lodges by the bench look used by the beaver. However over on the west shore I found more gnawing on a trunk, a thin oak that might be cut down,

and more rooting around to gnaw on a root.

This beaver is running out of time to learn to become a beaver. No otter signs at the docking rock in South Bay. Not seeing otter signs was not discouraging because I've theorized that as the ponds freeze up the otters take one more tour in the river. Still I checked the New Pond knoll and even went up to Otter Hole Pond which was quite frozen. I did see more porcupine work, this time on the south shore of Beaver Point Pond.

Like yesterday, the prime entertainment today was provided by the gusting wind, only today it was cold enough so it made its points personally not just on the willing water. I may have seen the eagle again, but most birds avoided the cold, and most that I heard, I could not see. A mink kind of day.

December 4 cloudy day with temperature steady at about 25. I took my usual route to the Big Pond and flushed one deer along the TIP ridge. I usually wait to cast aspersions on the recent hunt, but so far I've seen about one deer a day. Obviously those who remain are somewhat traumatized. The Big Pond was sealed with ice.

I stepped on to it and it was good -- probably three to four inches thick. There were two small holes of open water along the dam but no evidence that animals had used them -- not that I got too close to them. I did see stray greens under the ice with small bubbles.

A muskrat had probably been shopping around. This is the time of year when I notice muskrat pushups in the grassy areas of the pond.

The Lost Swamp Pond was only open around the lodge by the dam. After staring at that hole a while -- the ice certainly narrows one's focus, I checked the mossy cove to see if anything had come out there. I did see bubbles around the lodge nearby that the beavers had built in the summer. I suppose as they explore underwater and realize the difficulty of popping up through the ice, they go to the old burrows for relief. I began to cross the pond on the ice and all was well until I got within 20 yards of the other side where the ice seemed only two inches thick. With much creaking and one juicy fracture, I made it safely with one foot on a log. No sure sign the beavers had been out at the upper end of the pond, but I think they had been, judging by the thinness of the ice down there. Going up the shore toward the dam I noticed three or four frozen-over holes in the ice -- as if something popped up.

I looked hard for otter scat but found none. I walked over to the rock behind the lodge admiring the work on the ice edge

which deserved a close-up

There is much to ponder here, those holes, the extent to which there is open water around the lodge. Of course, these beavers have long had a reputation for staying out late in the morning. Then there are the muskrats, that mink, and perhaps two otters. I didn't test the Second Pond ice even though I spied another muskrat pushup in the grasses

and was somewhat surprised to see all ice around the lodge. Last year this lodge was kept ice free as long as possible. I'm continually surprised at how much beavers change their approach to winter. The East Trail Pond was all ice, even around the lodge.

I did notice a peephole of open water just in front of the burrow closer to the dam which had been so popular with otters and beavers last year. With tiny sticks freshly nibbled I'm sure beavers are using it.

With the ice constricting beaver activity so much, I imagine finding a nearby burrow allowing some privacy is a priority. And, of course, I still wonder if the notched tail beaver is an outcast of this colony. I have been remiss is seeing the beavers. Night falls so quickly and it's dangerous being out then during the last few days of hunting season. I fancied I might be able to walk into the button bushes of Thicket Pond but soon saw that the beavers had been around making holes in the ice that had refrozen. Plus I would have to crawl to get into the button bushes, which I might yet do once there is firmer ice. I don't think the beavers have come out much. They simply free ice from around some of the many limbs and trunks that have fallen into the pond.

I keep taking photos of the impressive lodge and the work around it.

Then I went down to Meander Pond expecting that to be thick with undisturbed ice but I found a muskrat's bubbles coming from one burrow, an old burrow that had been excavated by a coyote years ago

and while I slid over them I was surprised to find thin ice out in the middle, so I retreated. Winter makes a series of discrete stories, and the next saga I addressed was the struggles of the Audubon Pond beaver. The pond was iced over, with no opening around the bank lodge or lodge in the pond. As I sat on the bench, I heard water splash in the bank lodge and soon after water splash in the pond lodge. The beaver swam from one to the other under the ice. There were many bubbles around the bank lodge,

but no sign of what the beaver might have been eating. Walking around the pond I saw bubbles under the ice at the low bridge, at the burrow on the west shore,

at the corner of the pond -- not so many there, and at the drain where it looked like there was a bit of open water that a beaver had could fit through and a few more frozen over holes.

So the beaver survives, and I suppose it can still eat grasses and cattails which is what muskrats manage to live off of during the winter. Birds were scarce on the hike but I heard robins, a raven, and saw chickadees, always a delight. I checked the dock rock for scat and since the ice edge was about up to it,

figured an otter might drop by. I did see some frozen scat on the little hill up from the rock.

Scat seems to age quickly here so I think it indicates an otter has been here the last few days. I'm keeping the engine on the boat hoping for another warm spell and slow ice development so I can check around the river for otter scats. Going around the South Bay trail I noticed this large honeysuckle scraped threadbare,

which suggests I think a buck did it, but how could he manage it without getting tangled? So perhaps red squirrels did it or at least joined in. Sun was out when I got home.

December 6 cold nights have frozen all the ponds and cold days have made it tough to get out to them, rather the brisk northeast wind. But, fearing snow might come, I headed off for the ponds with skates to take advantage of what might be a fleeting opportunity to skate over the ponds while they have smooth, clear, thick ice. I went to the Big Pond by the usual route and my perch was the perfect spot to put on my skates. Perfect though the ice was, it was slow going since I stopped to investigate every muskrat pushup.

To my surprise everyone of them seems to have been used, judging by the bubbles under the ice around them. The biggest cluster seemed to radiate out from the smaller of the springs on the south shore -- so famous over the past winters for beaver and otter activitity.

There was one lodge near the larger spring which indeed was open water. The beaver lodge in the east end of the pond looked sadly depleted but judging from the bubbles radiating from it, a major muskrat hub.

Then there are lodges in the little cove just east of the last active beaver lodge. There was bubble activity around that lodge

but actually not as much as the other lodge. I took a skate around the pond for pleasure too, fighting the wind though. Once my shoes were back on I walked along the dam and found a few small holes but no sure sign that any animal came out of them.

The pond is full and there is generous leaking below it so the creek below is open and the marsh was so soggy I expected to find evidence that a muskrat fashioned a better overflow, but I didn't. Then I walked across the ice, then over to the Lost Swamp Pond and sitting on that nice sloping granite rock strapped on the skates and headed east into the wind. Once again there were frequent stops for muskrat pushups. The first was rather thin, evidently to take advantage of an old broken stump

The one below was more typical

and in the view below there are at least three lodges along the grass line

This lodge on the north shore seemed to be woven with different grasses, shorter sedges I guess

Since the beavers are not here this is all probably muskrat action

Most were on the south side of the pond, but coming down the north side I skated right over a muskrat seemingly frozen under the ice. I skated back and it swam away over to a burrow below the ice on the north shore.

Amazing. I also saw a burrow well above the ice level, which is curious because the pond water level has never been higher than this. Then I got my boots and skated over to the other section of the pond where there were more muskrat pushups. At the east end of the pond, not far from one of the largest pushups was a collection of beaver sticks arranged in such away that I wondered if they were the start of another pushup.

I went over to the upper dam, and never saw it so well.

Usually when I get up here there is deep snow all around the pond. Three or four pushups are near it and evidence of a break in the ice. I imagine these clusters of pushups represent territory of different muskrat groups. The bush where last year's pushup was is grassless. The water around the beaver lodge remains open. When I walked back, I photographed the bubbles around several frozen over holes in the ice -- that again made me think of otters,

Then I saw a brown back roll into the open water.

I waited and soon saw that it was a beaver. Indeed two beavers seemed to be purposely swimming and diving, though with the brisk wind they did not have to go out of their way to keep the water from freezing. I got a brief video, and then I heard some loud humming which I think signaled the end of that activity. I was getting cold now and so I didn't skate over the Second Swamp Pond, which didn't keep me from photographing more pushups as I walked down the pond. The first was made of cattail stalks and in the ice I could see many more cut stalks,

and in one spot what looked like the beginning of another pushup. Then I was taken with another pushup surrounded by cattails.

I noticed the bubbles coming out of the smaller bank lodge, and then the riot of bubbles in the cache of the large lodge.

There were at least three places where the ice had been open behind the dam, and there is still a little open water in the stream below it. I went down to Otter Hole Pond and was a little surprised to see no bubbles under the middle pool. However there were bubbles in the remaining pond but so regular that I thought it might not be from animals under the ice. No pushups here but there have seldom been any here. Of course I stood right next to the storied lodge and took a dumb photo that does little to capture the thousands of memories associated with it.

Will beavers ever move back? They've been absent two years now. There is open water behind the dam and the creek below is mostly open. I walked over the ice of Beaver Point Pond and saw less bubbles and none shaped and clustered as if from a breathing animal. I should also report that after crossing all that ice I saw no fish and only one pollywog -- in the Big Pond. Hopefully I'll get a gentler and sunny day to explore these ponds on skates before the snow flies.