Wednesday, April 7, 2010

March 28 to April 6, 2010

March 28 I checked on the beaver ponds at our land. I think I flushed a heron as I approached the Deep Pond. I didn’t see it, but I saw squirts of white poop floating in the water. No signs of muskrats being about. I went up and over the ridge to Boundary Pool. Cold nights have kept ice along the east shore of the pond.

The skim ice that formed last night was still on much of the pond. The channel going up pond was clear and it was marked by a ribbon of brown pond bottom as if the bellies of the swimming beavers scoured the bottom.

The channel was open all the way up the Last Pool.

I didn’t see any new beaver work as I walked up the shore of Boundary Pond so I think the beavers are heading as far up pond as they can to find food. Indeed, I found my usual pathway blocked at the end of the Last Pool. The beavers cut down a good sized birch.

While they stopped working up in the gulley going up to the Hemlock Cathedral, I think they have resumed cutting hornbeams down Grouse Alley toward our cabin.

There are so many small trees cut, it is very hard keeping tracks of when they were cut, but I don’t think they had cut all the trees in one clump of hornbeams back in the fall.

I have to check old photographs but for now I prefer to try to read the leaves and I think I can see how the beavers lumbered along. I walked around to the end of the Last Pool and got a photo of the mossy mound where I saw the beaver munching the other day. The stripped sticks in the surrounding water looked fresh green.

Then I headed up the valley where I thought I saw several small trees cut that were new to me. There was a concentration of what looked fresh cuts in a little grove of birches. There were some old cuts. The beavers' first choice up here were the large aspens. Now they are cutting birches and some pines, all smaller than those aspens.

This grove is just down from a pool of water that has been there for the last 12 years, only drying late in the summer of dry years.

Will the beavers collect branches there for nibbling.

March 30 once again we had clouds and no rain while folks to the east and south were getting drenched. Everything is wet because of the thaw but when we get some hot sun everything might dry out quickly. After hauling logs at the Teepee Pond I headed down to the beavers, first looping up to look at the Turtle Bog where it was too cool and cloudy to see any action, though I didn’t stay long. Just before I got to the beaver work above the Last Pool, I saw where a deer dug down to a root.

I assume an elecampane root, which is what they usually eat at this time of year when they dig, though this was not an area with many elecampanes. I also saw a juniper twig debarked. I’m sure this was the work of a deer, and not a beaver, because the animal tiptoed into the area. There was no trail of pressed leaves like a beaver would make. I got down to where I thought the beavers have extended their foraging, and I saw I was right. A birch tree that had been standing a few days ago had been cut down and its crown cut off.

And I noticed that another birch had been cut out in the meadow, and also cut in half and the thinner section hauled back to the pond.

I followed that path and tried to remember old work so I could recognize the stumps of the trees that the beavers have cut down this year. This is a difficult memory game because most of the recently cut trees are hornbeams and birches. The exposed wood of those trees, as well as ash, doesn’t age quickly. Elm, maple and oak woods fade a little with age. Poplar or aspen fades most quickly and at the upper edge of the Last Pool, I could see fresh gnawing on one of the big poplars they girdled and half cut last year.

The beavers also cut off the crown of the birch they just cut down along the Last Pool.

I walked down the ridge and sat in my chair, and soon saw bubbles around the lodge. I thought it was probably a snapping turtle on the prowl, but a muskrat surfaced and made a quick dive back under water. I walked up the west shore of the pond, taking a close look at the shallow holes that I think a beaver dug. But if so what was it after? Since it didn’t get down to a big root, which they often dig down to, the best I could come up with is that it was eating the swelling roots entangled in the dirt. I didn’t see any signs of beavers cutting trees around Boundary Pond. I think they are doing all their foraging around and above the Last Pool. I also checked the progress of the beavers’ tree cutting up in Grouse Alley and couldn’t be sure they had done any more work. I was careful to take photos of trees they haven’t cut yet so I can better track their progress.

March 31 the sun came out at noon and it started warming up -- upper 50’s maybe 60. We went over to South Bay via the Antler Trail. Leslie sat by the creek running down into the north cove -- she loves the sound of a babbling brook, and I headed up to check on Meander Pond. I went up and over the wooded ridge south of the pond where the beavers had extended their tree cutting in the fall. I didn’t see any signs that they had resumed that, but over at the pond, I saw a muddy canal with freshly nibbled sticks up on the shore at the end, and, more interesting, there was a beaver scent mound along the shore of the canal.

Last summer this family moved in here after the dam failed at Shangri-la Pond and they never got around to marking their new home pond. I checked the ash tree that they cut in the winter. The wind had blown it over when the beavers were rather confined under the ice. They never got out to take advantage of the windfall, and they still haven’t. Although I didn’t do over to the north shore, I got the impression that the beavers are not concentrating on cutting down more trees. This pond is completely open to the sun, and I bet they are busy eating finding woody leftovers in the pond, and swelling roots and rhizomes. Down at the dam, the pond wasn’t muddy, but I saw that the beavers had larded mud on the dam since the last time I was here.

On a day when I have more time, I will make a complete inspection of the pond which would take a half hour or more. As I walked along the pond, I flushed a pair of mallards, about six wood ducks, and then a pair of wood ducks. Last year Shangri-la Pond was my best venue for watching ducks pair up. I had a high perch on the ridge. How I miss that pond. I headed down to Audubon Pond primarily to see if otters had been back. On the way I saw two pleated woodpeckers courting in the woods.

They made the sharp chortling that passes for love coos among woodpeckers. I also heard a brief round from the spring peepers, more love songs. I didn’t see any new otter scats, nor did I see any trees freshly cut by the beavers. I did see a painted turtle on a section of floating board walk, and then I saw the head of a snapping turtle sticking out from under it.

Almost came out from under, then it noticed me and rattled the boardwalk as it sank down to the muddy bottom. I expected to see more otter scats, if not more scent mounds in the latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I did see some scratching above the last otter scat here, but there were no new scats. Next to the scratched up dirt, I saw a few spring beauties peaking up through a clump of grass.

Meanwhile Leslie had been exploring the shore of South Bay and saw some insect shells or skins, or whatever you call what they metamorphose out of, in the water of the cove where the creek from Audubon Pond drains.

Not that many bugs in the air, but when it gets hotter, we may see a swarm. I checked the latrine above the docking rock and there was an otter scat up on the slope, just one, and I didn’t get a good photo because two kids were there and I chatted with them. No sign of an otter visit above the old dock at the end of the cove. So I saw less otter activity than I expected along the north shore of South Bay. We headed up to the beaver ponds, pausing to take a photo of a small frog in the creek coming down to the north cove of South Bay.

Not sure what kind. Leslie took the high road on the rock ridge, and I took my usual route along the shores of the old ponds, now meadows. Just one pair of ducks on the Second Swamp Pond and the water behind the dam wasn’t muddy, but I soon saw that otters had been at the dam in the last couple of days. They had put a pile of scat in a little hole and now there were scats around the hole.

It’s possible that an otter scraped out some of the old scat in the hole, but I don’t think so. There were urine stains that weren’t there before. There also were new scats up in the latrine closer to the pond, but none left that day. This strikes me as a rather comfortable otter latrine.

Other otters I’ve watched here over the years always latrined on slopes or rocks. These otters like low flattened grasses. So the otters were still here. I hoped to see a fresh scat up at the Lost Swamp Pond dam, but only saw a few about as old as the one at the Second Swamp Pond dam, say two days old.

The beaver has pushed more mud up on the dam. That looked like it was done today. The water behind the dam looked a bit muddy.

As I walked down the north shore I saw a school a fish fry swimming outside one of the muskrat burrows.

This was the burrow an otter might have used. I looked up to see if I could see the scat I saw here the other day. I did, and I saw some fresh scratching in the grass and dirt, and a new scat which looked fresher than the scats up at the dam.

Years ago the otters had a latrine on this north shore farther to the west, right on a convenient trail up and over the ridge to the Second Swamp Pond. This new latrine was convenient to the muskrat burrows.

I expected to see scats in the mossy cove latrine, but I don’t think otters had been there. I wonder if this represents a changing of the guard. An otter moved from the bank lodge on the south shore to the muskrat burrow on the north shore. Leslie was sitting up on a trunk along the boundary line. As I walked over to her, I saw a beaver in the pond looking at her. When it saw me it dove, before I could get a photo of it. I joined Leslie on the trunk. She had seen the beaver swim down from the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. Soon we saw it surface near the lodge -- it swam that long way underwater, and into the lodge. There were a few hooded mergansers in the pond when we arrived. They often stay in a pond when I am around, but two of us were too much. The pair of geese stayed put. When I got over to the Big Pond, along the boundary line, a heron flew up from the same spot where we saw two the other day. There were a few mallards in the pond. No otters. I went around to the empty beaver lodge and saw new scats, none too fresh, and perhaps more interesting what looked like a muddy beaver scent mound that didn’t quite get pushed up all the way on the shore.

I always get the impression that beavers are trying to tell otters to go away but I have no reason to think that otters care a fig for beaver scent mounds. The dam seemed a little more patched, but it still leaked over the top in places along the north end. We also saw another school of fry, plus a few frogs jumped in the pond as we walked along. At the otter latrine below the dam along the north end, I could tell that an otter had left new scats, because one scat was all brown goo, which I knew hadn’t been there before.

The trouble with that kind of scat is that it can stay looking like that, a moist blob, for a week.

There are other scats around that I don’t think I had seen before. Here again the otters are enjoying a low, flat latrine. There were no scats in the old latrine at the south end of the dam. We sat on the perch there, waiting for otters to appear. None did, but a leopard leapt off the dam, hopped on the vegetation a muskrat left floating in the water, then found some depth but kept its head up to keep an eye on us. We heard a peeper behind us, twitched and the frog dove. As she hiked on the rocks, Leslie saw a big porcupine who climbed down a trunk and squeezed into a narrow rock crevass overflowing with poop. I wished I was there. We also may have seen the golden eagle again, but it was soaring very high and we couldn’t see any wing markings.

April 1 we finally got in the boat and motored over to Picton Island. There were five handsome common mergansers (why are they named “common?”) on the shoal off the headland. We probably saw the usual number of buffleheads and all of them seemed to be paired off, but unlike on our spring trips in other years, they were not evenly dispersed. They were bunched up along the shore. There was just a light wind. One goldeneye flew over us, animated white/black but steady as he goes. We checked the bay that has the beaver lodge, south of Quarry Point, and didn’t see any signs of beavers using the lodge. We did see some flying insects over the water -- probably early midges. A large bird flew off, probably an immature eagle and not an osprey. We saw one of them starting to build a nest on a power pole along Route 12 on the mainland. As we eased by the old otter latrines on Quarry Point, it didn’t look like any otters had been up on them recently, no piles of black scat visible from the water, and no obvious scent mounds. But when I got up on the rocks, I saw that otters had come up a best west of where they usually come up. There was some scratching in the grass low on the slope,

And then three or four scats higher up on the grass,

Including one that probably squirted out of an otter this morning.

I was hoping to see a good bit of scat here that would prove that while I have been seeing otters in the Wellesley Island beaver ponds, that otters have been here too. Can’t say that based on the few scats I saw on Quarry Point. Back in the boat, I rowed out to get a water view of the latrine. The little cave in the rocks looked like it might attract otters, though when I was up there, I didn’t see any signs that otters had used it.

We went around Quarry Point slowly and on the rocks near the trail the otters used last year to get through the thick honeysuckle bushes and back to a den, I saw a few piles of gray scats.

One spring when I rowed along these rocks, it was obvious the otters had spent a good bit of the winter here. There were old scats on many of the rocks. Not this year, which doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t here. Then we went down Eel Bay, through the Narrows and over into South Bay. I paused by the flat rock in the Narrows where otters had scatted a few weeks ago and didn’t see any new scats, nor did I see the old ones. Then I went down to the flat rock half way down the north shore of the point in the middle of South Bay. Otters and beavers have made scent mounds over the years at the edge of the marsh and muddy shore tucked back around the rock, but last fall duck hunters more or less wrecked the area, moving an old bathtub next to the water. Then I rowed up to the island that forms the point and on a rock more or less in the middle, I found some scats gray and black.

There were trails coming up from the south cove

And the north cove

I saw a few perch in bay, but no ducks, which was strange. I think there are fewer ducks around this year, but maybe it is too early for them to congregate before their flight to the north. We went to our land after lunch and Leslie went up to the Turtle Bog first. She heard a good chorus of wood frogs and saw two Blanding’s turtles up on the bank, and only one scrambled back into the water. Then I went up, going via the Bunny Bog, where there was also a good chorus of wood frogs.

The frogs were loud enough that I could hear them when I was down next to Teepee Pond. I hoped to get closer to the wood frogs in the Turtle Bog, no encircling honeysuckles there. My mistake was approaching from the north because the sun in the southern sky reflected off the surface of the water making it harder to focus on the frogs. Then when I moved down to the pond, the frogs dove. I sat and had to wait for 15 minutes before things got lively again. Meanwhile I looked for the turtles. I didn’t see if for about 10 minutes, and it was right across the bog from me, facing me, with its yellow neck sticking out enough to easily see.

Last year, I saw three turtles, maybe four, two big and two small, swimming about. But today I couldn’t see any movement in the water caused by other turtles. Then the frogs surfaced again, and began to croak. One drifted close enough to me that I could get a photo of its surface sprawl.

Have to think about why the frogs stretch out like that with one leg stretched out and the other cocked. Looks like a good power pose. As I sat I also heard a comb frog, as we call the western chorus frog, off to the south. Then I headed down to the check on the beavers. I first looked over the valley pool which at this time of year widens out into a pretty good pond. Something must be enjoying it because the water was muddy, which isn’t caused by runoff in this top-of-the-watershed pool.

Then I walked down the middle of the valley and soon saw a huge porcupine high up in a tree, up on its back legs bending down branches to get to the buds. The sun was behind the graceful brute so I had to walk under it before I could get a good photo.

A beaver returned to the birch that had been cut down and cut off and hauled away another section of the trunk,

But that’s the only new work around there that I could be sure of. However down at the big poplar it looked like a beaver gnawed and perhaps gnawed almost enough that a strong wind might blow the big tree down.

I walked down the east shore of the ponds and saw some nibbled sticks, but no major work. Nor do I think they are doing anything to the dam. I sat up in the chair half way up the ridge west of the lodge, and while I didn’t hear anything from the lodge, I was treated to quite a wood frog chorus that seemed to come from all over the pond. I remember a few wood frogs here last year, but this was a sizable and agreeable chorus.

I also heard a few stray peepers. I walked back along the ridge so as not to disturb the frogs. I went back over to the beaver works when I got up to the Last Pool. The beavers are stripping the bark off the birch they just cut down around the Last Pool

And flies were all over the exposed wood, which looks juicy and tasty.

I tried to figure out if beavers had been back up in Grouse Alley, and I don’t think so. I also sat down at the Third Pond and enjoyed a chorus of peepers, about a third of the volume that will roar out in a few days. I heard a few wood frog barks in the mix of sound and saw one swim out into the pond and pause perhaps nonplussed that there were so little of his kind singing.

April 5 we were away for the weekend and missed two days of record heat, in the mid-80s. It was cooler down south in Pennsylvania. This morning we worked in the gardens and Leslie got some seeds planted. Swallows flew by checking out their usual nesting spot in the upper garden. Two phoebes had an animated calling contest around our cabin so we can expect our usual phoebe nest there. Before lunch I got down to check on the beavers. I didn’t see any new cutting or gnawing on the birches above the Last Pool and I soon saw why. The big poplar/aspen they had been cutting fell down. The crown crashed away from the Last Pool.

This is probably not the best case scenario for the beavers. The big poplar they cut down last fall fell right across the Last Pool.

I don’t think beavers can engineer where the tree falls. They cut the trunk enough and let the wind and gravity do the rest. This tree’s trunk looks to be about almost one-third rotten.

Humans know and perhaps beavers do too that cutting a rotting tree is dangerous so I think when the beavers felt the tree twitch, they got as far away as they could.

The tree did fall down close enough to the ground that they can cut branches, and they’ve already cut some.

And in the nearby water, I saw half nibbled sticks that looked like they came from the poplar.

The beavers did not resume work on the birch they cut and half stripped of bark that fell next to the Last Pool. However it was clear that the channel through the Last Pool was well traveled. There was a line of sticks marking the beavers’ progress.

And there was some new work right next to the Last Pool, some gnawing on what I think is a red oak.

Porcupines often gnaw in that fashion, and the other day I saw one high in a tree up the valley. But there was no high work in this tree, so I think beavers are gnawing, though not yet cutting into the tree. Going down the west side of Boundary Pond, I saw several clumps of hepatica.

The beavers have quite cleared this pond of trees that used to shade the west shore. (By the way as I walked down I cleared the pond of wood ducks and mallards.) It will be interesting to see the parade of flowers here this year.

No signs that the beavers are working on the dam, and all was quiet in the lodge. No wood frogs singing in the pond. They might have completed their mating. The wind picked up and that often chills the ardor of the spring peepers, certainly didn’t hear many singing. I also went up to the Turtle Bog. No wood frogs singing there, and Leslie, who had been there earlier, said she saw some eggs in the usual place. There were some peepers singing down at the Bunny Bog. I saw a small turtle up on a birch log jutting out of the pond. It didn’t quite have the domed shell of a Blanding’s turtle. I couldn’t see its chin even though it stretched its neck. When I moved a hand to scratch my chin, it plopped into the water. On the chance that it would climb out again, I went over to the other side of the bog so that I would be facing it if it climbed back up on the log. As I waited for the turtle a beefly landed on my hand.

It was sticky with sap or tree pollen, looked more like the former.

Then the turtle’s head popped up in front of me, though not quite facing me, and I saw that it was a painted turtle.

I wonder if that means that Blanding’s turtles have moved out of the bog.

April 6 we had a bit of rain in the morning, which we need. The ground is dry and the river water level is 20 inches low. The rain soon stopped, and after a glimpse of sun it clouded over again. I headed off to tour the beaver ponds a little after 1pm, heading up and over the Antler Trail. Usually as I approach the south end of the Big Pond dam, I am anxious to see otter scats, but this year I keep anticipating that otters will leave the ponds and head into the river with the mother secreting herself to give birth to these year’s pups. So I was disappointed (not) to see a very fresh otter scat

Right in the middle of the latrine.

So I sat on my perch by the pond and pondered that. There was no scraping nor a scent mound, and evidently just one otter made a deposit. There were no otters in the pond. I did hear something stir along the edge of the marsh behind the dam and then a muskrat swam under water right by me going into the burrow in the bank behind me. I got my camera out to take a photo of where it had been, and then the muskrat swam right out of the burrow. I snapped but didn’t get much of a photo, just the stir of mud and grass stalks.

I walked along the dam and saw no sure signs of a beaver pushing up any mud until I got out to the north end of the dam where most of the leaks are. I couldn’t be sure if the water level had dropped exposing old mud heaves or if the beaver had been working. As I walk along the dam, I always keep looking up to see if anything appears out in the pond, no, but a heron flew over the dam and perched on one of the big muskrat lodges.

The otter latrine just below the north end of the dam, in the flattened and wet grasses, was a difficult study. The old scats stay damp but I think the scatting seems a little more farflunged. I headed out to the lodge and pondered the spread of scats there, and maybe there is a new squirt or two, but nothing major. I also took a photo of the lodge nearby thinking that the photo might reveal scats on top. It didn’t but I now notice a hole down into the lodge, and otters could have dug that.

I went to the Lost Swamp via the boundary line, and saw large deer leaping across the path. I angled up to check the otter latrine below the big rock that affords such a good view of the southeast end of the pond. I haven’t been out there for about ten days. Not only had the otters expanded their latrine but they appear to have dug into the dirt at the base of the rock. The last photo I have of that area doesn’t show such a trough.

They scated between the digging and the pond,

but the scats did not look as fresh as the scat I saw at the south end of the Big Pond dam.

This rock is not exactly an entry or exit point for this pond, but it certainly affords a good view of it.

Not that otters have always scatted here over the years, and it is very exposed. The rock along the west end of the pond, that I call the mossy cove latrine, is tucked away and in the shade, and every years otters seem to scat a good deal there. Today, I couldn’t be sure there were any new scats, but it certainly looked like something had leveled all the otter scent mounds that had been there.

Seeing that I expected to see some new scats over at the new latrine directly across the pond on the north shore. However, I didn’t see any new scats, I noticed some rather old scats.

And I saw that there is a hole down into the burrow into the bank, a land exit from the burrow.

I’m getting the impression that the otters used that burrow during the winter and that the old scats up on the shore are what they left behind, if this latrine had been under the ice. I’ll have to think about that. Up at the dam, the otters latrined where the vegetation is a little higher in an area between the mossy area they favored earlier this year, and the rock closer to dam where they did much of their scating last year.

Not sure if this shifting of latrines has any significance at all. However, given the amount of scats in this latrine and in the one on the rock in the southeast end of the pond, I think there is more than one otter foraging in this pond at the moment. As I walked around the pond, I saw a striking little garter snake coiling its bright markings.

I headed down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond. I could hear comb frogs, as we call the western chorus frog, singing in the upper reaches of that pond where there is not much water. I wanted to go over to the vernal pools along the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond where there is always a good chorus in the spring. Plus I was curious to see if the otters had been around that depleted upper pond. I’ve learned over the years that otters can find a lot of food in muddy shallows. I didn’t see any scats in the grasses below the pond where they had done a good bit of scatting in the late summer. As I crossed over the spillway of the dam, I heard something stir and then saw a huge snapping turtle possibly coming up out of the hole that goes through this dam.

Pretty dramatic, but it withdrew its head and didn’t move once it noticed me. I got down to the comb frogs but I think the wind at my back subdued the chorus. I moved over to the pond and walked down the shore, to give the frogs courage to get loud again. As I walked along I noticed some old scat above the hole into the old beaver lodge on the upper end of the north shore knoll. These might be scats from the winter too. Certainly for a week or so during the late winter the otters were oriented to the upper end of the pond making this a convenient place to den. I expected to see some fresh scats by the main beaver lodge, but I didn’t. After going back to enjoy the renewed frog chorus, I headed along the dam. I noticed that the duckweed has appeared behind the dam, right near what looks like a muskrat burrow, judging by the brown bottom outside it.

And once again I saw that otters had visited their latrine right below the middle of the dam, just north of the spillway. There were new scats around the pile of scats in a hole about six feet below the dam.

Never known otters to do such low down scatting. Closer to the stream going through the dam, I saw several holes in the ground.

I’ve never seen evidence of otters being that energetic. But behind one of the holes that was a little closer to the pond

I saw an otter scat.

So, it is possible that an otter scatted at the hole already dug by some other animal, but I can’t think of another likely animal. I headed back to the Big Pond through the woods, first pausing to appreciate a good chorus of comb frogs in the wet meadow that used to be the upper end of Otter Hole Pond.

I don’t recall hearing them there before. Nothing new at the Big Pond dam. I sat briefly on my perch and heard a few porcupine howls from the woods below. Good hike, though the otters still have me confused. Why don’t they go to the river?