Tuesday, January 21, 2014

May 1 to 8, 2003

May 1 I waited until after two storms rolled through -- a brief thunderstorm and then an even briefer one. I saw nothing new at the South Bay cove causeway, and I haven't been there in four days. I heard rustling in the bushes, and it wasn't the usual grouse, but three or four song sparrows. I took the shortcut over the ridge to my old perch overlooking Otter Hole Pond. The pond remains depleted and if the hole is not patched at last the grass will have a chance to grow on my perch. With no expectations my mind blocked out what was there. After ten minutes I noticed the goose on the lodge and then the gander out in the pond on guard. He had positioned himself perfectly to see the likely routes of geese coming up or down from other ponds. I'm getting over a cold and when I coughed the nesting goose put her head up, but when I crossed the dam she kept her head down. No honking at me today. Three mallards flew over twice wishing I was gone. I noted that kingfishers were not there, nor herons. I went up the ridge toward the East Trail Pond but once I gained it, I went down to the creek between the ponds to see if the otters had been there. They had left no sign on Otter Hole dam, but, at this time of year especially, I've seen them simply cruise up the ponds without leaving scat. The trail from the creek up and over the ridge to the East Trail Pond still looked like a trail, but I saw nothing fresh (save for emerging vegetation)

until I was half way down the slope to the East Trail Pond.

There was a neat scent mound of leavers, pine needles and sticks anointed with scat.

So I sank down under the large pine by the pond and hoped an otter might swim into view. None did, but the pond was quite active. This time of year the easiest way to see that you are not alone is look in the grass and see the fresh blades with their queer brown flowers.

The three flickers are still at it flying from trunk to trunk with their goofy glunking call. The swallows were fighting too, and getting bugs too high for me to appreciate their flying. The geese here were quiet, too, and only a few solo ducks flew over. The redwing blackbird calls still surround the pond and a few males flew from log to log in the pond getting the low bugs, I assume. A downy woodpecker stayed out of the flickers' way. I saw a small flock of juncos, heard a pine warbler, and then going up to the big rock, flushed a rather pale looking green heron who sent down great gobs of white poop. It perched atop a dead tree in the pond and made some striking poses. I stood still hoping it would get back down to business, but it eventually flew off. While I stood I noticed a great domed turtle and a smaller, flatter turtle on a log -- a Blanding's and a painted. I was about to head home when I saw a lot of nippling in the pond water below me and now and then a bigger pattern of ripples. Two snapping turtles soon showed their backs. They were rather close to each other and then separated. I think one was chasing the other. That forced me to sit down to see if they would either climb up on a log or chase each other again, but there was no more excitement -- save from the weather. A cold front was moving through, but there was some brief, stillness under a black cloud which inspired leopard frogs from all around the pond to begin singing. When the sky brightened they stopped. The wind picked up, first coming from the right, then the left, and then the right again, and it got colder. The chill set some peepers off. On the trail to South Bay I saw a trout lily about to bloom.

There was some activity in the north cove of South Bay, but I couldn't tell if frogs or fish were responsible, since splashes were near the shore. I went home the same way I came, over the TI Park ridge, but going back I saw this well cleaned, and large bullhead head,

probably dropped by a crow, right on my path.

May 3 much rain yesterday and a cold night. By mid-afternoon it was about 50 and crystal clear with a diminishing north wind. I set out across the meadow behind the golf course, which was wet again. The deer seem to have stopped digging for elecampane roots. Also the usual complement of deer did not scamper up the ridge as I approached. Bee-flies have been hovering low to the ground all over, and I managed to get a photo of this one taking a break from all the greenery

A few more yards up the hill, I saw this butterfly which I first thought was a mourning cloak. They've been around for a few weeks. Then it looked redder than the mourning cloaks have been, but now, I think it is a mourning cloak -- reddened by the bright sun

There were few birds up on the ridge, which surprised me. Only two hawks high above made any noise. I paused on the big rock over looking the valley to try to get a photo of both ponds before the leaves cover the view

The Double Lodge Pond dam is still being tended, and for this time there was bigger lumber about, a four foot segment of an ash about two inches in diameter. Given the extent of work around this pond and up along the Big Pond dam, I think there is only one beaver. Going up to the Big Pond dam, the old thrill of seeing a huge wall of water at eye level returned. 

I sat at my old spot beside the dam, wondering how many fish would be in the pond after the low water winter and a shiner leaped an inch out of the water before my very eyes. There was a good wind raking this pond. I thought the Lost Swamp Pond might have more calm spaces, and thus some ducks, but I was wrong. There was one pair of ring-necks seemingly enjoying the chop. My tour for otter scat showed nothing new, but the beaver or beavers continue to surprise me. There is no evidence that they are living in the west end of the pond, letting two lodges stay empty, but they seem to make a great point of cutting trees at the farthest western slope of the pond. The ironwood they had been working is has another cut into it. They girdled agood size maple, I think, and gnawed into it,

and they are beginning to girdle a good size red oak that they had tasted last year. Yet all along the shore up to the dam, there are no cozy feeding stations, no scent mounds, but the dam looks tended with fresh mud. I'll have to spend a long evening here. All the ducks and geese were on the Second Swamp Pond, mallards and wood ducks certainly, and doubtless one or two other species. As I crossed the upper dam with the sun gleaming on the pond to my left I saw what I thought was a beaver turning into one of the channels toward the north shore. So as I walked down that shore, I had my camcorder cocked. The only commotion was among the geese and the few remaining mallards. I did see some beaver tasted trees, especially cherry, but I saw no beaver swim up. I followed trails up to the vernal pools and saw no beaver in there. And I saw no wakes going down the pond back to the lodge. I sat in the cedar shade at the end of one channel with a good view of the pond, and waited, and then after my fiftieth blink of my eyes, I saw two lumps of fur 15 yards in front of me, two muskrats perfectly still.

My record for stunning muskrats previous to this was about 15 seconds. This animal always carries on, shrugging and ignoring you. But not this time. They looked at me, stilled their usually rapidly chewing mouth and didn't even reveal their tails. The geese kept paddling around and uttered low grunts of appreciation. When I finally got up, I ducked under a cedar, then looked back and the muskrats were gone, completely, no wake, no sign of them for the next 3 or 4 minutes. When I got down to the lodge it was almost 5:30, so I could expect a beaver, but the wind had been at my back blowing my smell down to the lodge for the last 20 minutes, I didn't expect a beaver. I sat briefly on the rocky knoll, then slid down to take a photo of a cedar finally cut down. They seem to take strips of bark, no doubt to freshen their bedding inside the lodge.

I noticed they cut down a second elm near the end of the winter channel. I sat on that for ten minutes and was rewarded by the appearance of a suspicious beaver who seemed to know exactly where I was and went back to the lodge. Then a pair of wood ducks flew in -- the male most striking. 

And the green heron flew up out of the grasses and perched high in a dead tree. I went up and over the ridge and hid behind trees so I could see the East Trail Pond without the sun in my eyes. Only one pair of ducks here, which I find curious, but all the other birds could be accounted for: swallows high and low, two male flickers still fighting, pileated and downy woodpeckers, myrtle warblers, redwing blackbirds, and a heron. The beaver began steaming toward the lodge soon after I got there, perfectly positioned to smell me, I enjoyed the sundancing ripples.

It splashed me twice and then headed up pond not to be seen again. Crossing the dam I noticed the first massing of duck weed.

I also saw some tentative pushes of mud. The dam still leaks but this pond gets so much water there is no pressure for the beavers to patch it. There was no fresh otter scat, but the otter scent mound was still in good order. I went over the ridge down to Otter Hole Pond where nothing has touched the dam by way of repair. A good bit of raccoon traffic and the goose was off her nest on the lodge. The pond is so shallow it might be possible for a raccoon to wade out to the lodge. Nothing new at the south South Bay cove.

May 6 on the 4th I took advantage of calm winds to take the motor boat over to Picton Island and row along the old quarry. Other than some digging in turf above the rocks almost at the point, there were no signs of otters, not a hint of scat. I also didn't see any fish swimming out from the rocks, but there were some picivores about. Two heron were loath to leave the rocky shore as I rowed along

Two springs ago I found much otter scat on the rocks, but very little ever since. I did see some fish swimming out of the north end of the Narrows, but saw no otter signs along the shore there. I was also surprised not to find any flocks of ducks. Very quiet morning on the river.
A day's work in the garden and then a day of rain kept me away from the ponds until this evening. It remained cloudy and damp so I didn't take the camcorder and all the photos I got were thanks to the flash on the camera. I brought a pail, worms and fishing rod along with me, leaving them by the north South Bay cove -- all to get some bullheads. But while there was light I went up to Otter Hole Pond and ascertained that the dam still had not been repaired. The goose was back on her eggs on the beaver lodge. Judging from some turtle parts on the dam, raccoons have other things to bother. I also saw what looks like fresh otter scat

but damp weather has a way of making old scat look fresh. The dam continues to leak as before, and in my brief trip through the area saw only the pair of geese taking advantage of what pond remains. The rain is keeping the level high enough to look like a credible pond -- not just a ragged pool as Beaver Point Pond below has become. As I came down to the East Trail Pond, a beaver was climbing up on the lower mossy rock, either marking with scent or nibbling -- I think the former. Then it swam toward the dam and promptly splashed its tail. I moved down the hill and sat against the large pine. The beaver splashed again, but stayed curious, even climbing up on a log and looking over at me through the gloaming.

Then another beaver began steaming down from the upper bank lodge area. The beaver that had been splashing me angled out to greet the newcomer. They began to swim around each other and I expected the usual silent swim by, then they briefly pushed into each other. One beaver went up pond out of sight and the other swam back toward me. I am not sure if it was the same beaver, but as it continued to splash me, it swam closer to me

and finally went down to the other end of the dam. I didn't see what it did, then it swam out to the middle of the pond and splashed before disappearing into the darkness. I always find these faraway splashes curious, faraway from me that is. Here is an indication that the splashing beaver might be warning other beavers. But I always ascribe it to the accumulation of anger at my incursion, and a last insult hurled back at me. Meanwhile I noticed some otter scat next to where I was sitting, and it must be fresh because I sat in the same spot in the daylight and didn't notice scat a few days ago. Once again the scat is grayish green with big scales in it. I tried some photos of the scat and of the markings the beavers have left on the mossy rock, but relying totally on the flash the photos were somewhat strange with light reflections. I was hoping to see more beavers. Two months ago I saw five beavers here at once in the afternoon. The beaver that has been greeting me almost every time I come here must be just a year old. That it is marking and acting so officious might mean that it has become the junior member of this firm, which might mean other beavers in the colony have, as the books all suggest, moved off to other ponds. However, I should come out at dawn and take a census then. Before it got too dark I went back over the ridge, via the East Trail, and tried for bullheads. I got three bites, and found the action in the mysterious night interesting, but... fishing in the dark isn't easy. I went home via the dump enjoying the chorus frogs all the way. I was surprised by how few leopard frogs I heard, and thought I was mostly hearing the gray tree frogs now. I kept thinking I heard a few toads, but then again the noise could have been distant trucks. Once I reached the road, I was treated with a beautiful sight under one of the street lamps, a spotted salamander evidently out after the warm rain to lay eggs

In this case the flash seemed to work better, perfectly capturing the handsome brute.

May 8 I took my own advice and got up at 6:30am and headed for the East Trail Pond. The sun had been up for a good while but unless the beavers have very short hours they should be out. At the South Bay Cove I saw what could have been an otter scent mound but there was no scat, no wetness at all. Going up the East Trail I heard the pine warblers and thought I heard an abbreviated call of a rose breasted grosbeak. I got up to the high rock and found that the wind was in my favor, coming towards me, lightly. At first glance there was nothing in the pond but the usual stationary geese along the fringes, but there was much activity above it with swallows and blackbirds flitting about. Within a few minutes I saw a large ripple behind the dam and moved down to see a beaver pushing mud up along the dam. It kept diving a few feet behind the dam but must have only come up with small amounts because it did not climb far up on the dam. It didn't concentrate on any one spot, but it did spend a good a few minutes above where the otters put the hole through the dam.

The water is higher so these little patches may be working. When it left the dam it swam over to a patch of the greenest grass near the pile of granite rocks. It stayed there a few minutes and as it left, another beaver swam down toward the dam. If these two beavers met I didn't see it. I did see that the new beaver was smaller than the other. The large beaver swam behind the lodge in the middle of the pond and I didn't see it again. The small beaver mostly dove behind the dam, brought nothing to it, and, I thought, simply stared at it. In my brief experience the young beavers are not so much taught by the older as they continually tag along checking up on what they elders are doing and have done. This beaver also swam back to the lodge in the middle of the pond. I was hoping to see at least a third beaver, but no such luck. I went down to the otter latrine and not only did I not find fresh scat but the scat I saw the other night certainly looked old in the harsh light of day. I have reconciled myself to being out of the "otter zone" as I call it. I no longer know for sure where the otters are and where they are going. Simply walking around the ponds without otter expectations is not a bad thing, because there is so much else going on. Where I wanted fresh otter scat to be, a mayapple was shooting up.

The East Trail Pond still has leaks, but it always has had them and for now the water behind the dam is high.

I don't think of the Second Swamp Pond beavers as creatures of the morning and they were not out. Here is where I'll spend my next long evening. A loud redwing blackbird walking just above the water on a sunken log entertained me. Because there are so many of them, we often don't notice how commanding each one of them is, with strut and boast and tireless foraging.

There were only a few ducks on the pond, and I was perplexed by the vociferous calls of three geese, not only honking down to me but honking behind me as I went up pond. Does this mean eggs are hatching? and why three of them after me?

As I stood contemplating the geese I noticed that a small cedar on the knoll had been tasted by a beaver,

and then at the foot of the knoll I saw beaver tooth marks in a long dead gray branch.

Up where I had noticed the beaver trail into a vernal pond, I could now see major work on poplars at the other side of the vernal pool.

This is where the comb frogs are most famous, and their call must make good gnawing music for a beaver. The beavers are definitely patching the upper dam, and there was muddy water below as if they had just done it.

Their interest in this upper pond complicated my hope that they'll get back down to Otter Hole Pond. I noticed some shy spring beauties of the way to the Lost Swamp dam

I flushed some mallards as I came up to the pond -- so full and so empty, I thought. Then when I moved around to the rolling area, I saw a handsome ring-neck couple. They too flew off. I nestled under the slight shade of a small honeysuckle bush and soon noticed a myriad of insects flying around. They periodically paused on the leaves and I tried several photos

which should help me identify them. So far I'd say legs look too long for an alderfly so I think it is a type of midge. The one on the left looks like it has a long antennae, but another close up shows how short the antennae are, like a midge's

Of course, in the air they are a chaotic fuzzy blur. I checked for otter scat, but true to my new resolve I didn't simply march from old latrine to old latrine, I scanned the shore for anything moving and soon came up something dead -- a poor, beheaded painted turtle.

(Could an otter have done it? probably not! surely one would have scatted about that.) Carrion beetles were already crawling out of the shell.

I kept looking for fish fry, and saw none, only water skimmers. Then I saw a small snake still in the water.

This seemed to be the size of a worm snake, but I don't think they are found in the water. I worried that everything was dying. I reached out and touched it and it swam away to the bottom of the pond. In other years I might have seen beavers here at 8:30 am, but none today. However, at least one continues to work at the west end of the pond, leaving a log in the water and carving a maple into a juicy meal for insects. 

Over at the Big Pond there were only a few mallards. The water level is about where it should be. Rather than cross the dam, I went down to the little pool of a pond below the dam, usually a good place for frogs, even in the day. Plus, I wanted to see what might be swimming in it. The deer, however, got there first and it was all muddy and quiet. Going through the bush to Double Lodge Pond, I saw a towhee couple quietly hopping down into the grass. The beaver keeps building up Double Lodge Pond dam,

and continues foraging along the north shore. It doesn't look like it is living in the old bank lodges, but that's a hard call. I went down to the Middle Pond, finding not the usual geese, but a pair of mallards. I sat on a log to see what might materialize and soon two painted turtles pulled themselves out into the sun and then a muskrat swam down from fresh grasses. I was poised for a photo but its day must have been done because it went into its burrow in the bank. Along with the spring beauties, the violets are out, but no good photo of them today. One saxifrage

And the challenge of getting a good photo of the shad bushes, blooming every where.