Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 27 to June 1, 2008

May 27 I checked the otter latrines today and saw nothing new at the marsh latrine, nor at the willow lodge latrine, nor at the old dock latrine. So much for the idea that an otter or otters would get quite cozy in an
area theoretically rich in bullheads, at the end of the two shallow coves of South Bay. There were no signs of other animals active at the willow latrine. I don't see why having the water a foot higher than the usual in the spring should make that much
difference. Then up at the docking rock latrine, it looked like the otter extended its scraping of leaves farther up under the shade of the bank above the rock

but I couldn't see any new scats which, to me, leaves open the possibility that another animal is pawing through what the otter had been pawing through. However, I like my idea that I am seeing the pawings of a frustrated single otter. One of the pups I saw raised in the bay two years ago is just reaching sexual maturity. All that is fancy until I see the otter or otters doing the pawing. I wasn't expecting to see any activity at the latrine above the entrance to South Bay and the grassy area where I usually see activity didn't look much different, save that I saw more goose poop and the yellow poop I identified as an otter scat had completely disappeared and I usually find that sort of otter scat staying around longer than that. I always look down at the rock below this grassy area, hoping to see a shiny half eaten bullhead. I did see something different. The dirt of the bank below the grass had been dug away and there was a pile of dead grass in the middle of the rock

I kicked myself for not having taken a photo of this rock from above in the past few weeks so I could clearly demonstrate that something happened here. Then I hopped down on the rock and saw that I needed no old photos. The otter left a scat on a tuft of grass below all the digging

and there was a scat on top of the mound of dead grass in the middle of the rock.

My frustrated otter was certainly broadcasting its plight! However this latrine orients to the wide river in the same way that the high latrine at Quarry Point of Picton Island does.

And over the years there has been a good bit of demonstrative scraping and mound building there so this new activity at the entrance to South Bay follows an old pattern. But what does it mean? I have always taken a wait and see attitude, but this year, since I am not seeing otters, I should chart the old patterns of mound making and start filling the void of otter sightings with theories, anything to warm my memories of them. Of course, I also walked around Audubon Pond to see what the beavers have been up to. Straight away I had my first sighting of a kingbird. Then I saw a snapping turtle floating lifelessly in the pond on the east side of the causeway.

As I stood watching I saw some subtle movements. Snappers are like old movie actors who hardly move at all to tell a story. The muskrat burrows along the shore of the same pond looked well used, with snipped grass floating in the water.

Then I sat on the bench near the beaver lodge in the pond and realized that a few logs had been pushed up on top, but I didn't see any fresh nibblings around the

The water level, which rose so high then dropped when the park people cleared the drain, has risen since the beavers started patching the drain again. So the beavers who had to move out because the water was too high seem
to have moved back into the lodge they had to leave. Bullfrogs were croaking, and some easy to see.

The beavers seem to have stopped gnawing on large trees which is too bad because there is the makings of a good demonstration of beaver sagacity or the lack of it in the southwest corner of the pond. Three cut ash, white ash

are leaning on a partially cut black ash.

If the beavers cut down the black ash, which has softer wood and should be easier to cut, then all the ashes might fall down.

I should add that the beavers have done precious little stripping of the ashes that have already fallen. All this hangs over a park trail so a chain saw will probably bring all down. Then after deciding that the beavers might be back in the lodge in the pond, I saw that they were surely still comfortable near their bank lodge. There were cut maple saplings in the water on the shore near it and since the pond water level is rising, there is no need to abandon this lodge that was briefly high and dry.

In the woods below the pond, a deer posed for me. I debated whether its coat was getting summer red. This time of year it seems any photo I take of deer makes them look redder than they appeared to my eyes. So does the photo below, but the streaking was there and that, I think, indicates the coat is changing its hue.

I generally don't record the activities of animals too near the houses of Thousand Island Park but just up in the woods above the houses I saw an almost tame pileated woodpecker

Only my moving closer and closer to get a better photo scared it away.

May 28 Mark and Bonnie Koslow and their almost four your old Mirabelle came to visit and in the early afternoon we went over to South Bay in the boat. The days of scaup, buffleheads, and goldeneyes bobbing about are done. I was hoping some carp would be thrashing but none were, and it was too riley with the wind to drift slowly and watch for sunnies, bullheads and perch. I could at least check the otter latrine on the flat rock in the middle of south shore of the north cove, nestled between two marshes and fronting a shady island of willows and high oaks. I could see a new otter scent mound and tried to communicate my excitement about what looks like nothing more than a little flat pile of grass

I got out of the boat and saw some not too fresh scat. Then I rowed around the rock to get a look at where an otter, I think, had left a bullhead head a few days ago. The head was gone. It looked like the otter had expropriated the beaver's mud mark. I thought I could smell scat and in the photo
I took it looked more like otter scat in the mud than raccoon poop, but I didn't get out to make sure.

Then we docked at the docking rock, where there was no new otter activity, and walked around Audubon Pond. Mirabelle enjoyed this because there was much to see in the water. It had gotten rather cold last night, even a touch of frost on the mainland. The sundrenched east shore of the pond was lined with pollywogs trying to warm up

They were slow to flee as we walked by. Some seemed perched on an underwater tree

There were also a good number of bullfrogs also loath to swim away as they tried to warm up

though one was half in the mud suggesting he was ready to nab any insects that came by.

I was hoping to see some muskrats but didn't. However the muskrat burrows behind the bench at the point in the pond are being well used.

When the water level dropped the muskrats seemed to abandon their burrows along the high man made embankment that forms the south shore of the pond. That's where they had been more active before the drain was cleared, and even with the water level rising comfortably again I haven't seen any signs of them moving back in over there. We sat on the bench and first two, then three, and then four common terns entertained us.

They dived frequently, into the water, and also aborting dives and skimming along the water. An osprey started to fly over from South Bay but turned back, not sure if it was shy of us or didn't want to contend with the terns who can be rather sassy. We continued walking around the pond
investigating all the beaver work. I noticed that the beavers, most likely, had eaten the leaves of the maple saplings near the bank lodge that I first saw yesterday.

We had dinner at our land and went down after dinner and caught a glimpse of the beavers in the Deep Pond. They were rather shy, but the appearance of a black tern made up for that. It flew around the pond several times, but didn't dive. I also saw a rose breasted grosbeak as I walked down the road to the pond.

May 29 at lunch time we went over to the Nature Center in the state park which has gone down hill, but there were things for Mirabelle to play with. Mark and I hiked home despite the foreboding sign at the head of the East Trail

We pondered the sentence: "Do not collect plants, animals or flora, take pictures, leave footprints." Or was it to be read "Do not collect plants, animals or flora," new sentence, and in a burst of good cheer in the litany of negatives, adds "take pictures, leave footprints." Anyway, we did take pictures and left footprints. The Shangri-la Pond beavers still have not foraged
higher up stream across the trail. They are nipping off some branches of the ironwoods they cut above the pool above the north canal.

But they now seem more interested in trees especially ribbed hornbeam that they found between the pool and the pond proper.

They have even segmented some of the downed trunks.

Both ironwood and hornbeam have struck me as being both a sappy moist tree and a rather dry stringy tree. I got a close-up of a just cut stump that seems to show that: sap oozing out of the stump and the dry side looking like a chore to cut even for a beaver.

I think the beavers have succeeded in completely filling the pipe put through the dam with mud. I didn't get a photo thinking we were going to continue around the pond where I could get a shot of their accomplishment with the sun at my back. But we decided to continue along the old East Trail crossing the meadow of the old East Trail Pond on the remnants of the boardwalk. Unlike last year, there were no vulture chicks here. Then we crossed the Second Swamp Pond dam. I have described this dam recently as untended, but today I found
fresh mud on the patch job they made of the hole they put through the dam in the winter.

And in general the dam was in good shape. It is simply a case of the ferocity of the cattails and other vegetation towering over and obscuring the mud work the beavers have done.

We continued down along the old beaver ponds, now meadows, until we got to South Bay. I shared memories but saw nothing of note in what was turning into a warm windy day. Back in woods around Shangri-la Pond we were treated to a good bit of bird song, orioles especially whistling us along. Mark thought he heard and saw a red headed woodpecker. I thought I heard a tree frog and assured him that the red bellied woodpecker is our version of the red headed woodpecker. I'll keep my eyes peeled. Love to see a red headed.

May 30 we spent the night at the land and during the afternoon I set about to answer some questions. First, I took a rather thick aspen log down to the beavers, wondering if they might either ignore that bulk or gnaw
on it at the dam where I left it and not move it over to their lodge. They did move the last somewhat smaller log over. Plus their lodge keeps seeming to grow. At the same time they seem to be using a burrow more in the middle of the knoll behind where
they now have a couple of logs.

I walked behind the knoll, back where the trillium, then phlox were so lush. Now the false solomon's seal in overtowering the phlox as well as green plants including horse tailes.

No sign of activity back along the inlet even though I've seen a beaver swim out of there and a muskrat swim in there. The second project was to try to figure out why the First and Teepee Ponds are so muddy. I approached
from the valley pool and could see that it was not very muddy at all, rather grassy, with no signs of recent beaver work, nor muskrat work. There was a turtle trail coming in or out of the Teepee Pond. I haven't figured out turtle tracks yet.

The pond behind was muddy and shallow.

And it struck me that the shallowness alone might account for its looking muddy, but why was there so little vegetation? I checked for tracks along the shore and saw raccoon tracks, the tracks of one deer, a crow's
tracks, and perhaps a heron's tracks. The pickeral weed, just starting, had been munched down, I assume by deer.

I threw in my minnow net, which sank about two feet, waited about five minutes and pulled it up out of the muddy pond. I caught three shiners and no crayfish. I thought the latter might be eating the vegetation. Then I went up to the First Pond and threw in the net two times. I caught a small bullhead with one try and two shiners with the other. There were raccoon tracks here heading in and out of the pond

but I think the pond it still too deep, about two feet deep, for a raccoon to rake up vegetation along the bottom. Last year at this time, when I did see a muskrat in the pond once, there was more vegetation in this pond. One got the impression of channel cleared through it. This year there are only fringes of vegetation and a small island of it in the middle of the pond.

I did notice what looked like a new and lower burrow in the bank where muskrats often den here. I did see one bit of grass pulled out by the roots.

But when I got over to the supposed new burrow and took a close look, it looked rather unused.

So? There are fewer green frogs here so far this year -- I just heard a couple and saw none. I heard one bullfrog. I threw the net back in the First Pond and decided to come back and pull it out when it was almost dark,
when crayfish should be more active. Well, that got me no where. I pulled it out and freed one shiner. I heard more gray's tree frogs around the pond. I thought I got down to the Deep Pond rather earlier, hoping to see the beavers come out, but not only were they out but the aspen log I left had already been moved across the pond. Then the faster beaver got a whiff of me and began swimming back and forth making a thump more than a splash, like it really wanted to keep an eye on me and dare not duck its head under water, which a big tail splash would require it to do. Then the other beaver appeared and simply floated still in the pond looking at me, and, I presume, the performance of the other beaver. The thumper swam within ten feet of the other beaver and briefly they swam one behind the other, but there was no humming
between them, and then more thumps and stare until the stolid beaver dove and disappeared. Yes, I went back to the Teepee Pond where nothing was happening, and enjoyed the tree frogs. I also heard a whip-poor-will seemingly warming up southeast of the pond. That is, it made three or four calls then stopped, and did that several times. Then it seemed to fly away from the pond. I heard a veery too.

June 1 yesterday, beginning around midnight we had a nice rain storm, pouring about two inches on us when it ended about noon. I wanted to kayak yesterday afternoon but the wind kicked up and a squall moved through. So I was up early and out of the house this morning a little after seven on a cloudy, windy, and cool morning. The mosses along the Antler Trail were moist and there were pools of water pocking the plateau. I decided to skirt South Bay before heading up to
Shangri-la Pond. Nothing new at the old docking rock latrine and the brisk wind seemed to keep the usual birds away. Things began to pick up as I headed up the East Trail through the woods. I thought somebody dropped his hat, but it was a huge mushroom erupting

I studied the western end of Shangri-la Pond to see if beavers had been there. I did see some stripping but I think that is rather old. Still there seemed to be channels through the grasses and the pond was full.

How could a beaver ignore it? I got a photo of the dam with drain pipe covered. The water behind the dam was not as muddy as it was two days ago suggesting that they may have finished this long project.

I saw that the goose was still on its nest; its mate on-guard. The pond looked about the same. So I studied what last year was a narrow canal and which is now a broad arm of the pond.

I didn't have long to wait for a muskrat to appear carrying a bouquet toward the beaver lodge.

After I snapped the photo, I got out the camcorder and to my surprise the muskrat abruptly dived. The swirling wind behind me must have magnified how threatening I seemed as I sat high on the ridge above the pond. It surfaced just before the lodge and went into it with the bouquet. I have never seen a muskrat swim that far underwater with grass in its mouth. Then I enjoyed the birds. This was a good perch from which to watch them, almost eye level with them when they perched on the dead tree limbs. Well, the blackbirds, robins, and orioles were up there.

The phoebe was low. Then a pileated woodpecker latched onto first a living pine tree, and then it flew over to a dead tree, well dead, and when it landed another pileated flew off. I had discovered their nest. The
arriving bird didn't go right into it so I got a photo of it on the tree.

Since I didn't hear any commotion from the tree -- I couldn't see the nesting hole, I assume the woodpeckers are still just sitting on the eggs. I kept seeing ripples from where the muskrat had come and then I saw a V wake in the water going the opposite way the wind was blowing. Then another muskrat surfaced, without bouquet, dove about where the other muskrat did and swam all the way back to the lodge underwater. I've never seen muskrats so shy. The geese, of
course, did little. The guard goose swam over to the grasses and foraged for a couple of minutes then swam back to stand guard but not at the same place. I walked down to get a closer look at the dam, and first noticed that it was leaking, principally over the top at the south end of it.

The mud stuffed pipe, I assume that is how the beavers stymied it, was three or four inches under the water, not visible,

but I noticed there was a little water coming out of the pipe below the dam. A month ago there was a jet of water, like a little fountain.

It'll be curious to see how much more work they do on this dam. Do they need it higher? As I walked on the bridge over the creek below the dam, a phoebe fledge, I think, landed on the rail in front of me, and sat their
shivering until I told it I had to move on.

I think it is a phoebe because they are among the early nesters. From the other side of the pond I looked up at the woodpeckers' hole but saw no activity. Then I checked on the beavers' work, first around the upper pool. They cut a hornbeam down into the pool

No trimming of it yet. I looked for the leafy tree freshly cut that I saw three days ago and found no remnant of it. The beavers have built up the dams of the pool, especially the one at the head of the path they have been using to get to the pool.

Then I noticed a strange juxtaposition: the stump of an ironwood, an ironwood log on the ground, about four feet long, and then the rest of the ironwood still green with branches, cradled by two other trees four feet above the ground and parallel to the ground below.

There must have been another section of the trunk a beaver reached up high to cut and then took down to the pond. I crossed the East Trail Pond meadow flushing a dozen mallards. I didn't see any ducklings left behind. When I got to
the knoll above the Second Swamp Pond beaver lodge, with a good view of the dam, the sun came out and the wind picked up and I feared that since it was after 9am, I missed the morning's activity. Then I looked down and saw a large dog tick crawling up my pants

with a small one close behind. First one I ever seen on me, though for the last two years I've picked plenty of deer ticks off my skin and clothes. There was nothing new at the lodge nor at the otter latrine nearby. Going up the north shore of the pond, I saw my first mayapple blossom

a little late I should think since it is now June, but beautiful all the same

I looked forward to seeing the big patch of mayapples near the Lost Swamp Pond. There were no goslings up in the Upper Second Swamp Pond as there were last week, but the pond had a bit more water in it.

At first I thought that was just because of the heavy rain, but at the hole in the dam, there was a small pack of mud.

Muskrats could have done this, but I hope a beaver did it because then the job will be done better. When I got up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam I was distracted by a yellow flowered bush growing amidst a honeysuckle with pink flowers

I'm sure I've seen this bush bloom before but can't remember its name. There were no scats at the latrine near the dam, no mud pushed up on the dam by beavers and not even fresh muskrat poop on the flat rock in the water where the
muskrats had been debating who belongs where. One wood duck flew up from the west end of the pond. I walked around to the mossy cove latrine, and, on the way, down along the shore, I saw my first blue flag iris of the season, just one. I looked forward to seeing a clump of them along the Big Pond dam. There were no new scats on my rock perch above the mossy cove latrine but from that vantage I could see some fresh beaver marking below. Then I heard and saw a wood duck leading a long line of ducklings so hurrying to get a video of them, I ascertained that there were no new
otter scats in the latrine below, and that the beaver marking was quite extensive, with wet dead leaves and balls of grass.

This is the only beaver sign I've seen here for a while. I got the video of the ducklings and then I noticed that there was a goose nesting on top of the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. Most geese are finished there nesting. I wonder if this nest and the one in Shangri-la Pond represent a second round of nesting. Otherwise I only saw some whirligig beetles. At first glance they looked smaller than usual and it makes sense to think that they grow a little bit during the summer. But I didn't reach down and make any measurements.

Lowering clouds returned and I felt a few drops. It didn't seem like muskrats were going to appear so I headed for the Big Pond, first marveling at the large patch of blooming mayapples. At the edge of the patch nearest the pond the
leaves had been plucked off one blooming plant.

Now and then I see one plant stripped like this, but always only one. Yet the leaves are tasty enough so that they aren't half eaten. I suspect deer make the experiment, but I thought I saw a faint trace of the trail coming up from the pond so a beaver might have given it a try. I admired the other plants, all intact, and tried to get a photo showing as many blossoms as possible

I should make a study of how many blossoms are facing other blossoms. It looks like they are having quiet conversations under the shady leaves, none of that stretching for the sun that other flowers insist on doing. Going down to the Big Pond I didn't see any beaver work. When I got a glimpse of the pond, I saw two pairs of geese. One had only one gosling and the other pair had five or six. I tried to get a video of the parents with an only child, but by the time the camcorder was whirring the groups had merged together and sought cover in the edge of
the cattails. This pond is quite high and suddenly difficult to cross as water is flooding the grasses at the north end of the dam. Then I reached the point where the beavers had done some repair. There was mud as well as a cattail rhizome pushed up.

Then a step beyond that work there was a feeding platform with a few twigs nibbled and more ready to eat.

The trail below the dam quickly entered tall vegetation. There were nannyberries in the distance and last summer the beavers ate some of them but for the moment I think they were getting some of the low willow bushes.

I continued on my soggy way and even where there was major mud pushed up on the dam, it was still soggy below the dam. When I reached the spillover where it was most important for the beavers to stop leaks I admired the curve of
their dam

and then walked behind the finer points of their engineering. The mud is mounded highest at that area where they are moving through lateral muskrat burrows.

Then I was struck by a combination of cattail leaves, honeysuckle branch and mud

like one of the beavers was experimenting with new materials or one of them was desperately throwing anything it could into the breach. Finally at the principal spillover, now the driest point on the dam, the honeysuckle branch they put there a week or so ago was brown with age, and, as far as I could see, used to no purpose. Now there were three or four green honeysuckle branches piled up along side its brown leaves.

It is as if I am seeing the beavers think out loud. At the south end of the dam I found the blue flag iris mostly all out

and began my annual series of close-ups of this beautiful flower.

The beavers had been all around here, yet didn't molest the flowers. They have fashioned an eating platform on the east shore of the little canal behind the south end of the dam. There is even a depression a bit back from the water like a beaver had seriously weighted down the turf but more likely it
did a little gnawing down into the dirt for a root.

I sat for about ten minutes and heard warblers and sparrows, got a glimpse of a yellow warbler, but the pond was quiet. A duck with about ten duckling made a very quiet escape from the grasses near me out into and up the pond. One of my jobs this spring is to positively identify what the beavers were eating here in the winter, but the shrub they were after hasn't bloomed yet. The nannyberry has bloomed but I don't think the beavers ate many of those south of the pond, though they did eat a bunch below the dam. The flowers of the shrub they preferred are just coming out. When I made my way through the thickets, I flushed three deer. I could see that two of them had their reddish summer coat but the smallest deer still had a dull coat. The largest deer separated but after running across the gully the two other deer kept looking at me and I got a photo showing the contrast in their coats.

Perhaps the little one is not getting enough to eat. I got a nice photo of a bunchberry flower

and then before I finally left the Antler Trail up on the plateau I condescended to take a photo of what is really blooming with a splash of color all over the ridge, the grasses