Monday, April 6, 2009

April 17 to , 2007

April 17 the rain of two days ago turned into snow and yesterday we got lathered with five inches of heavy wet snow, and then a gale to make you look up to check the tops of trees. This morning it was cloudy and a little above freezing, with a sharp north wind hiding behind the island as I headed up the ridge. The snow cover which shrank during the night was a bit spotty. I've had some good otter tracking in such conditions, but since my imagination had grabbed hold of the scat I had been seeing, in my heart of hearts, I wished I had not been given this
opportunity to actually see where an otter might have been in the last 24 hours. At the little causeway at the end of the south cove of South Bay there was snow enough to tell stories. Where I had knelt over otter scat three days ago, there was no signs of a recent otter visit. I saw goose, duck, fox, maybe muskrat tracks, and deer, but no otter tracks.

The latrine above the old dock in the north cove of the bay was snow covered too, and no otter, nor anything else had visited. Along the shore there was a nice deposit of mud, dead leaves and sticks. With a stripped beaver log nearby, I was tempted to think a beaver did it, but that log could have floated in and I usually attribute such haphazard marking to muskrats, unless there is more heft to the heave.

At the old docking rock, I looked hard for scats because it really looked like something had come up through the leaves on the slight slope down to the rock. There were more mud deposits on the rock, rather diffuse. When I saw a neat
deposit the other day, I was ready to credit a beaver, now I think maybe muskrats are arguing over the rock, though there was no muskrat poop to be seen.

And there was a beaver stripped log floating by, but... easy place to float to. The latrine above the entrance to South Bay also had enough snow to reveal a recent visit, and there had been none.

But, right at my feet as I looked over the slope, there was a little pile of leaves

smeared with greyish otter scats

and flanked by a rich brown puddle of an otter scat.

So an otter had been there before the snow ended. I peaked over at the Murray Island shore but the snow all along there had melted. I headed up to Audubon Pond, primarily because it was so close and I have not been there in a while. It was quite full, tickling the bottom of foot bridges, well over the top of the drain. In the southwest corner of the pond there was another muddy discussion, and I blamed the muskrats for this. The beaver marking I saw on the opposite corner of the pond the other day was much more substantial.

However, I could see that beavers had been in that southwest corner, where they did a lot of work in the spring. They had expanded their girdling of a red oak

and I saw girdling started on a few other trees including a curvy ash tree,

I took a photo from the back

and couldn't resist a closeup of how the beavers highlight the roots of the tree, baring its feet and toes.

Even without being gnawed this is an interestingly shaped tree, but I never noticed it before. As they gnaw into trees beavers help you appreciate the tree, poor tree. I checked the shore near the bank lodge

and noticed some more mud pushed up and this time with clam shells in the mix.

Again that's a muskrat meal, but again there were stripped beaver logs nearby. And then what to my eyes should appear but a grey otter scat. New to me and looking recent. As I photographed it

a bird flew off the ground on the other side of the lodge and I gave it an encouraging word, then I heard a splash in the lodge, followed not by a heave, like a beaver, nor a snap, like a muskrat, and with only one bubble breaking the surface of the water around the lodge, not the series of bubbles muskrats and beavers broadcast. Then I heard a huff and puff, and there was an otter about twenty yards offshore periscoping up to get a better look at me

and periscoping down back into the water to ponder what it had seen. I took two photos,

then got out the camcorder, and then after getting some record of the encounter, I retreated behind trees, hoping to give the otter enough distance so it might do some fishing or come up for a scat. I was feeling the sharp north wind
which was enough out of the east to make me invisible to an otter's nose, and when I got a little farther back, the otter did stop looking right at me, and kept looking off to my right, or pointing its nose that way. However, it kept puffing and
periscoping. It did a few regular dives but not to go about its business and get off my case. Then I noticed that a beaver appeared on the lodge.

To be sure, I have seen beavers out in a pond at 11 am, and beavers are not shy about climbing up on their lodge -- but on a cold morning, with a sharp wind, and after nibbling a bit, the beaver started grooming itself. I couldn't help but think that it was showing itself to the otter. However, the otter didn't seem to notice and the beaver eventually went back into the lodge without making any movement, let alone swimming, toward the otter. The otter did get closer to the lodge it had escaped from, and twice climbed up on logs and branches
floating near by. Perches on which it could have calmed down

but it didn't. And soon it swam farther out in the pond,

and come to think of it, by then the beaver had gone into the lodge. So perhaps the otter had noticed the beaver. I generally don't think I learn much from otters huffing and puffing at me, but since I had not seen an otter in a long time, I enjoyed the moment as much as the cold wind would let me. This otter, I think, is a yearling and judging from the way it crooked its neck, I think it is one of the pups I watched in the ponds in the fall. This is encouraging. I think there is a boss male marking the ponds, perhaps a female looking for a natal den, and
here is this old friend, whose habits I have some grasp of. I kept retreating to the west and then headed south, saw no more otter, and hurried along the embankment to get warm. The beavers have cut some trees on the east end of the embankment including
two just the right size

that I could not easily identify. Bitternut hickory I think, but I was too cold to debate over the trunks -- no leaves are out, of course.

Then when I got down to South Bay and I had to stand again -- but at least with the wind blocked from behind. The upper part of the bay was filled with ducks, mostly scaup, I think, with some buffleheads.

There must have been about 500 and I saw much courtship in the racing around stage,

some pairing, but no sex, and some diving for food. When an osprey flew over, half the flock flew up, probably thinking it was an eagle. Osprey, I've read, don't take ducks. There was a good bit of chatter, like I heard from the
ring-necked ducks, but the females I saw were almost as big as the males. When I got down to the end of the bay, three herons flew off. Strange that coming around two hours before, there was nothing happening, and going home things were popping. Maybe the wind blew everything warm out of Eel Bay into more sheltered waters.

April 18 at noon the clouds moved off, completely, and we were drenched in sun, but the wind remained strong out of the east. I went up the TI Park ridge and then headed for the Big Pond. With so much snow and rain the pond was high and water continued to rush out of the gap in the dam, but it did look like something had been pushed into the gap. With such a constant flood of water, I'd expect the gap to be clear, not so clogged.

The east wind raked the pond and there were no ducks to watch. I decided to go to the Second Swamp Pond next and find a spot on the north shore knoll out of the wind, but with a view of the dam and pond. The trails, made by the deer, raccoons and me, behind the dam were still flooded. This time I was careful to find the small dam below, headed across it and was caught up short when I saw that the far end of it had been washed away. Luckily I found two clumps of dirt and made it across. The beavers had not done much work among the ash trees below the dam, but one log they had stripped was gone. So they have been here. I found a spot to sit on the lee side of the knoll, but there was not much to see. A pair of mallards flew off. So I enjoyed the sun. On the way to check the otter latrine further up the north
shore, I saw that there was some activity in the north end of the pond -- a heron and several ducks were foraging.

There was nothing new at the otter latrine, so I assumed that an otter had not been through the ponds recently. And the wind, I thought, would curtail any activity of ducks and mammals on the Lost Swamp and Upper Big Ponds. So I decided to go to Thicket Pond, which might be more out of the wind. I checked the East Trail Pond on the way, no scats there, and just a few ducks who soon flew off. I sat and watched the wind blow over this diminished pond, and decided to change plans again. I headed back the way I came, but going on the high rock ridge on my way
to check on the area above the Upper Second Swamp pond that the beavers rationalized last year that I call Paradise Pond. Well today, top of the rock was paradise. I could hear the comb frogs to the south and the peepers to the north, both equally lusty in their calls. I scanned the tree tops for porcupine work and then saw some choice work right at eye level on a red oak the porcupines have worked on in other years.

The scars left by its teeth looked like a musical score.

I got back to Paradise Pond relatively easily as the stickers and bushes weren't bursting out yet and I didn't see signs of beaver activity -- the little pond was not muddy; two cuts looked fresh but probably just because the sap was running out of last year's cut.

The dam didn't have any fresh mud and didn't need any.

Despite all the rain and snow, it seemed relatively dry back here. I followed a path down to a channel branching off of the Upper Second Swamp Pond, and that too wasn't muddy.

As I walked around the top of that pond, I crossed a rather swift two foot wide rivulet. To the east all was brush,

to the west I could see the two ponds below.

Evidently there is a network of rivulets that keeps this area drained, and I don't think the beavers managed this. I got down to the lodge where I had last scared the beavers. This time no beavers swam out when I walked on the

So once again, this colony becomes a mystery. I'll have to come out a bright evening and see if I can figure out where they are lodging. Most of their activity has been on and around the Second Swamp Pond dam, though it looked like they had finished cutting some elms they had begun work on in the fall.

As I earlier surmised there was little activity on the Lost Swamp Pond, but I was wrong about the otter. At the latrine on the west side of the dam I saw that the pile of scat had grown, and now with a liquid brownish scat in the middle.

I still can't fathom why the otters make this a significant spot.

No scats on the rocks and lodge on the other side of the dam, which looks more important to me. Crossing the dam I noticed some bark on the dam, evidently pushed up. Next to one bark slab there was some fresh mud. In the middle of the bark was some muskrat poop.

I had never seen anything like this before. I assume the wind or beavers deposited the bark, but I'll have to keep an eye on these muskrats. As I walked around the pond, I saw some ring-necked ducks huddle in a marsh out of the wind -- perhaps a half dozen were there. I walked back in the woods so as I not to scare the ducks, and I discovered some fresh beaver work, a maple trunk being stripped and segmented. Up at their recent work closer to the lodge, I think a cherry tree had been cut down. I followed a path deeper into the woods and came to a
shady clearing, quite a nice spot, which the beavers were expanding after their fashion, having cut a few ash

and there was a gnawed birch, but the gash was soaked with sap, so I think it might have been an old cut. Going farther back in the woods I saw some smaller trees taken. I am glad I discovered this spot. I'm not sure any of this if fresh work, so I'll keep an eye on it and try to get an idea of how the beavers use it. There was a pair of mallards on the Upper Big Pond, but no beavers nor muskrats. The dam still leaks, and what mud has been pushed up is away from the leaks.

Beavers don't waste time pushing mud into a flood that will just wash the mud away. Given the clear light, I couldn't resist a photo of the congeries of stripped logs.

These logs are quite striking themselves, but they don't seem to be strengthening the dam, nor can I connect them to any grove of trees nearby. They appear to be there by magic. Perhaps the beavers will eventually use them to patch and firm up the dam. There was a growing chorus of peepers around the pond, but it was dinner time for me. The trails the beavers had used in the winter are quite muddy and I strained to see their tracks in them, but I could only be sure of deer prints. As I approached the second valley, I saw some striking porcupine work
high in a red oak.

And then walked up the valley, I saw some low work on a white oak up on the ridge.

How does a porcupine find its level?

April 19 a cool sunny morning changed into a hot spring afternoon. Our land is the place to be with small ponds and pools to peer into. Focusing on the small, I didn't have the camcorder ready when I saw something large and furry in
the little pond at the head of the valley in the middle of our land. The pond is quite full, and the animal had to swim to escape me. It floated on the water and didn't merge with it -- a raccoon, that escaped into the woods. I did have camera ready up at the Turtle Bog as I tried to sneak up on a Blanding's turtle, but it dropped back into the water, from its basking spot on the mossy shore. I sat next to the pond, saw boatmen and smaller water bugs, but no caddisfly larva. I crossed to the other side of the pool of water and looked for wood frog eggs. I heard one brief wood frog croak as I came up to the pool. I found a large blossom of of eggs just off the edge of the pond

I looked at them through the camcorder and nothing was wiggling, yet. As I headed to the Bunny Bog, drawn by a chorus of wood frog knocking, I saw a small snake in my way.

It wouldn't leave its hot spot in the sun even as I leaned over for the close up.

I tried to walk around the wood frogs so they would keep calling, but they clammed up when I got close. I saw several painted turtles up on logs at the Teepee Pond. There seemed to be no activity in the Third Pond, save for ducks --
wood ducks today. The willow the beaver and muskrats enjoyed last spring is radiating green shoots.

I walked around the Deep Pond and saw some muskrat prints in the mud along the inlet rivulet.

I didn't see any evidence of a muskrat eating -- no grass leftovers. But at the other end of the pond, by the dam, I saw the muddy bottom of the pond branching out from a deep burrow in the embankment. Muddy bottom really doesn't describe what it looks like because much mud seems suspended in the water
making the trails in the water look like regular coffee.

Then nearby on the bank I found a poop that looked like otter scat, but it was much too dry and what first looked like scales, turned out to be insect wings and parts.

Perhaps skunk scat. At the base of the knoll, I saw my first flowers, spring beauty

and dutchman's britches about to bloom

April 20 I was up at the Turtle Bog at noon again, on a warmer, a hot, spring day. I flushed a grouse going through the rocky pass to the inner valley. I eased my way around the Turtle Bog,

saw some major ripples, but no turtle. I also didn't see the wood frog eggs that looked so bouyant and healthy yesterday. I got down low and I did see my first caddis fly larvae, about a quarter the usual size, mostly made of hemlock

Other bugs didn't pose for photos, then when I awoke from a short nap, I saw a small snail floating so that its soft body could get a tan.

Never seen that before. I fished it out of the water, and got a photo the way snails are supposed to look.

Going back to the house, I flushed a turkey, giving me the illusion of one bird growing bigger from grouse to turkey -- spring after all. I was also impressed at how muddy the little pond at the head of the valley is

Can't blame all that on the raccoon. Muskrats must be busy.

When I got back to the island, the west wind kicked in made it cool on the water. I took the boat around to check the otter latrine at the entrance to South Bay -- nothing new there. I went up to Audubon Pond and didn't find any new or old otter scat there, other than the scat by the bank lodge. Looking closely at the bank lodge, I noticed that there was quite a big hole in it. I stuck my camera in to see what the flash and lens might see -- curious spider impression, if not an actual spider, on a beaver log and something yellow below that might have been the remains of an otter's meal.

The pond is quite high and I took a photo of the lodge in the pond to show how high the water is. I sat looking at the lodge for several minutes before I realized that there was a goose nesting on it.

Not much new beaver work among the trees. I did note some work on ash trees on the east shore of the pond. Perhaps the beaver is starting to get grasses in the pond, and is getting tired of dry ash trees.

I heard an osprey but didn't see it. And saw the gander, quietly munching on the almost flooded over causeway.

Walking down the shore of South Bay I saw pairs of buffle heads here and there.

I also saw a vulture flying low, and hoped it wasn't scavenging the remains of any old friends of mine.

At first blush I thought I saw a fresh otter
scat at the old dock latrine, up on the bank, where otters
scatted last year but about a yard or two from where they've
scatted this year.

Then on closer examination, I think the scat comes from a skunk -- too dry, and insect parts instead of scales.

I noticed as walked back to the boat that a large flock of buffleheads was back in the middle of the bay. Since I had to go through them to get home, I tried to make the best of it. I got a log in the boat to lower the bow and then planned, as I got close to them, to level the camcorder at them and show their escape. They took off before I got very close, and I got video of them in the air -- about 500. Farther along the headland there was another flock slightly smaller. Bugs are about and around the dock dead bugs are floating which reminds us that we haven't seen any swallows yet. Also surprised not to see herons around the bay.

April 21 After preparing the house for painting I went off to check for flowers, turtles, etc. Leslie had seen a scarlet cup below the mossy ridge and saw snowfleas all about it. When I got there the snowfleas were gone, nice cup though

Leslie said she saw a few hepatica further down the our trail, but I saw four near the cup, two together,

and a sprightly pink one looking like it was just unfolding

Then as I walked back along our trail, I saw more hepatica and it seemed like they were popping out as I stood there, such is the effect of finally focusing in on the hairy stalks crawling out of the dead leaves

Sometimes the hepatica leaves found a place in the sun.

I actually sat on the ground in front of emerging flowers to see if I was seeing them unfold before my eyes, but I wasn't. On the way to the Turtle Bog, I startled a huge leopard frog in the dry leaves

And then as I walked along the bog, I saw a large Blanding's turtle with its neck stretched out to catch the warming rays,

and it was positively hot today, over 70F, but when I got closer, the turtle slipped back in the water. I think the heat makes it more sensitive to my intrusion. I saw the wood frog eggs today, much as I saw them before, five or six lobs together, but looking a little worse for wear. One lob seemed to be shaking a bit, but not because the eggs were getting to the wiggling stage. We stayed for dinner and walked about afterwards. The frog choruses started at about 4 pm, and the chorus around the Third Pond was most deafening. There were no frogs calling around the Deep Pond, but when I walked around it yesterday, I saw several frogs jump in -- small ones. I walked down to White Swamp and sat on the bank hoping to see beavers. I saw many ducks -- wood ducks, mallards, scaup, I think, perhaps ring-necked
ducks -- very hard to see into the setting sun. I saw fresh beaver signs including a board pushed up below some scented litter.

Boards like these are used by muskrat trappers. Nice to see a beaver using it as a trophy or sign post, at least. I heard a few snipe and rails, two or three of each so it seemed like I was privy to real conversation, not just general calling. A beaver marked a mound a little further out into the huge swamp
-- nice to think of a beaver claiming the hole swamp with such stately marks

At the otter latrine where I saw the bullhead head the other day, I saw scats today.

They were quite dry and I examined them closely to make sure they weren't skunk poop. Much as this scat looks like the scat I just saw along South Bay which I pinned on a skunk, I think these remains are fish scales

Can't imagine what a skunk would be doing on a mossy promontory at the foot of a steep slope, cliff really. But, pardon my confusion. At the inlet I saw evidence of a beaver dredging mud. No major mud mound building at the entrance, like last year. But the beavers repaired the dam enough to raise the water a good bit.

There is still a leak under the dam. I also saw that some small trees had been cut. I think the land owner asked the trapper to put traps in the inlet, to save his trees. Nice to see the beavers back.

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