Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 7 to 13, 2010

April 7 we got over to the land in the late afternoon, and I headed down Grouse Alley hoping to see a beaver gnawing on the big poplar that just fell. The morning was sunny but rain moved through at noon and while we were at the land it was damp and threatening. Perfect weather for spotting the colors of the season. The leaves of trout lilies, that will never bloom in this shady valley, spread out below me.

It is also perfect weather for making old beaver cuts look fresh. Dare I say that old beaver cut stumps are the first white flowers of the spring?

I eased up the slight ridge and peaked down at the poplar

But no beaver was there. I saw that some more trees were half girdled with concentrated gnawing, maples I think. No work on top so I think a beaver is doing this.

Not sure why the beaver just doesn’t cut down trees that small. The girdled tree will die in a couple years -- maybe they will get around to cutting them. I looked for beavers as I walked along the ridge down toward the lodge, but didn’t see any until I got down to my chair and saw a large beaver swimming up pond. It saw me and made a looping paddle back in my direction and gave me a lazy look. That set ripples going throughout the pond prompting me to look all around just in case there was another beaver -- but I didn’t see any. The lodge was also blooming in the gloaming, stripped logs looked electric.

I heard one beaver gnawing inside but no sloshing of water. I headed back up along the ridge to see where the beaver I had seen wound up, hoping that it was down at the poplar. But it only had gotten as far as the narrow part of the channel between Boundary Pond and the Last Channel, and it was nibbling a small stick,

Taking a longer view of the beaver’s situation, it was interesting that it had no interest in any of the bigger trunks downed and half stripped that flanked the channel.

Knowing that there was no beaver there, I walked over to see what the beavers have done to the poplar. Evidently they cut a branch that was keeping the crown from coming all the way down, or the weight of the tree broke a branch.

I will have to check that out. That would have been a dangerous operation for a beaver. I admired the buds in the top of the crown.

Will they still leaf out? The fate of other green things was less in doubt. The moss was luscious

Though all that grows is not green. Lichens can hold their ground and then some.

April 9 we came to the land yesterday, and I checked the Turtle Bog for turtles and saw none. Tried to take a photo of the mass of wood frog eggs but the light wasn’t right. Then we cleaned up the cabin and house. Had time to capture a beautiful hepatica bloom

Today, after a showery night, it turned cold, with a roaring wind coming off the river. As we headed around to South Bay, we had our mittens and winter hats on. As usual I checked the otter latrines for new scats and on the path down to the docking rock there were two new piles.

Half of the scat was blackened and scaly and the other half was reddish brown and chocked full of crayfish parts.

Leslie thought they were raccoon scats. But this was where otters have scatted over the years, and I don’t recall ever seeing raccoon poop here. Raccoons do wade into water to get crayfish but the water off the rock is pretty deep. The scats are pretty massive for raccoons.

I broke the pile up a bit to better show the crayfish parts.

I usually don’t check and rocks and mossy area between the bay and the creek coming out of Audubon Pond

I didn’t see anything on the rocks but on the moss ledge just up from the water of the bay, there were crayfish parts

And otter scats.

I think the otters swim under water at night when the crayfish are most active. Over the years I’ve seen crayfish parts in the scats in the latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I expected to see some today, but not quite. There were new scats there sticking to a big rock

The otters seem to be doing their scratching and pooping more to the west, on moss and rocks, not the usual grassy knoll. Or I should say otter, there maybe only one coming here.

I walked down along the shore, but so no otter signs down low. Then I walked around Audubon Pond. No scat there. The beavers have dammed up the creek coming out of the drain at the bottom of the embankment.

On another day I’ll check that out. Today I was anxious to see if the otters are still scatting up in the beaver ponds. I didn’t even go to nearby Meander Pond. I really want to see the beavers there and for that it makes more sense to go in the late afternoon or evening. Going up to the ponds from South Bay, I had the wind and sun on my back which warmed me up. I checked the Second Swamp Pond dam first and as I walked on the dam I was thinking over the raccoon/otter scat issue trying to the convince myself that the tubular shell laced scats I had seen along South Bay were too wild and wooly to be from raccoons. Then I looked down and saw some neat tubular scats, blackened and laced with fish scales but clearly from a raccoon.

However, there was also some looser fecal matter underneath, so evidently raccoons can poop out some messy stuff that looks like typical otter scat. Most of the Second Swamp Pond is shallow and accessible to raccoon paws. Then down at the otter latrine on the dam, I saw that the otters did some more digging in the turf just below the dam.

I saw an otter print in the dirt

And there were several scats around the edge of the digging and elsewhere, scattered widely and rather fresh, so I think a group of otters had just been there.

I didn’t see any out in the pond but as I approached the Lost Swamp Pond the first place I looked was at the mossy cove latrine and I saw an otter head up and looking around. When the otter dropped down again, I got low and plotted a route that gave me cover and got me closer to the otter, then I sat down behind a big tree stump and watched. Soon enough I briefly saw two otter heads. Then several minutes later a larger otter got up to scat. Sometimes the gusty wind would rake across my back and rippled the water all the way to where the otters were. Then moving quite as one, four otters got up, trotted to the edge of the pond, and stopped.

Two heads were up briefly but the otters bringing up the rear seemed to be squirming then all four seemed to do the same. Then like that, ninety seconds after moving forward, all four, again moving as one, jumped into the water and swam off. I didn’t have my camcorder, but the video from my camera shows what happened.

I tried to follow them as they swam up pond and for a while they didn’t seem to notice me. When three of them were horsing around a stump sticking out of the water, I thought it safe to move closer. Then when I looked up they were gone. I went down to the dam and saw that they were now scatting between their last two latrines.

Then with a great deal of anticipation I went over to the mossy cove latrine where they had just been resting. I was not disappointed, even though one might think that otters might relax away from their rather wet and smelly scats. Didn’t look like that. There was a line of fresh scats probably right where the four otters were resting the butts.

Then I leaned over the juiciest scats and took their portrait.

One had a hint of dark brown goo.

As much as I love looking at them, I still really don’t know what scats mean other than that the otters have been eating. I suspect that these scats are blacker and juicier because the otters are eating more pollywogs and bullheads relative to fish with scales. Needless to say, I was on air, and flew home.

April 10 Years ago I took Chris out to show him otter habitat and latrines, but we saw no otters. He just came to the island getting ready to do a study of toxicity in terns so I took him out to where I saw otters yesterday. We started from South Bay and took my old shortcut over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond. There were about 50 mallards in the water that remains in that pond. (The dam is not tended by beavers.) There were no otters in the Second Swamp Pond so I checked the dam for scats and around where the otters had dug holes and scatted yesterday, there were more holes and more scats.

In one hole we could see the claw marks

The scats looked fresh so I told Chris that otters were around, and we headed up to the Lost Swamp Pond. The wind was rather brisk and more or less at our backs. To walk around the west end of the pond might spread our odor throughout the pond, so I decided to go up the north shore and hope that the otters weren’t behind the dam. But that’s where the otters were. We saw them fish for maybe five minutes. Then I saw one swim to the dam with its head up dam and heard some alarm chirps. There were two ospreys perched in the big dead tree behind the dam but they looked very placid so I don’t think it was their chirping. We moved over to the north, so we could see the Upper Second Swamp Pond, and so we might be a little bit out of wind. Then Chris saw one of the otters swim out from the dam back into the Lost Swamp Pond. I led Chris on a retreat and a long loop around to behind the south shore of the pond, hidden by the big trees there. I left him to see what the otters might do. As I walked along the Big Pond dam, I saw that the otters had been there since noon yesterday. The was a nice little tuft of grass with fresh scat at the north end of the dam,

And at the south end of the dam, they didn’t scat at the usual latrine just beyond the end of the dam but about ten yards out on the dam.

I say “they” because there were several scats spread about, though none quite as big as some I saw at the mossy cove latrine and where they are digging on the Second Swamp Pond dam.

After lunch we went to our land, primarily to keep tabs on spring. I went to the Deep Pond first which no mammals seem to be using. I saw some mud and muddy water along the west shore of the pond. So perhaps a muskrat is still using the pond.

Then I checked the sunny side of the knoll behind the bank beaver lodge. In the last couple of years, I’ve found this to be a hothouse for all the early spring flowers except hepatica. First I saw a couple of blooming trout lilies,

And then had my pick of several clumps of Dutchman’s britches up on the knoll.

There were many spring beauties and one quite stunning (actually more pink in real life).

There was even a trillium almost in bloom, and several saxifrage bursting out from the rocks, but I couldn’t get a good photo.

Then I went over the ridge to check on the Boundary Pond beavers and the flowers there, mostly hepatica, which was bursting out all over, even through the ferns.

The beaver lodge was quiet and I didn’t notice any new gnawing near it or along the shore, but, my eyes were on the flowers. I did see a growing crop of duckweed in the pond, which beavers and muskrats don’t mind eating.

I inspected the big poplar that just fell and saw that beavers have started gnawing the trunk -- though not too much.

I checked to see if I could find a branch that a beaver cut that might have brought the crown of the tree down to the ground. There were cut branches that might have born some weight.

And a beaver did cut the crown that had the buds I photographed a few days ago.

I looked around for the budded branches but didn’t see any. Not sure if that means the beavers ate the buds. Then I toured the hepaticas in the woods behind our house and cabin and meandered up toward the Teepee Pond where some yellow flowers of the golden meadow rue were peaking out, not that they ever get that grand.

April 11 Since I possibly bothered the otters yesterday, I didn’t go out to the beaver ponds today and instead drove over with Leslie to the Nature Center, and then I walked down to Meander Pond, around South Bay and home. I went down the East Trail to Shangri-la Pond which I have not seen in a while. The little pond the beavers built two years ago north of the main pond still has some water in it, but no signs of any beaver using it.

Below that little pond is a meadow intersected by little rivulets, a far cry to what it was like last year at this time before the dam failed. Of course there is a little bit of water puddling behind the dam. I should make more of a study of this to see what animals are still using it, and to see what plants will sprout up on the old pond bottom.

I followed the trail up the ridge south of the pond. I first studied the upper East Trail Pond which holds a bit of water at this time of year. I looked for turtles because this part of the pond was famous for Blanding’s turtles, but I didn’t see any. Of course, Shangri-la Pond was famous for them too, but I don’t think the little bit of water in the old main channel of the pond is enough to support large turtles.

I expected to hear comb frogs at the Thicket Pond but none were singing, only a few peepers and leopard frogs. On the north shore of Meander Pond, I was startled to see that beavers had managed to gnaw some of the bark of a leaning red oak a good seven feet off the ground.

Porcupines didn’t do it. The width of the gnaws was too big.

However, I had difficulty picturing how a beaver did this. All the gnawing was on the east side of the trunk. Not even a bite on the west side, and except for down near the stump there was no gnawing under the trunk

There is a downed trunk under the raised trunk, but even factoring in a foot or two of hard snow, and I never noticed the snow being that deep on this sun drenched slope, I find it difficult to picture a beaver stretching up to gnaw the side of the trunk.

On the other hand, it’s hard to picture a beaver climbing up the trunk and then tilting its head so that it gnawed across the bark, but since none of the beavers in this family are as big as me

I guess that’s what happened. There is another tilting red oak that the beavers cut on the same slope and there the beavers didn’t do anymore gnawing on the low part of the trunk, nor did they climb up it to gnaw.

I have seen beavers climb up tilted trunks and have two videos of that. I’ll have to study them again, and can’t recall how high up the climbing beaver got. Meanwhile I looked for fresh beaver work on the north shore and around the nearby lodge and didn’t see any.

When I see a lodge without any freshly nibbled sticks around it, I worry that the beavers might have left. But down at the dam, not only did I see fresh mud on the dam, it looked like the dam of the wallow below the main dam was bigger and the water there was quite muddy.

For that matter, all the pond just behind the dam looked muddy.

I continued around the pond and checked the big ash that blew over in the winter when the beavers couldn’t easily get to it. Several branches were cut, but I couldn’t rightly say that was recent work. Then I saw that the south end of the pond was also muddy and that the beavers have been packing mud on the dam along the back end of the pond.

Plus all the canals radiating out from that part of the pond were muddy and here and there a beaver had pushed mud up on the sides of the canal.

However, I didn’t notice any fresh tree work on the south shore or the ridge beyond, but it is hard to remember all the work they did in the fall. I moved onto Audubon Pond curious to see how the beavers there are using the dam they built below the embankment, but I didn’t see any evidence that they are using it to get to more trees to cut. There is now a huge, noisy drain behind the embankment and I wonder if the new dam is just a reaction to that. Not that beavers are especially looking for trees to cut at this time of year. In sun drenched ponds like this and Meander Pond there are other green things to eat percolating in the pond and on the shore. Beavers don’t mind a bite of grass at this time of year. Then I turned my attention to the otter latrines and expected to see more scats laced with crayfish parts, but I didn’t see any. I even walked out to the willow latrine on the south shore of the peninsula jutting out into South Bay but there was no sign of activity there. The water level is quite low and the marshes around the point are not flooded at all so otters might feel high and dry there.

April 12 At our land I sat down in the chair above the beaver lodge after lunch enjoying the leopard frogs snoring, not that many yet, but just a few can make a nice rolling accompaniment to the other delights of the spring. Hepatica blossoms are still popping out, and I saw some nice blue ones.

Then I checked the poplar the beavers have been working on. There is another interesting new development on the path to the poplar just up from the Last Pool. The beavers seem to be digging into the turf flanking the path.

I don’t think this is dredging or canal building or dam building. I think the beavers are eating the little swelling roots that lace the turf, but I’ll keep watching. Maybe this will turn into an engineering project. Meanwhile, they’ve trimmed a few more logs off the crown.

I remembered that I hadn’t checked the bloodroot patch up on the ridge south of the valley, so up I went. For the last few years the bloodroots there seemed to be petering out, but today there was brilliant display.

As I stood to take a photo, I realized I wasn’t alone. A dead pine trunk next to the patch was teeming with honeybees. I moved over to the other side of the ridge where I could appreciate the individual bloodroot blooms

Without being buzzed.

April 13 I headed off to look for otters at half past 8 on a beautiful morning with a light east wind which boded well for otter watching. I can approach all the ponds they might be in from the west. I checked the Big Pond first and found one new scat in the latrine at the south end of the dam. I don’t think it had been left there this morning so I only scanned the pond for a few minutes before moving on. As I crossed along the dam I saw that the beaver pushed up mud repairs in several places

Including the two gaps toward the north end that muskrats and minks used in the winter.

However, the beaver didn’t repair the last gap, but I think the beaver made this last year to flood the way to some alders and other bushes below the dam. Not that there were any signs of a beaver going over the dam to forage. Not sure what this beaver is eating now.

I didn’t check the latrine behind the nearby beaver lodge, nor did I take my usual route to the Lost Swamp Pond. I headed to the Second Swamp Pond where it seems to me the otters usually start the day -- not sure why. It seems they have widened their latrine below the dam, though not much new digging.

And I saw some very fresh scats in back of the latrine and in front.

So I knew the otters were still around. I scanned the pond and didn’t see any, then headed up to the Lost Swamp Pond where, by the logic of my tracking they had to be. Unlike the last two times I found them there, they did not show their presence easily. I sat on a log in the shade of a pine tree, and then I saw them at the far northeast end of the pond -- black heads crisscrossing the pond with periodic rolling dives.

I had my camcorder so I could zoom in on them. I soon saw they were heading my way but they took their precious time. As always it was not easy counting them. Two seemed always together and one seemed always apart, and I couldn’t be sure of the fourth. They didn’t go near the beaver lodge by the dam but two did go up on their latrine at the end of the peninsula forming the east shore of the pond. When they launched themselves back into the pond, they angled toward me. They ignored the small beaver lodge in the middle of the pond. Clearly they were after fish and pollywogs with no compunction to mark latrines or play on the shore. They seemed to be very successful and caught fish large enough to require their jawing head up and even going to a stump to use it as a kind of vertical dinner plate to help stuff the fish down the gullet -- remember these fish are live. Two of them, both pups I think, fished right in front of me. One climbed up on a log to munch, unfortunately, with its back toward me. Then those two swam to my right to join the other two who were humping in the shallows giving anything swimming there no quarter.

It has been years since I’ve been treated to this. But what was strange was that I have never seen action like this in mid-April. In other Aprils the ponds seemed empty save for seeing a touring bull male, and once what I guessed was a female driving said bull male off. Another mid-April I saw a wary otter in the East Trail Pond insisting that beavers let her make her latrine, signs, I thought, to warn other otters away from a natal pond. Real spring stuff. What I was seeing today was what I usually saw in October and November, save that the “pups”, now one year old “juveniles” were quite capable. Much to think about but I might as well see how long the otters stay here and whether new pups appear here in late June or July. The otters alternately foraged together and apart. There were no attempts to steal what another otter caught (a game pups play in the fall.) They foraged right below the mossy cove latrine but didn’t go up on it. Then they swam, without much foraging, almost back out to where I first saw them, the northeast end of the pond. Would they come around again? Not quite. This time after scatting at their peninsula latrine, they swam around to the southeast end of the pond. I followed and by the time I got around to the southwest shore where I could see them, they were climbing up on the beaver lodge there.

That’s where I think the beaver is, but no sign of a beaver out in the pond defending his lodge. This lodge was out in the sun and I assumed the otters were going to take their morning nap which might last a few hours. It was 10 am, and they had probably been foraging since a little after dawn, say 6:30 am. (Very few beavers here to get in their way.) I checked the mossy cove latrine and I must say it looked like they had just been there, but we had a cool night, and this latrine has pine tree shade so scats don’t dry out quickly. I saw that the otters scatted just up from the water,

And also back near the base of the big tree

And then down toward the shore a few yards to the west of their usual slope of scat and scratch.

Just as at the Second Swamp Pond dam, the otters are widening their latrine, which I think only testifies to how much there is to eat in this pond. By the way, the two osprey were still here. One sporting a bullhead in its claws. They flew about as the otters foraged, not giving any of the otters pause as far as I could see. Although I have enough close ups of otter scats, I couldn’t resist taking one more.

Going back home via the Big Pond, I saw a pair of hooded mergansers there. On the way out I flushed a pair of wood ducks.