Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May 23 to 31, 2010

May 23 we were suppose to have another hot day, but a cloudy morning kept it cool. Since the river was calm I paddled over to South Bay going directly to the rocks below the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I thought I might be able to see crayfish parts well enough from the kayak. While I couldn’t be sure that there were more parts on the dry rocks, I did see plenty of bits and pieces of crayfish on the rocks and in the shallow water. And when I took the photo below a few days later, the parts I saw were still there.

I got the impression that otters were still eating crayfish in the area. I decided to paddle through the Narrows and take a look at Eel Bay, and then come back and check the bays west of the Narrows before I checked out the rest of South Bay. I was looking for otter signs, of course, but also for that common merganser and her brood and the loons. I didn’t find them, but I did see a black squirrel swim across the Narrows. It made quite a spread in the water, yes, its head was tiny and barely out of the water, and its body seemed squeezed by its own wake, but its tail
floated luxuriously high above and far back of the struggling animal. I paddled a bit behind it curious to see what it would do when it got on land. It immediately ran up the trunk of a dead tree, stopped, and with its wet head down, used all its body to shake its tail, which couldn’t have gotten that wet but it wanted it completely dry as soon as possible. Paddling along, I saw a water snake swimming across the Narrows going the other direction. I looked for Ottoleo when I got to
Eel Bay hoping he was fishing near Picton, but I didn’t see him. However, the water was calm and Quarry Point did not look so far away, so off I paddled, only pausing to pick up a bumble bee who was struggling in the water. When I put it on the kayak it didn’t act like the squirrel, didn’t shake anything, but head down twitched just enough to show it was alive. Perhaps it was less a question of drying off by shaking off the water than recouping strength. I told it we were getting closer to dry land, but it flew off anyway, heading across the mile long expanse of the bay. As I
approached Quarry Point, I saw a heron land on the rock island off the point, and that prompted another heron to fly off. The herons never got within 20 yards of each other. A west wind had started to pick up so I paddled down the north shore of the island first going down to the big pine where I think the otters often latrine. I was able to get closer to it in the kayak and while I saw pine litter cleared down to dirt, I couldn’t see any scats. I paddled back along the shore and was surprised at how many herons I saw, two more. There were also gulls around and I hoped that was because they were picking up the remains of fish left by feasting otters. As I paddled along I noticed a trail in the grass going back to where I thought the otters denned last year,

and then at the latrine just west of a trail I saw the otters use last fall,

I saw fresh otter scats, three or four big gobs.

I’ll get over to this shore later in the boat and take some photos (which, as you can see, I did.) Of course, I paddled around to where the otters often latrine just off Quarry Point. Since there is no easy way to get out of the kayak, I contented myself with studying what looked like fresh holes dug in the pine litter and dirt on the upper edge of the big rock, with more gobs of fresh scats on a flanking smaller rock.

So? Last fall, when otter activity more or less stopped at Picton, it began in the Wellesley Island beaver ponds I watch. Now when activity has more or less stopped in the beaver ponds, it has picked up on Picton. The trick is to see the otters out here, which is not easy since it starts getting light at 4:30am and, in my dotage, I find it harder getting up at dawn. I paddled over to the big rock on Murray Island where otters latrined years ago. As usual of late, not a blade of grass there looked out of place. On the way back through the Narrows, I toured the little bays on the southwest end of it looking for those common merganser ducklings or the loons. I saw a painted turtle resting on the sandy bottom in six feet of water. Then coming around the headland, in a pretty good chop, I saw mallard ducklings and, a little farther off, what might have been the merganser family. I was too weary to give chase.

May 24 Ottoleo, up for the weekend, gave us a hand in the gardens and then I gave him a quick tour of the beaver activity, quick because the mosquitoes were unmerciful. The nice thing about taking someone for a tour is that I step back and look at the beavers' old work. For example, today I noticed that the poplar/aspen that the beavers first girdled last year (or was it two years ago) and gnawed a bit but never got close to cutting it down

is now mostly dead.

Another poplar aspen, which I am sure they girdled last year, but did not gnaw

still sports a leafy crown.

I showed Ottoleo the beavers' work on the grove of hemlocks along the east shore of Boundary Pond. They keep stripping small trees farther up pond, two more since I was last here.

Why don’ t they just cut some down and strip a whole tree? As we walked along the shore I saw gnawing on a huge maple’s roots and stripping of a small hemlock.

I wish I could see how the beavers operate here -- a gnaw on the maple, then a strip of hemlock bark? Or do they have a taste for one or the other at particular times, or does one beaver gnaw maple and another strip hemlock? We went down to the dam and I gave the mechanical engineer a lecture on the beavers weighting down the dam to squeeze the moisture out of the muck that holds the water back. It looks like they have completely freshened the muck behind the dam, but it might look more impressive because the water level of the pond is dropping. We are in a bit of a

I showed him what the beaver cut the other night when I was sitting nearby. Nothing new there. As we walked up the west shore of the Last Pool, I saw a hemlock with a rather small strip of bark or two pulled off just above the ground.

It is almost as if the mass of stripping on the other shore inspires more stripping, while stripping a hemlock somewhere else is a no-no.

May 25 Now that I think the otters are out at Picton Island, I needed to tour the beaver ponds they favored for several months to make sure they weren’t there. I headed off on a rather hot morning hoping to make short work of my assigned task. I went along with such dispatch that I did not take photos of depressions in the dirt up on the ridge where the grouse take dust baths every year. However, I was stopped short at my perch south of the Big Pond dam not only by the heat. The grass where the otters often latrine was scratched up,

And there were two fresh otter scats there.

I didn’t sit long to ponder that because of the heat, but I did scan the pond looking for otters. The scats were that fresh. As I crossed along the dam, I saw that the blue flag iris was starting to bloom.

I didn’t see anymore scats along the dam. So once again I approached the Lost Swamp Pond looking for telltale ripples but didn’t see any. A pair geese without goslings sat on logs side by side as they preened themselves a few yards from the small beaver lodge where a goose nested for weeks, apparently to no avail.

I took a quick look down at the mossy cove latrine and it didn’t look like an otter had been there. I found a shady spot on the rock, took off my teeshirt and tried to cool down. Then I saw an otter swim into view as it came through the peninsula heading toward that small lodge in the middle of the pond.

It dove around the lodge but swam on and then cocked its head up like it got a whiff of me, swam like that toward the dam and dove, and I didn’t see it surface. My theories can always account for one otter, especially at this time of year when otters roam. Then three minutes later another otter swam along the same path, perhaps it was smaller. It swam directly toward the lodge by the dam, went most of the way on the surface and then dove. I braced myself for two more otters. Five minutes later an otter surfaced and swam passed the peninsula going the other way
into the northeast section of the pond. I stood and moved over so I could see it. I didn’t and then it surfaced and continued a slow swim down the pond angling toward the north shore where I know there are several burrows into the bank. I went back to the rock at the mossy cove latrine, first ascertaining that there were no fresh scats there. Meanwhile I had seen two muskrats, one by the north shore across from me and another off the peninsula. Neither they nor the geese still preening in front of me seemed to notice the otters at all. The otters, all three visions of them,
seemed rather sedate for otters. I just saw their rolling backs, no tails, and I might have convinced myself that they were beavers save that they swam too fast, had a narrow head, and swam part of the way with the head raised completely out of the water, a trick beavers do not command. So? I think I was seeing at least two of the otters I have been seeing. I think a touring otter not familiar with my haunting these ponds would have reacted more to my presence, either in umbrage or panic. I walked over to the dam and saw no fresh scats or new scats in the latrine there. Then I paused to chronicle the annual mingling of yellow and pink flowers as a barberry bush and a honeysuckle celebrate the spring in the moist low side of the dam.

I walked over to the lodge by the dam, and on top of it and asked the otters if they were inside. My impertinent question only prompted the whirligig beetles to spin even faster.

Nothing else stirred, which doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing was there. I walked across on the dam and saw one trail over it. I looked down at the Upper Second Swamp Pond and then sat for 10 minutes by the Second Swamp Pond and saw a mother duck and her ducklings,

but no otters, which doesn’t mean they were not there in one of the many possible dens. Then I went back to the Lost Swamp Pond continuing around east along its south shore. There were no new scats at the latrine there. I went a bit farther along, sat on a shady rock and waited for an otter to appear. The ducks up here were couples without ducklings. A mallard pair browsing rather far apart. I only knew they were a pair when the male flew off and the female followed. Then a wood duck couple swam slowing in front of me.

I stood to take a photo of the lodge in the southeast end of the pond and then I saw something black roll in the water on the south side of the lodge. I thought it could have been an otter. I waited, thought I saw a glint of a cross ripple almost behind the lodge, then nothing. It could also have been a beaver or a snapping turtle and I thought it more likely the latter until I got home and looked at the photo I took of the lodge and saw that a black back or shell was rolling on the surface as I took the photo.

Otters are so active when they foraging, unlike a beaver which can find, gather, and eat a meal at a leisurely pace, that when otters are about and not chasing fish, they can seem rather ghost-like. The sweating heat did not contribute to the confidence I had in my interpretation of what was going on. While I waited for something to surface in the pond or climb up on the lodge, two deer waded out in the far east end of the pond to gob the wet grasses.

I went home the way I came and got another indication that I just missed seeing the otters scat at the Big Pond dam. When I returned and looked at the scat, big green flies were all over it.

There had been none when I first saw it.

We are in the midst of a heat spell, very hot for us, well over 80 degrees, and a dry spell. During a break from pumping water for the garden at our land, I went back to check on the beavers. Because of the mosquitoes I was too busy swatting to look closely at the Last Pool and Boundary Pond to see if beavers were there. I got to my chair overlooking the lodge, arranged my defenses against the mosquitoes and looked for beavers. It was almost as if they were waiting for my arrival. One came out of the lodge, headed toward the dam, then noticed me, turned and swam in my direction, going under the barbed wire that marks the boundary of our land.

Then it stopped right below me and looked up.

Last summer I thought the beavers here grew to tolerate me as long as I sat in the chair overlooking their lodge. And this spring I’ve been getting the impression that they even like seeing me up there, often looking at me and then swimming up pond almost as if my being there added a measure of safety, though I’m not sure how their reasoning goes: if he’s there, it is safe for me to go up pond because he won’t bother me, or his being there will ward off bobcats or coyotes, so I can go where I please. Soon another smaller beaver came out. It also checked me out, though it was careful to stay a bit more concealed. I was still hearing gnawing from inside the lodge. Of course, being a human, I expect the story I keep telling myself about the beavers to pick up where it left off. Last time I was here a few nights ago, an adult carried branches down the ridge into the pond where two smaller beavers dined, and, I think, another adult came out for a bite. Then those three beavers went back into the lodge and the beaver that made the deliveries had its meal. I think the beaver that came out to sneak a bite was the mother taking a break from nursing the kits. So tonight I expected more activity centered around servicing the mother and the kits inside the lodge. But there was none of that. Eventually three beavers were out in the pond, maybe even a fourth, and they all went up pond. When the mosquitoes drove me off, one beaver was in the lower pond. When I got to the channel down the middle of the Last Pool, I saw an adult beaver. I thought I was positioned to get a nice video as it swam down the channel, but it either swam underwater or just lurked in the channel. I moved on and took a photo to show how low the water in the Last Pool was getting and how the beavers were dredging a channel

Then just as I put the camera down, a small beaver swam down the pool and then down the channel. I suspected that the photo I took would show the beaver, and I was right. It was in the near background.

I had a notion to take photos of the may flowers, but the swarming mosquitoes made that seem foolhardy. The flowers will still be there tomorrow.

May 26 We went to our land early to water. As we drove in we saw a snapping turtle laying eggs at the edge of the dirt road. I was going to go back and take a photo, but then saw the same scene when I walked down the road to the Deep Pond.

I’m not sure if the turtle had just laid eggs and was smoothing over the dirt, or if she had given that area the once over and decided not to dig. I must say the turtle looked a little worse for wear. There were slide marks on the top of its shell, which I assume were left by her mate. And her front legs looked used, whatever that means, which suggests that maybe she had just finished digging the hole.

I sat down at the Deep Pond for a few minutes and a female wood duck flew in and out.

Usually the mosquitoes retreat back into the woods on a sunny morning, but not today. I wondered if the lack of the usual squadrons of dragonflies accounted for the mosquitoes being so virulent. I haven’t seen the usual number of blue darners and white wings. I took an art photo of one of the plain brown dragonflies that are around, as one took a breather on a large leaf so that its bulging eyes seemed to be looking at me.

However, I subscribe to the notion that the predators of insects can never put much of a dent in their population.

When we got back to the island, I headed off in the boat to retrace my paddle of a few days ago, though I headed off to Picton Island first. Before I got over to Quarry Point, I saw two loons fishing in the bay west of the point.

They were fishing and both stayed low in the water. After taking a photo to illustrate what I saw a few days ago, I went on shore to get a closer look at what I thought was otter digging and scating. A water snake swam by just as I was docking. I climbed up the rocks to the latrine and saw that I was right. An otter dug a nice hole in the dirt above the rock, crushing some corydalis flowers as they were about it.

And they left scats on the rock beside the dig,

And also in the grass above the latrine.

The otters didn’t scrape or scat on the slope of grass which before seemed to be more attractive to them than the rocks. Since I only saw all this from afar the last time I was here, I couldn’t tell how many of the scats I saw now were not there before. I didn’t see any fresh scats, but my hunch is that the otters had been here at least twice. I checked the latrines at the point and only saw relatively old scats. Then I went over to the latrine on the north shore, and here I think there were new scats that were not here when I paddled by this shore a few days ago, though it didn‘t look fresh.

I motored down the north shore of the island and while a muskrat swam under and by me, I didn’t see any more otters signs. I did disturb one heron. Then I motored over to the latrine above the entrance to South Bay. I docked the boat and took a photo of crayfish parts in the water to help illustrate what I saw when I paddled along here a few days ago. Up on the rock, I saw more crayfish parts,

But I didn’t see any typical otters scats, and I did see two piles of what looked like raccoon poops laced with crayfish parts.

Otters have been here eating crayfish. I did see scats last time I was here. But now raccoons seem to be eating the crayfish, though in other contexts, I have suggested that tubular shell laced poops like this could come out of otters that ate too many crayfish. As I went through the Narrows, I saw an osprey sitting so patiently on top of a power pole that I thought it might be a fledge waiting to be fed.

There was another osprey that looked bigger that was flying about. I waited a few minutes for it to return, but not for long. This was another hot day. I’ll have to check to see if osprey fledges have a white breast.

May 29 we were away for two nights, and then when we got back we came quickly to the land to water the garden, which was not as dry as we feared. After dinner I went down to the Boundary Pond walking down the ridge and going directly to the chair half way down the ridge with a good view of the beaver lodge. The mosquitoes swarmed so eagerly around me that I didn’t bring out the camera. I saw three beavers again seemingly cruising around aimlessly after they checked me out. However I did see one interesting variation. One of the small beavers came out of the lodge carrying a small stripped stick and it took it over to the dam. I also saw an adult beaver collecting some of the duckweed in its mouth. Swarming mosquitoes forced me to narrow my focus. My hat was pulled down and pullover mosquito netting can seem like a suit of armor. When a beaver headed up pond, I didn’t turn my head to follow its progress. After hurrying back to the house, I didn’t go in to bed. I walked down the road where the mosquitoes are not as
bad. While sitting above the lodge, I heard a whip-poor-will down in the woods below the pond. There was also a middling chorus of gray tree frogs. As I walked down the road, a bird flew over my head and I was pretty sure it was the whip-poor-will, and soon I heard it call from the big maple behind the garden. I was close enough to hear the clicks after each call. I continued down the road, didn’t see the whip-poor-will, but I heard the call again in a tree near the crest of the hill down to the Deep Pond. I was close enough to hear the clicks again, but also close enough
to accept the illusion that three parts of the call came from different parts of the tree. The “whip” to my left, the “poor-wheeee” right above, and the click a good ways off to the right, almost as if it was in another tree. Thrushes can throw the sounds like this too. Since the whip-poor-will is so loud this seeming multiplication of the source of the sounds can be intimidating. Down at the Deep Pond it was too dark to see much but I heard three bullfrogs and a green frog
calling. I'm surprised at how few tree frogs there were along the road and around the house. There were a few lightning bugs.

May 30 after watering the gardens I took a tour of the beaver pond to see what the beavers have been up to the last three days. I walked down the ripple rock trail, which parallels but is higher than Grouse Alley, and higher means drier and perhaps less mosquitoes. Then I crossed the valley intersecting the beaver trail up from the Last Pool. The trail looked used but perhaps not by beavers, since I didn’t see any beaver work along it. I took a path over to the shady pool of water at the foot of the mossy ridge, but there was no new beaver work along it

Nor was there any in or around the pool.

And all the old work was swallowed by the growing ferns. The trail continued from the pool up the wooded part of the valley, and I did see two cut elms but that didn’t look like recent work.

So I think this is a deer trail which they use to get to clean water in the pool, better than the muddy water in the beaver pond. I didn’t follow the trail that continued up the valley.

Then I walked down the east shore of the beaver pond. I didn’t see any new work along the Last Pool or upper part of the Boundary Pool. The stripping of the hemlocks continues, with three or four farther up pond now stripped.

The beavers still have not cut any of the hemlocks down and maybe two or three have some gnawing into the wood revealed by the stripping.

The beavers seem more interesting in gnawing and stripping the roots,

And on some trees gnawing every bit of root that is exposed before doing any stripping on the trunk.

They also continue gnawing the roots and girdling two large maple trees,

And I will come back later and put up some barriers to keep them from completely girdling these venerable trees. They are also girdling more hemlocks down toward the dam and as I walked down to inspect that, two beavers on the shore reared up and threw themselves into the pond,

And swam underwater back to the lodge. In the brief glimpse I had of these beavers, the fur of one was quite reddish so it had probably been on shore for a while. They had been side by side on shore and judging from the hole in the forest litter where they had just been, they had probably been digging.

I am not sure what they were after perhaps the ends of the roots of the two stripped hemlocks nearby. I hurried around to the other side of the pond, walking below the dam, which continues to get attention, but also lose water because it is so dry, and then I got up in my chair to see if the beavers might come out again. At first the lodge was quiet, then I heard those quiet repetitive hums, same as I heard a week or so ago, that I thought might be associated with suckling. But they ended soon and gave way to normal humming, and then silence. Then I saw another beaver nosing around the east shore. This beaver could have come out of the lodge, though I don’t think so. Perhaps it was a third beaver checking on the other two. Anyway, it slowly made its way over to me but didn’t give me the forthright look that I usually get from these beavers. It stopped swimming, and floated with its head oriented more toward the lodge than to me.

It held the pose only a couple of minutes and then went into the lodge. I heard a dialogue of hums, then some gnawing, and then all was quiet. I sat for another ten minutes and then moved on. It is not that unusual to see beavers out in the morning especially in the spring and early summer when there might be new born kits in the lodge. I didn’t see any new work along the west shore of the pond, and wondered if the beavers were dredging, or if the lower water was just exposing the lines of mud piles left by old dredging.

The channel was muddy so I suspect they are actively dredging. I continued up to the wallow above the Last Pool, and it is just about dry, but quite a swoop of rich black mud.

Which looked a little inviting. I never seen a beaver bothered by a mosquito and never seen them purposely get their fur muddy, but a layer of that mud certainly could keep mosquitoes off my skin.

Back on Wellesley Island I took a quick hike to the beaver ponds to see if there was fresh otter scat. On my trail though the woods to the Big Pond, I walked by a beautiful garter snake but did not deign to take its photo. Then farther along I saw a beautiful brown, yellow, orange and red toad, twice as big as my feeble fist. Like a good toad it hopped six inches out of my way and then sat for photos which don’t do it justice.

A close up gives an idea of the complexity of its skin and perhaps captures the color better than the photo above.

Coming up to the otter latrine at the south end of the Big Pond dam, I saw that the grass, which had been getting tall, had been rolled over.

There was one older scat and then several very fresh scats scattered around the latrine

Most were smaller squirts than the one shown above.

I went into my otters-must-be-in-the-pond mode and eased my way across the dam, keeping behind cattails when I could, but I didn’t see any otters in the pond, nor for that matter any fresh beaver work along the dam. I approached the Lost Swamp Pond scanning for ripples and all I saw were made by ducks. I sat on the rock above the mossy cove latrine

to see if the otters would swim in from the south coming from the Big Pond. I was sitting with new, but not fresh, otter scats in front of and behind me,

So I naturally thought otters would come to freshen up their signs that seen to notify me that the otters know my habits as well as I know theirs. But none appeared. I did see a beaver swim slowly from the lodge in the middle of the pond to and into the lodge by the dam. Maybe it was on otter-watch too. And I watched the goose pair preening their feathers and floating placidly about the same place where I saw them a few days ago.

I checked the mossy cove latrine for fresh scats and only saw some generous smears of new but older scat, though not very old

Which had bird or small mammal bones in the mix

Probably enough bones to reconstruct a bit of the animal -- could they be turtle bones? It was easy to see the trail the otter took from those scats up to the top of the rock where I sit.

I walked around to the dam and on the north slope, a bit west of their usual latrine, an otter or otters tore up the grass and dirt

And left a very fresh scat, again with interesting bones and perhaps roe, though it seems late in the season for that.

Looking at this scat made me think that the scats in the mossy cove latrine are fresher than I originally thought. So the otters had probably been here this morning. I say otters because even though one otter could have done all that digging and rolling and scatting, I think another otter or two or three had to have been around to inspire it to such vigorous activity. That said, in the latrines they had been using closer to the dam all is growing unimpeded and unfertilized by otters

And not much fresh beaver work on the dam. I went up on the ridge overlooking the Upper Second Swamp Pond and saw the geese and goslings down there. Evidently shallow ponds are more congenial for goslings. Then I checked the otter latrines on and below the Second Swamp Pond dam, and saw nothing new. The pond is getting low and caked with pollen and vegetation.

I went home via the Big Pond, and looked for otters again, but still none were out.

May 31 We spent last night at our land, and I decided not to check on the beavers in the evening, sparing them, me and the mosquitoes from that excitement. About four in the morning, if not earlier, a whip-poor-will hammered the air with his never mournful, never lonesome, never blue, never haunting song. It is reveille, always has been and always will be. Then the phoebes added their wake-up call. Finally the thrushes began songs that one can get back to sleep to. After two hours of pumping and watering in the morning, I headed off to check on what the beavers might have done last night. At first glance the gallery of the stripped and girdled hemlocks
looked about the same.

But on checking yesterday’s photo, I can see that a beaver stripped a bit more bark up the trunk of the hemlock in the right foreground, and a close look at the trees shows what fresh stripping looks like.

Then I crept down to get to check the spot where I saw the beavers yesterday. I went by protectors, loose logs and stones, that I put up on the two maples to keep the beavers from completely girdling them.

It looked like the beavers have been stripping more hemlock down here. Here is the photo from today

And from yesterday. Once again they did just a little more stripping

Now, in both photos there is a highlight of brown on a mound of dirt in the right background. Yesterday I barged down and two beavers fled. Today as I slowly approached I saw that highlight of brown move, and got close enough to see that it was a beaver.

I braved mosquitoes waiting for the beaver to move. Its head moved a few inches. All the while, a red squirrel went about its business almost beside me.

Obviously the beaver has vacated the lodge, probably to make room for kits, but it stays near, looking at the lodge, perhaps hoping to be of use, or simply hoping I would go away. I did. I got back to my log sawing, working at the Teepee Pond which was quiet save for a few green frogs, and I saw two small painted turtles floating in the brown water. I also walked around the Deep Pond and saw three or four areas where a large snapping turtle might have laid her eggs.

When I walked next to the lodge below the knoll something raised some mud moving away under water, perhaps the snapper.

Behind the knoll the world of flowers was now all green save for a few pink herb robert blossoms and some blue phlox petals that had fallen down on the trillium leaves.

Out in the fields I saw fleabane, birdfoot trefoil, and cow vetch. There have been no downpours to cut through the silt in the creek leading to the pond meaning that swath of soft dirt is good for registering tracks, today of a heron and a raccoon.