Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April 10 to , 2007 part two

April 10 We went away for a few days and came back to find it still cold, mostly cloudy, with a spit of snow now and then. I headed off to the Big Pond via the high ridge -- felt good to get on the top of the world again. As I walked along the ridge, I flushed a half dozen turkeys looking for red oak acorns along the ridge. They flew across the valley and, I think, hid in the trees. I couldn't see them, of course. Large as they are, turkeys are masters at disappearing. As I approached the Big Pond dam I flushed a pair of mallards and blacks ducks. Both pairs were huddling along the marsh, trying to get out of the
wind. Their activity probably explains why the water was muddy, not muskrat activity. More ducks were up pond, too far away to make a sure identification -- mostly mallards judging by the quacking. The pond remains relatively high but not because beavers have patched the dam. No sign that they had been around, and I saw a coyote poop where I had hoped to see otter scat. However, as I walked atop the dam I saw a splat of black green poop.

Last year I finally decided that this was otter scat, until I found an array of similar poops under a pine tree the raccoons frequent. So this is either raccoon poop, or, because it is so green, fresh from a fowl of some kind. A song sparrow sang for me, but no redwinged blackbirds. There were more ducks on the Lost Swamp Pond and since I had more cover as I approached I could get a good look at them. They were not the ring-necked ducks that I expected, but scaup.

I love the way they move about the pond with a quick zig-zag, quite in unison, yet far from mechanical. The flock can form a kind of protean super-duck, if so much can be said for the modest scaup. Just as they did last year, the beavers are working around the old girdles on the oaks and maples.

And they pushed some mud up at the mossy cove, where the found a bit of windfall from the pine above, and did some nibbling of the fallen boughs

I stood above the bank lodge, but no signs of beavers being in there. I noticed some neat muskrat marking on the elbow of a long log that stuck out of the water. The muskrat smeared it with mud and crowned it with poop.

While I was behind the bank lodge, a song sparrow flew out on one of the sticks, to get a better look at me.

There was no otter scat around. At the west end of the pond, I saw more gnawing of old girdles,

but judging from the chunky logs in the pond, freshly stripped, the beavers must have found something to cut.

On the north shore of the pond, the pine branch they had been working on was gone, but farther up shore they found another windfall and were stripping that.

Many a year I've thought the beavers were running out of food here, so I won't say that this year, but I've never noticed such reliance on windfalls. A goose is nesting on top of the lodge out in the pond behind the dam, and the guard goose was rather lackadaisical -- didn't honk at me, just stood at attention just off the lodge, hardly looked at me.

Before I got to the dam, I took a photo of the delicate nibbling on a stalk that I noticed the other day. I think a muskrat did this

how could a beaver have that light a touch with its teeth? There were no otter scats at the dam latrine. I saw that the Upper Second Swamp Pond seemed low again, so low that I decided I could walk on top of the dam. Easy going. I saw one fresh push of mud on the south end of the dam, which remains tight, and a bit of packing around a recent repair, and a bit of muskrat poop on the lodge angled in to patch the dam.

Below the north end of the dam there was a major flood.

I could see the holes in the dam, so evidently the beavers just don't want to patch them. I was also following the trail of a raccoon,

though it got closer to the water. It struck me that the beavers have widened this dam considerably, and it crossed my mind, that they might want to keep the water lower in the dam to get some vegetation growing where that raccoon was
walking to add some strength to the dam. I'll have to think more about that. Then at the end of the dam where the water was draining away, I saw a big heave of mud, could even see the scrape marks in the pond where the beaver gathered the mud

Not sure what the beaver is thinking when it moves mud here, so far from where the leaks are. Just behind the heave, across the little arm of the pond, a beaver has been gnawing on a chunk of red cedar.

No geese in the Second Swamp Pond and the wood ducks flew off before I could get a look at them. As I approached the otter latrine on the north shore of the pond, I saw a stripped beaver log. No new otter scats, but no beaver marking either. The log may have blown down from the dam where I could see a flotilla of stipped logs caught up in the grasses. When I walked out on the dam, I saw that the beavers were getting more than logs. Mixed it with the stripped sticks were green grass stalks.

And then further down I saw where they were cutting the emerging grasses

They were also dining on cattails, though I couldn't see any rhizomes.

I was surprised to see that they had not patched a major leak in the north end of the dam

Then it dawned on me that they were flooding a little pond below to make it easier to get to some ash trees there.

Several years ago, I decided that this little area they were flooding was their first pond beavers made along this creek. I found the oldest remains of a lodge here. The Ur-lodge I called it, and now it is completely gone. Taken apart, I think, to make other lodges. And they had made a pond here a
few years ago, as they moved up pond. So it seems, they wisely left some ash trees behind. They had cut and were stripping a log at the end of one little canal

and they were cutting down an ash at the end of another little canal

I found the dam, a little push of mud about four feet long

I took a photo of the view back to the bigger pond, the much bigger pond.

When they were last here, I used to camp out behind one of the trees, and I recall I got some pretty good video of them. I'll wait for a warm east wind and try that again. I still haven't checked to see if they are working at the far upper end of this development, Paradise Pond, I called it, though I never found much of a pond. I took some photos of the old Otter Hole Pond below, in case the beavers repaired more dams downstream. Meanwhile, the redwinged blackbirds were chattering and squeaking and kareeeing all in the trees and then down into the marshes -- this area was out of the wind. I checked the otter latrine at the East Trail Pond and while I saw nothing new, I did see that the grey scat had aged a bit into a duller color. In summer otter scat can age into grey, but fresh scats that are
quite grey, get dull as they age, at least at first. Complicated business. I headed for Thicket Pond which I haven't visited for awhile, and there were few complications here. The beavers stopping working on the trees they cut in the winter and went back to the trees they cut in the fall that the vagaries of the ice made it difficult to get to. Though I should add, the whole pond was muddy, they've been everywhere. But it was good to see them stripping the downed tree trunks

The chef d'ouervre was the big red oak they cut down in November.

They have been stripping both sides

and I think beavers have a real taste for the underarms, if you will, where branching must add an extra layer of tasty bark.

Through the thickets it looked like a number of freshly stripped logs had been put on the lodge, but I really couldn't get a good view.

I could easily see that they started to push more mud on the dam.

Being on top of the watershed they can't raise the water level, but dredging has always been the key to this colony's survival. Now the question is: why don't members of either this colony or the Second Swamp Pond beavers move into the East Trail Pond? My current theory is that beavers don't move into an abandoned pond for a few years and that helps the pond vegetation and surrounding bushes, if not the trees, recover. We'll see. I was quite satisfied with the intellectual
stimulation the beavers had given me, and headed home almost wishing that there would be no signs of otters at the old dock at the end of South Bay. On my way to check that I paused to admire a fresh pileated woodpecker hole, dripping with pine resin

As I walked away, I saw the woodpecker's red head peak around another tree. At first glance it looked like there was nothing new at the otter latrine. Then I saw a very small bit of grass scraped up. Then behind it I saw two small sticky blobs

so I was on my knees. With just one blob I
could blame anything. With just one blob and a little scraped
grass, I had to seriously consider whether an otter did it, even
if the blob was fowled a bit green I thought.

But with two blobs and a scrape, I had to check the other latrines along the bay. At the docking rock I saw that a beaver had brought up some mud,

which is not to be glossed over because there is no mud on the bay bottom around this rock. But there were no signs of otters. As I approached the latrine above the entrance to South Bay I saw that the piles of leaves that I had previously blamed on otters had been leveled -- which was suspicious, and yes, there on the leveled leaves I found some black otter scat.

It was quite dry and hard, but it had not been there before. Leaves cover old scat.

And then a few feet away I saw more black scat ending with the smear of slime

On my knees again wondering if just a close up would convince me that the slime here came from the same otter as the slime I saw a few hundred yards down the shore.

Slime takes a long time to age, so I think these black scats were three or four days old and had been baked and frozen and dried by the wind. Well, that's the lengths one must go at this time of year to imagine they know what otters are up to. I did see a muskrat, swimming out in the middle of the north cove of the bay, diving twice and then swimming to the shore. I also saw two herons, and when I forced one to fly off a second time, got my first hoarse croaking of the season. The
gulls had a row out in the bay, but I couldn't see what was the trouble. I saw a garter snake, and around the Thicket Pond heard some peepers, but too cold for a chorus.

April 11 taking a break from sawing at the land, in the cooler, cloudier afternoon, I checked the ponds and White Swamp. No activity at the Third Pond, though it is quite full and green things are appearing. The Deep Pond is low since the beaver's dam repairs from last year have been washed out. Along the embankment across from the dam, I noticed a fresh hole dug into the bank about a foot above the water level

No telling who dug it. Probably not a muskrat because there is not much of a ruckus in the water near by.

On the way down to White Swamp, I saw a scarlet cup, which I read is a harbinger of spring.

Down at White Swamp, cheered along by a steady chattering of ducks, geese, blackbirds, and a snipe or two, I saw new otter scats at the hole latrine

though they were not fresh. They were new to me, and a welcomed site.

Beavers, I think, have also marked the area, again

and the hole that had been plugged up is now a bit more open, as if something had tried to dig into it.

All to say the mammals are about but there is no evidence of major work. A beaver gnawed a bit on an old cut -- last time I was here there was no sawdust around it

And a beaver has been nibbling sticks out at a marked mound of mud off the shore that I saw last week. Then only had one stick on it.

The inlet mark is about the same stick wise, but with a little bit more mud.

And the beavers cut up and moved the ash tree log that had been lying across the inlet creek.

No sign of work at the dam, nor any activity above the dam. Soon we'll be here in the evening and I'll see whose about.

April 14 a succession of rainy days kept me from my appointed rounds -- too cold, upper 30s, to hazard getting wet. Last night the rain ended and this morning the sun was out until 9:30 am. Then the clouds came back but it stayed
dry. I headed off up the golf course, which will be open in three weeks, cutting off my winter route to the upper ponds. This is a rather quick way to the Upper Big Pond, allowing me to get to the back door of a beaver lodge in about 15 minutes. So, what would a relatively nice day in human terms mean to the animals I watch? Had they been oblivious to the rain, keeping their usual hours, and thus at 10 in the morning be, as they usually are, snug in their dens? There was little stirring on my way down the Second Valley, which is all wet litter impossible to see into let alone
track a porcupine through. I vainly gazed the tops of trees looking for the actual animal. As I approach the Upper Big Pond, there is a white oak beside a small dome of granite that the beavers all but cut down in the late fall. I keep expecting to
see it finally cut down, but it still stands. And I saw nothing to indicate that the beavers had returned to this area of fall and winter work. Then as I got close to the lodge, I heard splashing from across a pond and saw three deer hightailing it
through the marsh. Then there was a splash into the water, or at least a great heaving of water, which I generally associate with otters, but this was made by a beaver alarmed by the deer's alarm. I was well out of range of a beaver's worry. Once in the middle of the pond, it calmed down and studied the situation, didn't pay any heed to the mallards flying off the pond, and then swam slowly over to the dam, away from me. I studied the lodge and thought that most of the cache they had around it had been consumed, even accounting for the rising water in the pond.

The water is lapping over the the top of the dam at many places,

and judging from the muskrat poop in the little heaves of mud up on the dam, I can't be sure if the beavers or muskrats are doing what little mud work there is on the dam. Muskrats like to poop on mud.

The beavers still have plenty of dry platforms where they can concentrate on their nibbling.

As I walked along the dam, the beaver swam back out into the middle of the pond.

It made a feint toward me and I thought it might come over to sniff me, but it eased under water, not even positioned to slap its tail, and judging from the bubbles on the surface, rooted around in the middle of the pond, then surfaced again, only to dive again, but this time, judging from the few
bubbles I saw, it quickly swam underwater back to the lodge. When I got over to the Lost Swamp Pond, I was a bit startled by the strength of the northwest wind. It at least kept me downwind of the considerable number of ducks in the lower end of the pond. I sat along the beaver trail to their fall harvesting and saw that they had returned, cutting down a bitternut hickory, I think, and taking bites out of several other trees.

One pair of ducks began swimming up toward me so I sat down hoping to blend in with the granite. I soon saw that they were ring-necked ducks that I usually see here at this time of year. Meanwhile a muskrat did some forging off the
intertwined trunks of a long dead bush. I hoped to get video as the ducks swam by, or rather between the muskrat and a goose doing some head down foraging too. But the ring-necks got wise to me and flew off. In the pond in front of me the stripped logged remains of the beavers' meals were nestled on the bottom of the pond. As I walked along the south shore of the pond, I saw two other points where the beavers made their meals.

But I couldn't see where the beavers cut the trees down. I didn't go into the woods to investigate because, even as I walked close to them, the flock of ring-necked ducks didn't fly away. At first glance it looked like they were spread
evenly across the pond, then I saw that they were in groups, and in each group there was one small brown female being accompanied, not really pursued, by several puffed out, dashingly patterned white and dark, drakes. The group nearest to me seemed the most raucus with drakes splashing and dashing about. Soon enough about a half dozen of them flew off, but not all of them, and those that remained went into the western end of the pond with a ridge between them and me. So I eased around the ridge, leaned onto a pine trunk, and watched four drakes continue to accompany a female. I say accompany because one or two drakes always seemed a little in front of her, but really, given the duck's range of vision, they were probably keying off her moves. While this group stopped splashing about, that is, one drake trying to fly ahead
in the group and getting reactions from butting in line, so to speak, they were not at all quiet. Not only was there constant clucking, but also a kind of whirring wheeze. Basically they went around in circles,

sometimes getting within 20 yards of me.

One drake noticed me, looked at me, and I became its excuse for giving up the pursuit. Its flying off didn't give the others pause. And then the female climbed up on a log. The two drakes stopped. She preened herself briefly and then struck a profile, with not a twitch, as far as I could see, for about five minutes.

The two drakes watched her closely, sometimes side by side, now and then throwing their necks back, but never showing off, nor paying any regard to the other drake. When she got off the log, the drakes swam in front of her.

Then she stopped still, floating in the water. The drakes stopped and came back to her. Then she swam again, stopped again, and this time one of the drakes continued to swim off -- with a cock of the neck, I don't think he was so much
quitting, as trying to get her to decide to follow. She didn't and the pair remained, alone.

He got closer but nothing seemed to happen. I didn't know what it meant when I saw it but trying to foreshadow what she was supposed to do, he stretched his neck out a bit, down toward the water. Then she stretched her neck out; he approached from the rear, but she swam off. They swam around the beaver lodge, eliciting no reaction from the nesting goose, and then stopped in the neck of water between the upper and lower ends of the pond. He was about two feet away from her. Then she began to preen her feathers, and then he began to preen his. Both
doing it more like a ritual than serious preening. From the angle I was looking at them, I could get a clear view of the northeast corner of the pond where most of the chasing had been going on earlier. I pointed my camcorder that way and saw a pair of ducks, then another pair, and another, only off to the edge of all this happy pairing was there any swimming around, and even here there was no great crowd, just four drakes swimming with two females. What a dramatic settling down in the pond and I had had my hands full just tracing the gyrations of one group. I focused back on
my pair soon enough to see the female turn, swim around the male and as he turned to follow. They swam 10 yards or so, then still swimming slowly, back to the wind, she stretched her neck out low to the water.

The male swam up on her tail

and she dove so quickly, and swam away,

that I can't be sure if they actually mated. As the video clock shows, while courtship lasted at least a half hour, the climax happened within two seconds. I was not the only witness. Immediately one drake and then another flew over. The drake she had paired with reacted only by swimming in front of her, and she followed him, more or less, stopping briefly and then followed, which, I think, indicated that she was content with him. The other drakes hung back but continued to swim with them. They all swam away from me; I was quite cold, and didn't follow. I didn't see any fresh beaver work on this end of the pond, save for a nibbled stick and some grass pushed up on the dam. No sign of otters either. The Upper Second Swamp Pond looked the same and since I needed to generate some body heat, I walked
down the south shore of the Second Pond, the better to see ducks too. The mallards and wood ducks flew off, but a pair of mergansers just flew from one end of the pond to the other, Unfortunately, they stayed in the middle of the pond and I didn't
get a good look at them. I saw that some flickers had joined the
robins in their foraging through the leaves, and despite the cold
there was a good chorus of comb frogs from around the vernal
pools between the pond and the high ridge to the north. When I
got down to the Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw how considerable the
recent rains had been. The water was flooding over everywhere.
The south end of the dam is the dry end, but today my paths
behind the dam were running with water, and running water over
the dam. So I snapped a photo

and tried the dam below. This was not a bad
idea but I was lured by a few stones onto a path that led not to
the dam but to the creek, flowing deep and wide, but there was a
rotten log across it luring me to the other side, and I made it.
Then as I footsied my way on clumps of cattails I realized I had
forgotten what I learned the last time I was here. The beavers
had dammed some old channels and were flooding the area I was
wantoning into. A fallen ash tree seemed to come to my rescue,
but walking on it only put me deeper into the burgeoning pond.
Well, I sort of recalled where one of the new little dams was,
and I sloshed that direction and soon found a manageable way. I
should have been rewarded by a panoply of fresh beaver work, but
didn't notice any. I checked the otter latrine up on the north
slope of the Second Pond, and there was nothing new there. At the
East Trail Pond, after the usual flock of wood ducks flew off,
one male remained in the pond, cocking about, and then I saw a
female up on a tree trunk that angled down into the pond. This
scene had promise, but when the male swam down wind of her, she
flew off the trunk, dipped down toward him and they both flew
off. I hope she was telling him that they could continue what
they were doing in another pond and that I didn't squelch the
start of something big. A few weeks ago while walking at our
land, I was talking to myself about what I wanted to see, and I
said "old friends not anything new," and at that moment
two small yellow butterflies seemed to fly up from below me as if
they had flown out of the my mouth. I looked around to see them,
and saw nothing, nor have I seen a butterfly since. So I kept
that to myself. Today, as I walked up in the woods above the East
Trail Pond, not talking to myself, something grey seemed to fly
up from under me giving me the illusion that it was coming out of
my mouth. For a moment I thought I was spewing ashes, and then I
looked up to see a quite lively kinglet, a miracle of a little
bird, and quite in its proper place and time. I checked the otter
latrine above the old dock at end of the South Bay. There was a
tuft of dead plant matter that looked new but, nose to the
ground, I didn't see any scat. I did see one heron in the marsh,
but no ducks in the bay. Earlier Leslie had seen almost a
thousand buffleheads off the headland of the island. I went out
to check the willow lodge -- the first of the bullhead fishermen
were in the cove not far away, not seeming to catch much. I saw
two nibbled twigs along the moss beside the lodge, no otter
scats, and I saw that a beaver took a taste of a large ash tree
just behind the willow.

They say porcupines don't eat ash, and it is
the main meal of the beavers when they work this end of the bay.
As I walked back to the South Bay trail, I heard an osprey but
didn't see it -- I kept looking too high, I think. The I heard a
splash and saw the osprey rise with a fish in its talons. Then a
loon flew high over head, chortling as they do. While I examine
every scat and poop that I see, I try to limit myself to
photographing otter scats and other piles that simply can't be
ignored. In the middle of the South Bay trail just north of the
little causeway there is a small rock jutting out that in other
years otters have decorated. One year a skunk paid attention and
this year there has slowly been collecting a pile of narrow
twisted scats, levened with a raccoon poop or two, that I credit
to minks or fishers depending, I guess, on my mood. So I took a
photo today, thinking a fisher had been by.

At least it served to narrow my focus because
when I got to the causeway I noticed a thin scat that had fish
parts in it.

While I am certain that I have been seeing
otter scats in the past few weeks, I entertain doubts. What after
all do osprey and merganser poops look like? They eat fish
including the scales that I think indicative of otter scat. Then
I saw another string of scat, tightly wound like the other, but
paler and a little bit green.

These scats were on either side of a hole, and
so I thought this by might be where minks slink down to break
into the culvert of flowing water below. I stuck a stick in the
hole and it didn't seem to get down much. I took a photo of this
latrine, less to show the latrine, the scats are too small to
really see, then to show how much water is in the marsh of South
Bay, where I hope an otter family will soon make its home.

But back to the scats. I pride myself on being
an expert after all. This scat looked a little large for minks,
but too small for otters, except the otter scat I've been seeing
has been on a smaller scale than the usual otter spread. Plus
there was no scraping in the grass. I thought I saw some then
recollected that I had just been on my knees there.

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