Tuesday, May 11, 2010

April 23 to 30, 2010

April 23 today at our land I saw the first dragonfly of the year, well away from water, up in a gap in a small ridge. Must be more bugs for it to eat away from water. I also heard a gray’s tree frog. At the Deep Pond I gazed at the brown bottom outside the old muskrat burrows, but saw no signs of recent activity. I walked up the ridge toward the Boundary Pond, and while up there I noticed that the long gullies under the Hemlock Cathedral were mostly dry.

This might keep down the mosquito population. I sat briefly in my chair overlooking the lodge not expecting to see or hear much, and then the barred owl let out with several hoarse calls. I walked up the pond trying to spot fresh beaver work. It looks like the beavers are gnawing a curly birch that they cut and that fell conveniently into the main channel of Boundary Pond. My photo of the tree didn’t show the color of the cut wood well. And of course I checked the poplar at the end of the Last Pool. A beaver appeared to have peeled some bark off the thicket end of the part of the trunk they’ve been stripping.

Then I walked along below the mossy cliff, as we call it. Flourishing in the shade, the hepatica there last longer, and the trilliums come out later than elsewhere on our land. I looked for a patch of red trillium that we often see, but couldn‘t find it. Then I saw a gang of bright green leaves waving at me from a moss covered ledge. I hopped right up and saw bloodroots. Most of the plants had grown through the flowering stage and their leaves stretch up like hands. There were still three white blooms.

The day soon got too warm for work, especially without shade from the trees. And army helicopters kept flying over so there was no relaxing.

April 24 I headed off to check the beaver ponds and confirm my theory on the otters: the family is gone and a lone male continues to mark the area. I didn’t see any new scats in the latrine south of the dam. So, no family. There was one large scat in the grass a bit out on the dam: left, so my theory goes, by that lone male.

I keep looking for major beaver work on the dam. Perhaps the beaver is adding to or maintaining the repairs he made to the north end of the dam

But it certainly hasn’t continued the repairs to the end of the dam.

Otherwise, I don’t see any other evidence of a beaver being here like nibbled sticks, roots or grasses. Not expecting to see otters, I didn’t pay much attention to the wind direction but as I approached the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw ripples along the southwest shore that were exactly like the ripples I saw the other day when an otter jumped into the water. Since the wind seemed to be west northwest, I didn’t scramble for cover. I moved down a ledge somewhat behind a tree, and counted the otters. I knew the first one I saw couldn’t account for all the ripples I saw. Then I saw another otter following that one, and wondered if I had lucked upon a congenial meeting between a male and female otter. No. I soon saw two more otters. The otter family does not subscribe to my theory. They didn’t notice me as they swam over toward the beaver lodge by the dam. Not expecting to see anything moving, I didn’t bring the camcorder. I did bring our little binoculars that are half busted. I used the digital camera to take some video clips hoping to capture all four otters in one clip. That proved difficult as one went up on the latrine west of the dam, two swam behind the dam, and the other, I guessed, remained near the lodge. If I decided that this was a group of male otters -- I’ve often seen a group of four otters in the river, then I could cling to my theory, but then another otter joined the one at the latrine and soon enough the other two joined them and through the binoculars I could see their wrestling and biting and their relative size, one large and three smaller. This was the otter family. Now and then one otter or two broke from the mass and went up higher on the slope to scat. As the otters continued their antics across the pond, a beaver swam out of the old bank lodge on the west shore and swam, in an apparent huff, right under my nose.

I also have theories about otters and beavers and one is that usually when they are swimming in a pond at the same time, they are mindful of each other with the beaver prone to exercise the prerogatives of the creator of the pond, often trying to drive the otters away. This beaver swam away from me toward the otters, but clearly was only concerned by my presence. Just before it swam into the lodge in the middle of the pond, it slapped its tail. (I pushed the button ending recording just as the beaver began to raise its tail for the slap.) The otters did not pay any attention to the beaver. Too soon for my viewing pleasure, the otters all piled back into the pond, moving as one. They resumed fishing and mother, at least, soon had a fish in her mouth. As they foraged up in the northeast end of the pond, they seemed to operate alone or in pairs. They continued all the way up to the pool in the extreme end of the pond that I couldn’t see. I moved closer to the east end of the pond so I could have a view of the southeast end of the pond in case the otters crossed over the peninsula. No, they swam back down the northeast end of the pond, heading toward me. I made a point of checking the wind direction and it seemed to be a crossing wind, so I thought I was safe as I moved behind a tree cheating even more away from the wind. If the otters went back to the mossy cove latrine, I would have a good view and be close enough for a good video clip. But then I heard an otter snort, and another. I expected the otters to hide, and they did dive toward the lodge in the middle of the pond, where the beaver was. But they surfaced swimming toward the other lodge by the dam, still snorting. Then I saw that only three otters were together and the other surfaced behind them. I had a brief hope that they hadn’t smelled me but were snorting for the missing otter, but it soon became easy to see that they were swimming back and forth, looking and snorting, which clears their nose so they can smell better, in my direction. They wanted to swim around the peninsula and weren’t sure it was safe if I was there. About ten minutes earlier I saw a muskrat swim into a burrow at the end of the peninsula. The otters, beaver, and muskrat didn’t notice each other. I was the marplot around the pond. As they carefully evaluated their chances I saw the three heads of the pups, now a year old and officially juveniles, all in a row. There is a trunk of a small dead tree sticking up out of the water, and one otter swam to it, mounted it, and briefly three little otter heads were in the water behind it. Then two heads disappeared and one otter swam off

then two surfaced almost through the strait forming the peninsula. I looked back and the mother otter standing guard had slipped back into the water. Soon I saw the backs of otters when they surfaced as they all swam up to the beaver lodge in the southeast end of the pond. This careful movement by the family was more interesting than seeing them once again grace a latrine, but not as good video. I saw at least two of the otters get on the lodge and start grooming, and since they stayed on the lower edge of the lodge just up from the water, the others may have joined them. I couldn’t see that well even with the binoculars. I checked the mossy cove latrine expecting to see gobs of scat but I only saw a few fresh scats in the grass west of the latrine proper.

Still trying to hold onto part of my theory, I noticed that these scats were rather scattered with small bits here and there, not like the scat I saw here two days ago after, I think, one otter visited, and not like the big cohesive scat I saw today near the Big Pond latrine. So I can argue that a male did tour the ponds which temporarily forced the family to lay low. But would this new theory hold after I checked the latrine near the dam? Here too the otters expanded their latrine, leaving scats here and there over a large area.

I had seen two otters go higher up on the slope to scat and sure enough I saw two fresh scats up there.

They were not quite as spread out as the new scats near the mossy cove latrine, but they were looser than the scats I credit the male otter for leaving. The other day I saw some grass scraped up a bit below the slope below the dam, and I used that as evidence that another animal scraped up the grass I saw the same day over at the mossy cove latrine. I thought an otter would not scrape grass so far from the latrine. Today I saw scraping and digging in the dirt, like the otter family has been doing at the Second Swamp Pond dam latrine, and there was a scat next to the digging.

There was also a scat on the rock between that digging and the dam. The first scat there this year even though the family often scatted there last year.

I didn’t go down to check the Second Swamp Pond dam, but headed home with much to think about.

We went to our land in the afternoon, and to spend our first night of the year there. We didn’t do any work, but continued to check on the parade of flowers. The red trillium are out below the ridge behind the garden, quite striking though perhaps a little smaller than other years.

I walked around the Deep Pond and as walked up the inlet stream, I noticed that unlike in other springs there were no little fish racing down it. Then I saw that the stream silted up during the winter and the water now is now deep enough where it enters the pond to support the little fish.

Too bad. Then I checked the flowers around the knoll at the Deep Pond. On the brighter and drier side only the white trilliums flourish, making a striking spread,

But on the wetter, shadier side, I could still get trillium, Dutchman’s britches and trout lilies in the same photo

Plus spring beauties are still around. Then I sat by the dam and watched the nose and top of the shell of a snapping turtle take a slow tour of the shallows. Then as she walked up the road Leslie alerted to me to patches of sessile bellwort

I tried to get my annual inadequate photo of that striking flower.

Then I sat up at the Teepee pond and watched a little painted turtle swim around nose up. One year ago about this time a Blanding’s turtle put on a good show in the little pool above the First Pond. Last time I looked it was choked with grass. Now the grass has been cleared in the middle of the pool.

Not sure why, but no signs of turtles that I could see. By 6:15 I was sitting in my chair overlooking the Boundary Pond beaver lodge. Of course at this time of year with no leaves out, I am sitting out in plain view even of beavers who have relatively poor eyesight. But last fall and earlier this year the beavers here went about their business even as I sat there looking down on them. But then the first beavers out were the two adults. This evening the first beaver out was a one year old and it was quite alarmed at my being there and swam back and forth below me

Pausing briefly to look right up at me so I would not mistake that I was the object of his ire.

It slapped its tail at me, twice, below me and before it dove back into the lodge. In a few minutes another juvenile beaver was out looking at me. I think it was a different beaver because it came out of the far side of the lodge, unlike the other beaver, who came out of the side near me, and it looked a little different, but it drew the same conclusion about me and dove back into the lodge. There was a longer spell of quiet, but then, in ten minutes, say, another beaver came out. At least I think it was another because while it looked up at me, it didn’t seem alarmed and it drifted over behind trees behind the dam and I couldn’t see it. Finally one of the adult beavers came out. If it noticed me, it didn’t let on and then it rather slowly made its way up the shady east shore of the pond eventually swimming up the channel toward the Last Pool. This evidently prompted the juveniles to reconsider how threatening I was. First one came out, weaved below me as before, then stopped and gazed up at me. Meanwhile another juvenile was out almost hiding behind the dam. The one below me turned and swam quickly up the pond. The other then swam over to me, didn’t study me much, and dove, but not exactly back to the lodge. Anyway it surfaced over toward the east shore and then it too swam up the pond. I waited for more action from the lodge, but didn’t hear any hums, gnaws, or splashes. It was easy to hear whenever a beaver dropped into the water from the lodge. Then I slowly walked up the ridge to see where the beavers found their evening meal. Yesterday I had noticed new gnawing on a curly birch in the channel and that is where one of the little beavers was, stretching up gnawing the bright yellow-orange left by the first stripping and getting its teeth into wood white. Unfortunately as I crept closer to get a photo, the beaver heard me and swam back down the pond.

Then when I got up to the Last Pool, I saw the other juvenile out on one of the moss islands nibbling away

and the big beaver was sniffing over the grass along the west shore of the pond. It soon got a whiff of me, reared up, and then moved into the pond. As it swam back down toward the lodge, the little beaver swam down too, in the lead, as it reached the point where the channel narrows, closest to where I was standing, it slapped its tail. The big beaver seemed to slow down and I expected it only lurked along the channel knowing from experience that I would probably move on. I did, though paused on a the way to see how dramatic the black mud of the wallow above the pool looked in the gloaming.

While I was watching the beavers, I heard a hermit thrush singing in the woods.

April 25 despite the peepers in the nearby pond, it was a quiet night sleeping at the land. The call of a phoebe woke us up in the morning (then I went back to sleep.) I hauled logs out for firewood but had a chance to walk around, even clearing some dead limbs off possible walkways up on the ridge. Then I went down to look at where I saw the beavers last night, starting with the wallow above the last pool. I didn’t see a beaver there but I am sure one devotes some attention to it every night, since it is different every time I see it.

Doesn’t look like this is dam building since there seems to be work around the complete oval of the wallow. Then I walked down to the curly birch I saw a juvenile beaver gnawing. It did look tasty.

I continued down the east shore where the adult beaver seemed to focus its activity when it swam up pond. I didn’t see any new work. I took a close look at the dam, and as I suspected the beavers haven’t done any heaving of muck or heaping of logs. The water level remains high for this pond which usually loses water steadily when it is this high.

And water only seems to be draining out of the middle of the pond rather slowly. Often this dam has leaks all over.

Not sure why the dam seems more solid. Perhaps it settled more in the winter after the beavers piled more logs on top of it. Then I walked up the valley below the mossy cliff again, once again searching for the red trillium, and today I found it. The flowers were small but beautiful.

And once again a new flower presented itself on one of the many mossy ledges along the cliff.

The clump of delicate miterworts weren’t as lusty as the bloodroots I saw here the other day but it is hard to take your eyes off their delicate and intricate blossoms which a better photographer than I will have to capture.

We were looking for rain, but it held off. Too bad, we need it.

April 26 We headed off for a hike at around 2:30. I wanted to show Leslie the evidence of the tree climbing beaver and she hoped to see the otters. We rode the bikes over to the entrance to the state park and then walked along the South Bay trail, always a good area for blue violets at this time of year. Then we headed up to Meander Pond. I took her right to the evidence and used her 5 foot 4 inch height to show how high a beaver went on the tilted red oak.

It was hard to tell just by looking at it if a beaver had been gnawing on the trunk since I last was here. But the last photo taken the 21st shows that more of the trunk has been gnawed since then.

And I think a beaver gnawed low on the trunk on the other side.

She was impressed that some small branches high on the trunk had been nipped.

Porcupines can do that but all the teeth marks looked more like beaver work. She suggested we look for porcupine poop under the trunk, and we didn’t see any. I didn’t make my usual tour of Meander Pond instead we headed off to look for the otters. We went around Thicket Pond and I noticed some girdling of a white oak at the southeast end of the pond and scratched my head trying to remember if I had seen that work last year,

And even if I did, I wondered if a beaver hadn’t just gnawed a bit more since some of the exposed wood looked lighter than the rest. The pond does look viable for a beaver.

However, with a quick look I didn’t see any other recent beaver signs. We saw some delicate blue hepatica along the East Trail under the tall pines.

There is much less hepatica here than at the land, but it tends to be blue here and white at our land. As we approached the Second Swamp Pond dam we saw a snapping turtle with half its shell and the top of its head out of the water.

I saw bubbles right behind the dam and mud move and thought there might be a turtle rendez-vous in the making, but the snapper we could see retreated and we saw no more bubbles. There were no scats in the usual latrine on the dam, but it looked like an otter or two had been down in the marsh along the outlet stream.

It looked like an otter had dug down to dirt and left a scat in the nearby grass.

But the scat was not fresh. We still went up to the Lost Swamp Pond carefully peaking around rocks but there were no otters to be seen in the north end of the pond. But as I went down to check the mossy cove latrine for fresh scats, none, Leslie went up on the rock there and spied two beavers with one in the grass out on the peninsula, and another out in the pond.

The beaver in the pond soon joined the one in the grass, which seemed about twice as big, as we could see it but not the beaver that joined it. I think they did some mutual grooming then the big one groomed itself. We sat and watched them until they broke away. Both swam out in the pond, then one swam back to the grass. We were too far away to tell if the beavers were friendly. But it was good to see two beavers out. Then I checked the Big Pond dam. I think the beavers there larded on more mud. At least I couldn’t see my old boot prints on the mud.

I was expecting not to find fresh scat. I found a new, not fresh, scat next to the scat in the grass almost at the south end of the dam that I ascribed to a lone male otter. Then a few feet from the that I saw a scat still moist and gooey.

But in my bag of theories, I have one that says scats like that don’t age quickly. There were no new scats in the traditional latrine just off the end of the dam. Knowing these otters’ penchant for expanding latrines off into the grasses, I walked down the path to the pond

and sure enough saw two new, not fresh, scats, looking much like the scats I ascribed to the lone male.

Well, patience. Soon, if my past experience is any guide, the signs of otters will become infrequent around these ponds, and I will wish I had the otters with all their complexity, back.

April 28 we had snow yesterday morning, very wet snow and at times heavy. Quite beautiful at our land with the heavy white flakes almost obscuring the delicate green of the budding birch trees. This morning the sun broke out and it wasn’t as cold. A strong north wind continued to rake everything in its way. I set out to look for otter scats every where, the ponds and along South Bay, still working on the theory that the otter family had left the ponds, or at least the juveniles left. I didn’t take the camcorder but did take the little binoculars. Once again I didn’t get any deer ticks, which was a relief. I came up to the Big Pond otter latrine expecting to see no more than one fresh scat. I saw three including one spread that looked quite fresh.

This was bad for my theory except that one spread had a reddish tinge suggesting the otter had been eating crayfish. Of course there are crayfish in these ponds but probably more in South Bay so maybe the lone marking male came up from South Bay to remark territory after the rain. I didn’t see otters in the pond nor did I wait long for them to appear. When I approached several pairs of ducks flew off from out of the grasses south of the pond and that always gives me the feeling that otters aren’t around. (Probably a bad feeling to have since I have seen otters forage around ducks.) Not far from the otter scats, I saw some twigs that a beaver just nibbled spread on the grass.

Good sign. The snow and rain yesterday raised the pond level enough for a little flooding and a beaver made some minor repairs, but there were little leaks along most of the dam. When I got over to the Lost Swamp Pond I saw the big beaver sitting on the lodge in the middle of the pond which surprised me because that lodge is rather low in the water, and there is a nesting goose on it. The goose was there next to the beaver, whose fur was dry and reddish suggesting it had been out in the sun and wind for a while. It crossed my mind that the beaver was on guard for touring otters. Then another beaver swam up to it, just like the other day.

It climbed up on the lodge and the beavers groomed each other, and then themselves.

I think it is love, the larger beaver is likely a pregnant female. The goose did not seem to mind the two beavers. The male of the pair that usually guards the nesting goose has not been around for a week or two. I sat on top of the rock behind the mossy cove latrine and decided to wait a bit and see what the beavers might do. Then I heard splashing along the shore below me, coming from the other side of the bank beaver lodge, off a sunny slope that I couldn’t see from where I was sitting. Four otters swam out in the pond, rather close to so I didn’t scramble for cover. The wind was strong enough in my face to keep the otters from smelling me even when one propped up on a log and seemed to smell the air.

They fished within 50 feet of me, didn’t come up on the latrine below, but continued fishing along the shore of the pond all the way around to the dam across from me where they eventually went up on the slope and rocks there. Their fishing was captivating to watch. I regretted not having the camcorder, but if I had had it, I would have concentrated on getting close-ups and missed the pattern of their foraging which also included spats of play, usually just two of the pups, sometimes three. I’ve often see young pups play while the mother fished -- they're incapable of real fishing that first summer, but all of these juvenile otters could catch fish, and caught so many that I reexamined my premise -- maybe this was a group of adult otters. Then I’d try to judge tail size, saw one certainly an adult, but two were certainly pups, and the third, as it fished, did not have that thick adult tail. Their ability to catch fish, including one large bullhead, astounded me. I always stare into the clear water of the ponds in the spring, and sometimes see schools of fry. Never a big fish. And the otter caught the fish right in the shallows along the shore. A pup caught a fish there and plopped it into the grass and ate it. A couple of otters rooted through the grass standing in the water. When they got up to the rocks just west of the dam, I clearly saw that it was a mother and her three juveniles. Those three kids darted out of the water, as one, and scampered into the honeysuckle bushes. The mother climbed out of the pond slowly and went up on the dirt and grass above the rock and rolled and twisted slowly on her back. Meanwhile the pups danced and wrestled and scampered back and forth. I wish I had had the camcorder for that. But again, it was good I wasn’t narrowing my focus. The otters rolled, scatted, and played there for about 20 minutes, but the pups kept spilling into the water, usually two together. Then I heard a splash around the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond where the goose and beavers were, though now it looked like there was only one beaver on the lodge. The otter seemed to make a point of making commotion as it fished, though it didn’t splash directly in front of the goose and beaver. I thought for a minute that there might be a fifth otter, and then saw that one of the juveniles, the biggest no doubt, was swimming back and forth under water from where the other otters were out to the beaver lodge. Then all the juveniles went up and joined the mother and I thought they might take a rest. They had been going nonstop for 45 minutes or so. They twisted around mother briefly and then the three of them spilled down the rock into the pond and tangled together there.

A few times, usually in the late fall when the pups are almost capable and quite full of themselves, I’ve seen otters swim fast like porpoises seemingly purposefully raising their tail and slapping it down as they dive back into the water. The juveniles did that today. The mother got up and stretched and walked around the rock easing into the pond with much less fuss. They fished behind the dam. Then a beaver swam out of the bank lodge below me and swam slowly out in the pond toward the other beaver. Then it turned back and looked at me. This surprised me since I credit otters with having better eyesight than beavers, and the otters didn’t seem to notice me. To my chagrin, the beaver swam toward me, turned and slapped its tail. I hoped it wouldn’t do it again and ruin the illusion I always cherish that I am virtually invisible when I watch animals in the pond. It didn’t slap again but swam toward the other beaver. And then beyond, and I saw that it was going out to confront the otters. I have seen this a half dozen times or so over the years, and knew what to expect: the steady beaver presses on and the otters twist and snarl and posture and then retreat. An otter dove near the beaver and the beaver turned and swam over it. Two of the otters propped themselves up on the logs along the lodge and snarled at the beaver. Another otter feinted toward the beaver slapping its tail. The beaver kept moving, weaving in a tight fashion so that while it never swam nose up to the otters it showed that it was fearless and persistent, always weaving back directly at them. Then it may have lunged at the otters. A tree blocked my view, but that‘s what I think happened. I again regretted not having a camcorder but in those other otter-beaver encounters that I saw, I did have video, and every move I saw today I had seen before. I didn’t see the move that I have never seen which is an otter attacking the beaver physically. The otters responded with posturing, screeching and some feints toward the beaver. With the binocular, small with not much width of view, I followed the beaver and after I saw it stop weaving and swim away from the lodge, I scanned the pond and saw the otters, head up, swimming away from the lodge and up pond, going away from where the other beaver still sat on the lodge in the pond. The beaver swam with the same steady head-up progress toward the other beaver. But this time that worthy rose up as he approached and seemed to touch her nose to his. I had never before seen a beaver’s pluck rewarded like that! Then the darker, wet beaver was groomed by the grateful mate who suffered the otters so long.

I rolled on my back, laughing to myself as I decided to tell this tale by making it clear at the beginning of the story that the goose never moved. Then I saw that as the beavers groomed each other, the goose lifted her wing to adjust some feathers. Knowing that there is much to be learned by checking the ground where otters have scatted, rolled and played, I headed over to the other side of the pond. I thought I might see some fish parts too. I checked the mossy cove latrine just below me first and saw that there was some fierce digging into the moss, grass and dirt just below the rock at three places, and a few squirts of fresh scat.

As I walked along the shore where the otters had been, a big leopard frog jumped closer to the water.

There are many frogs around the pond but I didn’t see the otters eating them. Then just as I got over to the north shore of the pond, I saw that the otters had not continued up to the lodge in the southeast end of the pond, they were fishing along the upper southwest shore heading back to where I had been sitting. I retreated, trying out several places to sit for a good view of the mossy cove latrine and with regard to the swirling north wind. I decided it was best to go back to the south shore. I did, waited, nothing. I walked up on the ridge, saw the otters and dashed back to a place almost next to the water. I did get a short video clip of their fishing 20 yards from me.

They went up to the mossy cove latrine but not on to it. They swam across the pond, and I thought they were going to go up on the rocks where they been, but I soon saw that there was a question of otter honor involved. They swam into the lodge by the dam where the beaver had stared them down. No beaver approached them now. The wind seemed to be gusting more from the east so I walked around to the dam, just in case the otters had gone over the dam down to the lower ponds, No. After trying to take photos of the two beavers and goose still on the lodge,

I sat on a rock and waited for otters. Then the beavers swam off the lodge, and I decided I was just getting in the way. The male, his fur all red dry, swam over toward me, as his mate swam directly over to the bank lodge on the south shore. He didn’t slap his tail at me, didn’t even get too close.

He turned and swam slowly over to the bank lodge. So I inspected the otter latrine where I had seen the otters, especially the juveniles, expend so much energy. I expected to see a scat smeared shambles of dirt, grass and moss, but save for a few small scats here and there,

the latrine was much like always. Then I tried to find some fish parts, especially the head of the bullhead, but only saw what looked like a bit of fish body floating in the shallow water.

The Lost Swamp Pond has treated me to good bit of excitement over the years, but nothing quite as exciting as this.

April 29 working at our land, getting hoses and tanks ready. Took my usual tour before lunch. No signs of animal activity at the Deep Pond, but looking at the plants continues to be a pleasure. The cool weather, even the inch of wet snow, seemed to be good for the trillium. One clump lights up a ledge on the sunny side of the knoll behind the beaver lodge.

The flowers are perfect.

Down below horsetails were popping up all over butting in on the trilliums

And I saw a some phlox blooms about to unfold, or should I saw unspin for such a rotary setting.

Walking up our boundary line, roughly, I saw a quartet of red trilliums,

And a lone red trillium in a the now dry bed of the spring rivulet coming down the ridge. Usually red trilliums are more leaf than flower. This lone was could be photographed in a way to make it seem like an exception.

There were several bellworts nearby but the photos didn’t turn out well. This rocky sandstone slope will soon become a tangle of honeysuckle bushes, but this spring it has been full of surprises, a nice variety of flowers though I suppose only the saxifrage seems viral in the few mossy spots. I also saw a small blossoming shrub.

There is too much shade under the hemlocks on the plateau to continue the flower show. Then once through that, I have the long beaver pond to contemplate. Before the beavers came that valley was thick wet green always with a promise of a rare orchid, though I never found one. Ironically, the rarest bloom I ever found there was a purple loosestrife, which is not rare at all but didn’t seem to belong there. Now all is brown, since the duckweed has been slow to spread. Wood ducks and mallards scattered when I came, as well as a painted turtle. I sat long enough for the turtle to climb back on a log. Even the mallards came back, then I was up again, the ducks flew off and turtle plopped back in the water. Down on the shore of the pond, I saw that a beaver cut, collected, and nibbled some pine.

That’s a sign that there is a pregnant beaver inside the lodge. I expected to check the wallow and measure the beavers’ work above the Last Pool as usual but I got distracted by the steep, moss lush ridge to the east of the pond, the shady ridge, and climbed up checking the mossy ledges for rare blooms. There are trilliums here and there, but not much enmasse, and here too, the saxifrage seemed viral

But there should be more to come on this ridge as the sun through the hemlocks slowly persuades more flowers to unfold.

April 30 we both went out, early, to see otters, and to hurry us to that rendez-vous we rode bikes over to the state park entrance. The wind was light and hard to judge but it was predicted to come from the south so we headed up from the South Bay trail so we would come up between the Second Swamp Pond and the Lost Swamp Pond. Leslie walked up on the granite ridges and I skirted the meadows and old ponds. There were no otter in the Second Swamp Pond so I hurried up to the Lost Swamp Pond and got there about when Leslie did. No otters. But as she moved up to sit on the rock at the point across from the peninsula, a beaver lunged from the bank below her and swam out into the pond. It swam below her a while and then noticed me and swam over to and perhaps into the lodge in the middle of the pond. Perhaps it was expecting otters instead. I walked up to the dam going along the ridge so I could make sure there were no otters in the very shallow Upper Second Swamp Pond. Then I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam to check for fresh scats. The otters seem to have expanded the scraping and scating below the dam

And the two scats I saw there could have been fresh, but they certainly weren’t certainly fresh. Both scats seemed to centered in the middle of a pile of loose grass.

Whenever I’ve seen otters scat, they’ve never scraped up grass and aimed their poop at it. So I assume this is just happenstance. The otters had scatted on the rocks right by the dam, but the scats didn’t look fresh, just scats new to me. Meanwhile the beaver was out on the lodge grooming itself next to the nesting goose.

Leslie thought there might be two beavers out again. The one getting on the lodge looked bigger than the one swimming into the lodge. My getting so close prompted it to get back into the water, but it didn’t slap its tail, and, I think, went into the lodge it had been sitting on. I walked over and joined Leslie and we waited for otters to appear, but none did. We saw a muskrat swimming near the dam, and we could hear a few singing peepers around. Leslie headed home and I went over to the Big Pond to complete the story. I didn’t see otters in the pond but high on the grass at the north end of the dam I saw some otter scats

That were extremely fresh. Indeed, looking close and hard at the scat I thought I could see the eyes and outline of a big pollywog.

Continuing along the dam, I saw that a beaver had been by too and twice heaved up mud and vegetation on the dam.

But I didn’t see any nibbling a beaver might have left. I have been speculating that large single scats might be the droppings of a male that tours these ponds. Probably not, and when I got over to the south end of the dam, I saw bits of fresh scats scattered all along the grass of the dam.

And there were larger scats that looked quite fresh. The redolent fishy smell of fresh scats was all around.

And there were two fresh blobs of scat down my trail below the dam. But most notable was a scat on the downed trunk that I usually sit on when I am waiting for otters to appear in this pond.

There was also a drip of scat below the trunk. I don’t think these otters have ever seen me here so I didn’t take it personally. I was pretty certain that the otter family had been here this morning. So I went back to the Lost Swamp Pond just in case the otters moved over there while I moved over to the Big Pond. No. But when I went up to sit on the rock over looking the mossy cove latrine, where I had sat two days ago when I saw the otter

I saw a long stringy otter scat right where I usually sit.

I took this personally. I looked for other new scats in that latrine and saw none for certain. Over the years otters have done this before, but never quite like this: scats at two of the spots where I sit and watch otters. I continued to wait for otters to appear, convinced they would. Then I went back to the Big Pond via the Boundary Line allowing me to check their latrine on the big rock a bit up the south shore. It looked like they hadn’t been there in a couple of weeks. On my way to the Big Pond, I saw a porcupine sleeping up in a high crotch of branches.

And they still weren’t at the Big Pond, nor where there fresh scats on the lodge nor in the latrine near the lodge. But otters must be around, so I went back to the Second Swamp Pond, still no otters, and no fresh scats in their rather expanded latrine along the rivulet below the dam, though I saw some new scat below the dam. Before dinner we went over to the Narrows in our kayaks, first paddle of the year. There are still a goodly number of scaup paired up over Granite Slate shoal but none in South Bay and only a few between Murray and Grinnell islands. We checked the beaver lodge tucked behind Murray where the water was as shallow as when we last saw it in the late fall. No signs of beavers there. After the few scaup there flew off, the only excitements were the lilies sprouting up in the bottom and a few toads trilling up in a wooded ridge. As we approached the marsh in front of that shore, a heron flew up and away. The toads stopped and didn’t resume while we were there. Then I went over to South Bay checking the usual spots for otter scats and saw none. From the kayak the water seemed too shallow for otters, though I know they love shallow ponds, and I didn’t see any fish in the water. However, two herons evidently did for one was wading in the shallows and another stood on the rock where the otters often latrine. I didn’t get up on the island where I saw fresh otter scat a few weeks ago. The goose that was nesting on the south shore of the north cove was still there, and her mate swam right up to me and escorted me as I continued my tour. We exchanged grunts. There were blooms of algae through out the cove. This may turn out to be a strange spring in the coves.