Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April 2 to 5, 2007

April 2 The long trapping season for beavers and otters ended on March 31 so I went down to White Swamp hoping to see signs of life. Muskrat trapping continues to April 15. On the way I walked around our Deep Pond, which still has ice, except along the shores and with a good bit of open water behind the dam. Back on the embankment I saw where a muskrat had been burrowing in the bank.

My guess is that the muskrats made a burrow deeper in the water that goes into the bank and hooks up with the old burrows that they used when the pond was two feet higher.

Other than raccoon prints in the mud beside the hole in the dam and a leopard frog that jumped into the water, there didn't seem to be much happening around the pond. So I continued on down to White Swamp. A cloudy damp day is not the best day to judge the age of beaver markings and otter scats. I soon saw that beavers had pushed up mud and leaves all along the shore of White Swamp.

But how fresh were they? I saw a trail going up the steep bank leading to two cut ash trees but here too it's not easy to tell when the beaver did the gnawing. Looked a little old to me.

Then I saw a pile of dead leaves with a green shoot in the middle of it.

I decided that one beaver, at least, had survived the trapping, and I enjoyed the other marks along the shore, often two together,

sometimes three.

Beavers seem to go wild in their marking at this time of year. My suspicion is that beavers who survived a season of trapping are more prone to mark and bring order back to their world which has been brutally disrupted. When I got to the moss covered slope of the shore where otters made their dens in three holes in the bank, I saw beaver marking at the first hole

and the beavers even stuffed dirt down in the hole.

This is a ploy I've noticed beavers using to inconvenience otters, though I've seen them do it without otters around. So, I looked hard for scat. There was none around the first hole, but on the way to the second hole I saw a scat with generous portions of fish bones.

and the scat was not aged grey. Then I saw that the hole had scats all around.

Many were old grey scats, but not all of them. Plus there was a bit of the white matter that otters are prone to excrete in March.

The freshest scat, I would guess, was not much older than two weeks.

Of course, I strained to find a fresh scat, but didn't. I have photos of how this area looked at the end of last winter, and while there was much scat then it seemed to be more upslope, and I recollect that the scat on this slope had been more or less washed away in the fall. I was last here on March 22 where I saw that the holes were open and there was a mink track in the snow coming out of one. Well, we'll see fresh otter scat
soon enough if the otters are around. On the way to the inlet I veered inland looking for more beaver work, didn't see any but did see a nest that must have fallen out of a tree.

Then back along the shore, I saw some recent, though not fresh scat off one of the many beaver scent mounds, but that otter sign was quite overpower by the beavers' claim

though this mound, as I recall, was quite built up last year, and in prior years I should think. The wood gnawing looks fresher in the photo than it actually is. In the fall,
before trapping season, the beavers cut at least a dozen trees on the shore above a small cove. It looked about the same as it did then, but there is so much, it would be difficult to identify new work. Along the shore there was a new scent mound and fresh
nibbling there.

The trapper left his canoe at the prominent spot along the shore which the beavers and otters favored last year. Neither seemed to have visited it much this year. However I did notice a matrix of logs along the shore, concealed by honeysuckle branches, that looked like it could be covering a beaver burrow into the bank. First time I've noticed it, and it looks rather used. The beavers seem to be reestablishing their claim to mouth of the inlet creek that runs down from our pond.

No otter scats there and no beaver mud along the channel, but the water is running deep at the moment. I went back up to the ridge, sat and tried to hear what's going on.
Geese and wood ducks are easy to identify, nothing yet from snipe and bitterns. Below where I sat, I saw a nice mossy area along the shore and had to go down in case otters couldn't resist scatting there. Going down I noticed a beaver claim about ten
yards out in the water --

I wonder how much territory such a statement commands. There were a couple clearings under the honeysuckle where a beaver had landed recently, or at least pushed up some mud. To head home, I went up the inlet creek and perhaps the
beaver had freshly gnawed the tree it had cut in the fall

There has been no work on the dam which no longer holds back much water.

Will this empty pond inspire a beaver to go upstream to our pond, or will it cause a beaver to lose interest in what is upstream?

Back on the island I headed off to check the area above the Upper Second Swamp Pond for fresh beaver nibbling. Now that the ice is gone the quickest route is via South Bay, up the East Trail and then east on the south side of the huge granite rib. Going to South Bay allowed me to see if there were any otter signs at the little causeway latrine. Not quite to it, I saw a nice display of fisher scat, I think, on a moss covered rock.

These scats were narrower than what a fox would leave, and twisted, and with more hair than the usual mink scat

And I know from my winter tracking that this is a fisher route along the edge of the woods. There were no otter scats or scent mounds around the little causeway. Then before I went up the East Trail I thought I best check the old dock latrine. I did and there at the crest of the slope was a black scat,

with a tinge of red, tubular and most like an otter scat.

I saw another scat about the same size and two small chunks -- I can' say, as I usually do, that they were "squirts" because these scats were dry. So I got out my tweezers and teased through them to make sure otters had left them. The reddish tint I could ascribe to their taking crayfish. One scat seemed to have fish scales, and indistinct bits of crayfish shells.

The other seemed a bit leafy, and that might suggest skunk scat -- but the scat was quite moist -- wetter than the tubular scat and I think of skunk scat as dry with mostly
insect parts.

I didn't get a whiff of otter scat. Tubular scat is always a pain to identify because the free form splat is the glory of otters. And at any time when I haven't seen otter
signs for a long time, I have to check my hopes, and be extra critical. All to say, that after noting a bit of muskrat mud along the edge of the shore (not where the otters would have come up)

I changed my plans and walked along South Bay to check the other otter latrines. There is still a bit of ice on the bay, indeed two geese were standing on it. Two crows flew down to watch that. There were no scats at the docking rock. As I approached the latrine above the entrance to South Bay, I saw two piles of leaves

and I expected to see otter scat on or near them. I saw the characteristic scrapping up of grass and leaves. One pile included a beer can, but no scat.

The ice remains below this slope but still plently of open water for an otter to negotiate.

Other animals scrape leaves and grass together, but this is the otters' spot, so... well, there was no scat so I make no claims. I continued along the Narrows and hidden by a
pine tree tried to get a photo of the buffleheads

There were no signs of otters out on the flat rock at the entrance to the Narrows. It began to rain so I headed to Audubon Pond where I could find some cover. The two geese were huddled out of the wind along the west shore. When they saw me
they tried to get up on the ice. It always pains me to see geese sinking into rotting ice and trying to wade, sometimes with a flap for leaverage, through the ice. Fly! But no. I walked around to the bench, and they finally made it across the ice to the open
water in front of me there where they seemed comfortable. Maybe they didn't think they had enough water to take off from. I saw stripped sticks floating here and there but the wind plays over this pond so I couldn't be sure where the beavers had been
eating. The rain stopped and I continued around the pond, and at the northeast corner of the pond I did saw a nice nook of beaver marking.

The muddy mound crowned with a stick was a classic.

But unlike at White Swamp, here there was only one mark, not one every ten feet. I flushed eight male wood ducks out of the little pond on the other side of the causeway. A kingfisher cackled over. I decided to check the willow latrine
out on the peninsula in the bay. On the way I checked the mossy mound under the huge girdled oak which seems a great place from which to observe the doings in the cove. A muskrat had pushed some leaves and mud up, but no otter scats.

As I approached the willow latrine, a heron flew off. A beaver I think, though maybe a muskrat, had pushed mud up on a log behind the willow latrine

Otherwise I couldn't see any signs of anything happening there. The marsh, where I expect to see baby otters later in the spring, was still bottomed with ice.

April 3 I decided not to wait for promised sun and headed off under grey clouds, 40F. The gloom did not quiet the birds. I had constant chatter to the ridge and then what
seemed like a chorus of song sparrows at the Big Pond dam. There was nothing new there but I sat to enjoy the songs. My mission of course was to see if the otter went into the ponds. Simple task but the hope of not scaring the ducks slowed me down. I got a look at some hooded mergansers in the Lost Swamp Pond, but they were soon off. I'd say so far that there are fewer ducks this spring. I'm especially looking for the ring necks. I checked the mossy cove latrine and no otter had visited there, nor the north slope, though just under a rock I found where a squirrel found some comfort during the cold, leaving a few nut shells there.

On the way to the dam I saw some delicate muskrat nibbling up on the moss. The photo didn't turn out showing how the slender hollow stalks of a small plant had been
stripped. I'll try to capture that next time out. Then at the dam I saw two otter scats. The largest was smeared on a rock

and the other was a neat little package.

These were a lot like the scats I saw yesterday at the old dock latrine, though not quite as red, and not quite as moist. I caught a whiff of otter scat smell but it was over
powered by a huge fresher coyote poop a few feet away.

This corner of the dam has never struck me as a good place to serve notice, since there are higher rocks close to the other end of the dam, evidently otters and coyotes think differently.

For several years the marking otter generally left this area dry, but last year, in the summer, I saw evidence of a single otter marking here. I take it as a good sign that the
marking starts four months earlier this year. I crossed on the dam and saw that the beavers had pushed up some mud on the dam -- to little effect, the leak is lower in the dam.

They couldn't patch it last year, but didn't have to because we had so much rain. On a small granite knob between the dam and old lodge, a muskrat has smeared some poop.

No otter scats on the big rock next to the dam. I couldn't resist a photo of the lodge which seems now to have transcended beaverness and become an organism in its own right.

Since I was in the neighborhood I went down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond lodge. I scared out three beavers. The pond is shallower and they made a dramatic push of water. I could see the wake go past the little lodge nearby and since they
didn't surface, they must have gone to the old lodge behind the dam. With the water lower I could see the sweet set up they had during the winter. The remains of their meals formed a little wall around a pool of deeper water beside their lodge.

Since the water level was dropping, I figured they had not done any more repairs on their dam. So they were not as scrupulous in their engineering as I previously thought. While they didn't show in the pond, a redwinged blackbird defended
their realm.

As I headed down to the Second Swamp Pond dam I saw a pair of geese in the marsh. They moved out into deeper water but didn't flee. The male took the opportunity to get beak down in the water for a bite.

Meanwhile, the pair fifty yards down pond flew off with great honking flanked by wood ducks themselves squealing. I soon had to eat my criticism of the beavers. I saw
generous dollops of mud all along the Second Swamp Pond dam.

Looks like they are once again going to back the water up to the dam above, which should make it easier to repair that dam. Some of the of mud dollops had green grass in it,

so green I wonder where the beavers found the grass, and why didn't they eat it. Further along I found a flotilla of stripped sticks behind where the beavers patched a

But no otter scats. As I walked up to the old otter latrines on the north shore, I walked onto the bank lodge not just to see it otters visited but to see if the beavers have.
The lodge is in very poor repair and the front part has collapsed. Not fit for a beaver. As I looked for otter scats here, I could comfort myself with the thought that I've never found a latrine around this pond that otters invariably visit, so not seeing scats didn't mean that an otter didn't come through. I didn't need to comfort myself. High up in the middle of the latrine above the old auxillary lodge

there was a proper otter scat quite similar to the others I've seen recently.

So I sat in quiet celebration. While the otters I saw here in the fall have not returned -- I would have seen much more scat, one otter has and perhaps that has more promise for the future than if one or both of the pups from last year came, because there is a pressure on yearlings to move on. I was soon distracted from such thoughts by the noises of spring. I think I was hearing turkey calls from over the far ridge. I'd
also been hearing a confusion of pileated woodpecker calls. I always assume they have things sorted out by this time of the year. It crossed my mind that I could now head home, quite content. But I decided I should check the old dock latrine along
South Bay and that the easiest path would take me by the East Trail Pond dam. I was entertained by a riot of redwinged blackbirds up in the trees above the dam -- with many keereees. This is turning into a banner year for them, and I can't think of
a bird call that inspires more confidence. Though otters have not lived out of the East Trail Pond for two years, I check for scats there in the old latrines now and then, in case otters find it difficult to break old habits. Brave talk. I was shocked and
confused when I did see an otter scat,

grey and older than the rest, but certainly no more than a few weeks old. A closer look showed a scat laced with scales, hence the grey color, and there was no other mammal I could pin this on.

So... Maybe the female otter is making her natal den around here as I think she did for several years. I went up the ridge to take a photo to show how meagre the pond
was, far from its old glory,

but perhaps there is water enough behind the dam to serve an otter mother,

and the Second Swamp Pond, where the fish are, is just over the ridge. The rest of the tour was not quite anti-climatic. Down beside the New Pond I heard calls from over
the ridge which I first thought was a variation on the turkey call I heard earlier. Then that new call moved quickly above the woods and then a couple hundred feet above me. It was a big, dark, fast flying bird with an insistent call which was a cross
between a loon's, raven's, and cuckoo's. The behavior was like a loon's, flying high over the river and crying out. While there were no new otter scats at the old dock latrine, the muskrat pushed up some fresh dead leaves onto the shore.

And then on the little causeway, I saw a small otter scat. The photo of that didn't quite capture the reality but I got the impression that the otter marking this territory is
either new to the game or a bit constipated, but I will not quibble and only wish he had come sooner and led me over hill and dale tracking slides in the snow.

April 5 cold rain and high winds yesterday, so I sat tight. Today it was colder, not quite as windy, and off and on snow showers, which didn't amount to anything. But when I
stood on the little causeway at the end of the south cove of South Bay and saw a muskrat swimming and even humming along the edge of the cattails, I couldn't take out my cameras because the snow was right in my face. I usually associate any vocalizing by a muskrat with interaction, usually contentious, with another
muskrat. So as this muskrat darted in and out of the cattails, and dove and surfaced, I kept expecting another muskrat to burst out of the cattails and battle, but none did. Just a happy humming from one contented muskrat enjoying the wind swept, but
ice free river. The snow squall ended, but the muskrat had gone up the bay. I checked all the otter latrines along the South Bay shore, and saw nothing new. I had hopes that the otter might do better scent mounds at the latrine above the entrance to South
Bay, but no. I did take a photo to show that all the ice was gone.

And below I could see an icicle forming on a willow branch just above the waves.

There were no birds, herons, ducks, or redwinged blackbirds at the end of South Bay, but I did run into a flock of kinglets in the trees along the north shore. Deciding
it was too cold to sit around and wait for beavers, I confined my hike to checking the latrines where I found scat two days ago. There was nothing new at any of them. But when I turned to go down the knoll and head for the Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw some persistent ripples that didn't match the pattern of the wind blown ripples. I got out my spyglass and saw that the brown lump in the water behind the dam was a beaver.

This was a bad day to inconvenience a beaver who might have to swim all the way up to the upper pond to find a safe haven. So I waded through the shallow water below the leaking upper dam. No sign of beavers there, nor much work on the dam. There was one little dollop of mud on the dam, and at the south end a few nibbled sticks. It looked like the muskrats had improved a burrow just behind this activity, so perhaps they, and not the beavers, did the gnawing.

I had my camera ready when I walked up to Lost Swamp Pond dam expecting to see ducks taking shelter from the wind. I did, and I think they were the ring-necks I have been looking for, but they were too far away for a good photo. While there were no new otter scats, there was a spread of mud by a beaver, I suspect,

since one dollop of mud seemed beyond the capacity of a muskrat.

Then down along the north shore of the pond, I saw that they had dragged a pine branch, brought down by the wind, I assume, into the water and had stripped off some bark and nibbled on some boughs. A beaver also put mud on a mound of grass
near by.

It was nice to see a beaver taking advantage of a windfall, often they don't. The Big Pond had a number of ducks on it, maybe ring-necks again, and a smaller, diving duck, with a white patch below the eye. Almost like wood ducks, but they don't
dive and the ducks I was watching flew off quietly. Still no patching of the dam, but there was one push of mud and grass right in the middle of the major leak over the dam.

However, this might not have been the work of a muskrat push up some mud and grass over a hole in a dam. I should add that I am flushing wood ducks just about from ever pond I approach. I was disappointed but not surprised that I didn't see any more otter scats. I still enjoy looking at the ones I discovered two days ago. The cold and wind made the redwinged blackbirds and song sparrows scarce, though I did see a large flock of grackles in the woods at the edge of the golf course.

No comments:

Post a Comment