Monday, January 6, 2014

April 10 to 16, 2003

April 10 perhaps spring is here for good. A quick row around the island still afforded us "icebergs" to chase, but the sun and warmth began to hurry everything along. I headed across the golf course at 1 PM, aiming to see beavers since they have been avoiding the morning. Snow was mostly off the golf course, but the poor dead porcupine was still buried in it and the dead deer holding up a few hoary ribs. It is possible that this is the porcupine that completely stripped the thin but tall red oak in the valley.

If so it has left a monument. No activity, actual or revealed in tracks, all the way to the Big Pond. And the ducks fled what water remains there before I could really see them. Most sounded like mallards with one or two wood ducks in the last wave. The draining pond is presenting, I think, a dry way to virtually cross the middle of the pond. 

I didn't plan on trying today, and when I sunk six inches into mud, I didn't even brave the mud by the edge of the pond, which I had done when all was frozen. No sign of beavers at the dam. I went up to check the lodge and while I was marveling at four piles of old otter scat on lumps of grass, a muskrat swam out of the lodge, out to the middle of the pool between the lodge and the dam, where I had seen it before, and it dove briefly in the middle of the pond,

then swam back to the lodge. I waited a bit for it to come out again, but it didn't. Then I returned to contemplating the scat finally deciding that I had no reason to believe that it had been made during the winter -- how could the otter get up on top of snow covered grass?

The deer carcass on that shore smelled a bit and was attracting flies. At the Lost Swamp I sat on the big rock on the middle south shore that affords a view of the beaver lodge in the upper end of the pond. There was a good swath of open water, with several geese and a few mallards plying it, but I could see no obvious signs of beaver activity on the lodge or along the shore,

save for one possible freshly gnawed log on the lodge. However, these beavers even when there were eight of them in one lodge were shy about advertising their presence. Many more ducks were in the northeastern fork of the pond. All flew off as I walked up to the dam. The pond was still ice all the way to and a bit beyond the dam and lodge by the rock, save for a little open water at the lower lodge in the pond -- which had a goose nesting on it, and a few places along the north shore and behind the dam. Despite the look of nothing having happened, the dam itself appeared to have some fresh mud on it in places and a scent pile at the west end of it.

I think a beaver has visited, but no activity at the lodge. No sign of otters, however. I crossed the upper Second Swamp Pond dam which continues to have a good flow of water through it. I scan all open water I can, but see nothing swimming in it. I parked myself on the rock over looking the active lodge, and could see a few half stripped logs below. Beavers have no compunction about leaving what they are working on. There is no mother beaver making sure everything is eaten. I sat for about a half hour, hearing a comb frog behind me, a few peepers here and there, and perhaps either a leopard or wood frog. Just the beginning of all that. I also saw a turtle in the cold water kiss the surface and then sink back down. I admired the beavers' sculptures 

and checking fresh stumps oozing with sap to see what insects were enjoying that. None. However, a fly visited me and just down from the Lost Swamp dam I went through a low swarm of gnats. As I came down onto the ridge overlooking the East Trail Pond, I saw a groundhog -- almost orange, not far away. 

We both stopped and then it went down into the rocks. There have always been ground hog holes in that slope, but I've never seen one there. Two years ago, as I recall, I saw one among the rocks on the south shore of Otter Hole Pond. It had walked through some snow, but didn't leave a good print. What I saw looked narrower and bigger than a raccoon print. The pond remains iced over between the lodge and dam, but there is much open water behind the lodge, and still a hole at the middle of the dam. There were also two pileated woodpeckers at work with good loud thumps. Pity frogs did not join in. I thought I saw something far out in the open water, kept an eye out there, and soon enough saw a beaver, cruising from west to east. It went behind the lodge and I cocked my camcorder for a long shot of its continuing journey back to the bank lodge, but it didn't continue. Instead, a minute or two later I looked at the dam and there was a beaver on it, sniffing the breeze.

Then it retreated down into the hole of open water behind the dam and began gnawing away on a stick of wood. It dove twice, breaking ice, and I sat still expecting it to move along breaking ice, going my way, where the sun still shined. However, it dove again and didn't come up. Then a minute later I saw a beaver swim from behind the lodge and continue on to the bank lodge. This surprised me, not that the beaver swam that far under the ice, but that it didn't swim up to the edge of the ice. Beavers always seem to do that, as if they are always considering whether to go on or not until the last moment. There were no otter signs along the dam. I saw a wet scat on the trail up the ridge, but think it was old. There was snow here and there that would have revealed if an otter had been down the slope. Before I saw the beaver I had been thinking of going on to Meander Pond, but now I had to see an otter an decided that the shallow ponds were more likely to be visited. Otter Hole Pond is dreadfully shallow. If there is no rain for awhile and hot sun, I will be able to crawl inside Otter Hole Pond lodge, 

which would be a dream come true. Still, I hope a beaver moves in soon. As for otters, no sign of them. I again scanned the clear shallow water for fish and saw one nippling of the surface, from what I know not. I didn't check Beaver Point Pond dam but there seemed to be nothing new there. I admired some low work of the porcupines.

I walked down to South Bay where there is a lot more open water, but the herons weren't even there so why would otters be hanging around? I heard and saw song sparrows and redwing blackbirds.

April 12 the snow and almost all the ice are gone. I tour a new world, always a shock. Ottoleo helped ease the transition by finding a fresh deer kill and two piles of old deer bones off the swamp next to the golf course (he was looking for golf balls.) We saw a coyote trotting down the road the other night so I was curious to see if the fresh kill had a neck wound -- no. It was a small deer which seemed to have been attacked from the rear. But it was under a spreading pine tree with low branches.

The deer bones were in a more accessible area and could have been dumped there but it hardly seems likely.

I'll have to keep an eye on this area. Ottoleo left me and I went over the ridge. Quite a bit of mink scat around Double Lodge Pond, two or three twists at the dam and one just off the middle of the pond.

Of course, I know a mink was there. I saw it. I'm no judge of how fresh mink scat is. The Big Pond dam continues to gush. With all the ice gone, it actually looks a little better, more water.

But a few more dry days and it may shrink to nothing. I walked up to the lodge, and went on top of it this time. Saw some very old otter scats, reduced to the scales. Geese were around, of course, and a few ducks, as well as a red tail hawk, and a vulture. Save for the far west end, the Lost Swamp Pond is almost ice free. 

Here there were hooded mergansers, and common mergansers. Not as many as I see some years. There was also a good north wind whipping up the water. Here is where I miss the snow. When an otter came up to the pond last week I could see the wee scats left behind, but now I need more substantial scats in order to read a tale. I couldn't see any. The dam remains in good condition but no sure sign that a beaver had been along checking it. I will have to change my tactics: no more quick touring. I'll have to sit out here one long evening to see if beavers are in the pond. A raven entertained me. I heard weird sounds from the peninsula in the middle of the pond, almost thunking like a bittern and almost snoring like a wood frog. When the raven left the tree there, the weird noises stopped. There is no doubt that beavers are in the Second Swamp Pond and the pond is filling up nicely after they had repaired to dam. But no sign that they had been foraging in the upper end of the pond. I flushed many ducks,mostly mallards and wood ducks. Just as I sat for 20 minutes at the Lost Swamp Pond, so I sat here, and saw nothing but the designs a north wind can make. There was a good chorus of comb frogs from the area where the vernal pools are, peepers too. I forgot to mention they were also in the golf course swamp where the dead deer was. No sign of fresh beaver work behind the knoll, even though there appears to be a bit of unfinished business there.

Of course, I'd prefer that they go down to Otter Hole Pond and repair that dam. The two upper pools of Otter Hole Pond look round and "healthy." I'll have to check and see if the beavers have repaired those dams. The East Trail Pond was virtually ice free, and played upon by the wind. As usual this pond is favored by the wood ducks. There was also a hawk. I lay down for another 15 minute vigil wondering how to readjust. At this same time in the afternoon two days ago I saw a beaver, and to my surprise I saw a beaver today, cruising quickly from the west end of the pond. This time it didn't come to dam, nor did it go to the central lodge or the bank lodges I know of. I crossed the dam to get a better look into where it might have gone -- noting the absence of otter scat and beaver repairs on the dam, along the way. Then I saw another beaver steaming along the same route, and I lost sight of it along the same shore. So I went up pond to see the attraction.

There appeared to be a couple of places where the bottom had been scoured of vegetation. These beavers have always had a predilection for foraging at that far end of the pond, eager for roots now that the ice is gone? Another project: watch this end of the pond in the afternoon. On my way to Meander Pond, I again admired the deer carcass on the trail. There was good a chorus of peepers all around Thicket and Meander Pond, especially the latter. Of course, I was looking for beavers but saw none, and the only sure sign they might have been active was mud in the new little pond below the old dam.

This area is getting nicely terraced. South Bay is open all through the coves; one band of ice remains in the middle of the bay. No herons along the shore which was nicely out of the wind. No help here in telling where my otters have gone.

April 14 warm, windy, spring, a few patches of ice, and a few patches of white snow. I set off at about 2:30 to check on the beaver activity in the East Trail Pond. I parked myself on the high ridge and watched two herons and some wood ducks fly out. The gusty wind and slow moving geese kept the pond rippling, but no ripples materialized into a beaver. Of course, I was hoping an otter might come through too. I tried to keep a steady stream of hopeful thought -- could some beavers be living in the upper pond and then coming down to the lower pond to eat at four o'clock, as happened the last two times I was there. Well, I waited an hour in vain and stood to take a photo of what I had been staring at

Then in the other direction, looking to the east, I saw a little ball of a beaver nibbling on the shore below the rocks

I moved toward it as quietly as I could and it proved to be a brave little beaver, who thrust its nose and jaw out toward me

as it weaved in the water and thwacked its tail frequently. I switched from the camcorder to the camera hoping to get a dramatic shot of the tail up with the latter but this is the best I could do

I got several splashes, but only the photo below gives a good hint of the direct power of the beaver's tail

Of course, I had better success with the camcorder. Then I heard a dog bark and then people. The dog came down the hill and I recognized it. Al and Lynn and another person were up on the trail. Of course, the beaver left when I called to them, which I didn't regret, though here was the thrill of a beaver in motion that I haven't seen for months, and this fellow was so engaging. 

I obviously was upsetting the beaver, though it dealt with me with proper belligerency. I've seen the beavers here consistently for a couple years and what amazed me was how small this beaver seemed. But that may be only due to the change in scale. Beavers look large coming out of holes in the ice and then when swallowed up by the surface of the pond, they seem small again. Surely this beaver seemed like it belonged, so I don't think it was an interloper that recently wondered into the pond. I checked the latrines around the dam, was amazed at the old otter scat but saw nothing fresh. I went home via Otter Hole Pond dam where there is nothing new. I did notice that there was very little water coming out of the first swamps. So tomorrow I'll check the Big Pond dam to see if the flow has stopped there.

April 16 Yesterday temperatures were above 70; today a cold front is going through, cloudy and 42 when I left the house at 9 and almost down to 32 when I returned at noon. Plus there is a sharp wind and a spit of rain now and then, though primarily this has been a dry front. Despite having snow as a companion for five months, I think it has been a relatively dry winter and to prove it I set off across the meadow behind the golf course. It was easy to cross but there was enough standing water to modify my thesis. I found several holes dug in the mud, I think by deer, and in about a third of them there were large, hard roots that had been gnawed.

The elecampane roots looked like misshaped mushrooms. At the foot of the ridge, I found a deer antler which I carried around for the rest of the hike, keeping one hand cold but handy for leaning on a tree trunk here and there as I moved through the bush.

Up on the ridge I found a deer carcass nestled under a clump of willow bushes. Again this was somewhat compacted. In other years the carcasses, if memory serves, were more spread apart. A spring sport once was find the head. With this carcass, I wondered if something had lived inside the carved out torso.

I flushed at least a half dozen deer moving along these interior ridges and then down to Middle Pond. That pond is still a pond. Two geese were there. I didn't go down to the dam but it seems to survive without any tending. I studied the Double Lodge Pond dam for a bit, wondering if the dam had been patched a bit with a muskrat pushing up some grasses, or had the natural flow of plant matter in the current finally accumulated enough to cause more water to back up. No sign that a beaver was there. The Big Pond dam still leaks and the flow is washing out more of the hole on the downstream side of the dam. On the other side, I saw evidence that a beaver had been there. While it didn't do anything to patch the deep hole in the dam, there were three dollops of mud coming up, in a row, from the water.

The middle dollop had the hind foot print of a beaver and the dollop on top of the dam had prints of the front paw. I looked in vain for any sign that the beaver had eaten anything. I went up to the lodge and saw no sign of a beaver there. However, there were otter prints in the mud behind the dam, looking rather fresh.

I haven't been to the pond in four days and I've never studied how long prints remain sharp in wet mud, but they looked like I was hot on the trail. I decided to cross the mud flats northeast of the lodge, which was dicey, but I made it, pausing at one rock near a rivulet that was oozing with what I call mud oil.

Gone is this favorite refuge for the ducks. Now there is only a small pool off the pond, with rivulets coming into it. Then I decided to check the dam above the pond, and my hunch was right. A beaver did more substantial work there, packing some mud on the dam and bracing a bit of mud with a freshly gnawed stick.

It makes sense for a beaver to begin here and perhaps let a good crop of plants grow in the drained pond below. At the Lost Swamp Pond, I was startled with fresh beaver activity too. The lodge way out in the pond looked as always, then as I walked around to the north slope to see if the otter had been there, I saw a maple just cut down, with branches freshly trimmed.

On the north slope I found some otter scat,

and I leaned over to take a close-up, letting the camera do the work and not noticing that there was a bird or mammal bone in it:

The dam has been packed with mud -- nothing major, but not much work had to be done. However there were no signs of otter around the dam nor on the rock by the lodge. No sign that beavers were using the lodge again. I went down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond and saw that the beavers had been up foraging on birch, picking up from where they left off in the fall. The dam has been built up making it harder to cross.

No sign that an otter had been over but if it had toured a day or two ago, the beavers might have covered the evidence. My theory that beavers start foraging far from the lodge as soon as possible isn't playing out. These beavers not only are still working on projects close to their lodge and winter hole, even the base of one of the cedars had been gnawed.

I heard comb frogs in the distance but chose to tarry on the slope above the East Trail Pond dam, out of the wind. This is always a good place for birds and one song sparrow was right beside me, another was enunciating its song with such clarity that I was sure it must be a rarer breed. I had seen two herons flying over the Lost Swamp Pond and then flushed a heron as I approached the East Trail Pond, then a heron flew in and perched briefly on a tree. My furtive bid to get my camera ready sent it flying off -- I've noticed before that herons don't squawk this early in the season. Then two herons flew back into the marsh at the far end of the pond. I got the camcorder out expecting they might do something. They didn't, but an osprey or dark hawk flew over. Finally a pileated came into the pond, first with great squawking and then with wood pounding -- nothing subtle about this bird. I looked in vain for fresh otter scat, and then went over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond. As I walked down to the dam, I heard a splash and then didn't have to stare long before I saw a muskrat swimming from the lodge to the northeast, quickly out of camera range. So something is enjoying this depleted pond. I decided to cross Beaver Point Pond dam, checking the rocks down there for otter scat -- no. And no sign that any beavers had pondered patching this dam, though it isn't leaking as fiercely as it could. Certainly no otters had given it the treatment. I looked hard for otter scat at the causeway at the end of the south cove of South Bay, but none was there. A good hike on a cloudy, winter-is-back day.