Friday, January 31, 2014

May 21 to 27, 2003

May 21 a front went through last night with some steady rain, bright, sunny and brisk in the morning. The wind was from the north which I fancy is an otter wind, meaning that if I sit up on the rock overlooking the East Trail Pond, the otters won't smell me. I heard a warbling vireo on the TI Park ridge. I was hoping that the rain would energize otters to freshen their marks, but there was nothing new along the South Bay cove. With the wind in my face I did get close to a spindly drear brown deer munching grass along the trail who kept looking back at me as it went into the woods.

Then I passed a large slug, enjoying the damp.

Going up the East Trail I paused to listen to the birds and saw one warbling bird but couldn't get the scope on it. As I got closer to the East Trail Pond, I heard the orioles. The wind at the pond was a bit much. I watched for ten minutes or so and then decided to tour the shore and get out of the wind. Grass in one otter rolling area was matted down, but no scat fresh or old. And there was nothing new at their latrine by the dam. As far as scatting goes, otters are dropping by every three or four days. I decided to fancy that I knew what the otters were doing and went over the ridge and down to the old stump flanked by loose beaver cut logs that I suspected was a den for the otters last year.

I didn't see any scat but thought I briefly smelled some. I did get warm and enjoyed the orioles singing above me and sometimes swiftly flying in front of me. I think there were three male orioles at least around me. I admired the central position of this modest den. If I stood up I could see lower Otter Hole Pond to my right.

In front of me was the circular central portion of the pond, now connected to the rest of the pond by the creek. One year I did find otter scat around it in the summer -- a perfect place to teach young otters to swim. I walked over there and sat pondering it.

Along with one painted turtle, the birds put on the show: a pair of mallards flew in swallows, including a few barn swallows, black birds, redwing black birds, robins, and one killdeer all in constant motion. Then I walked up toward the Second Swamp Pond. I first tried to cross the dam of what I call upper Otter Hole Pond, which is small, and the beavers have been tending the dam, but it was much too soggy on the dam and below it.

So I retreated and then noticed that the old pool below the Second Swamp Pond, which once had a beaver lodge in it, was back in operation. The beavers were cutting trees, and as I tried to cross the Second Swamp Pond dam I saw that they were fashioning a canal going down from the dam to the small pool.

The big dams and huge ponds are wonders, but the way beavers make these small comforts is just as wonderful. I hope they'll eventually refashion Otter Hole Pond dam. Up on the north slope of the Lost Swamp Pond I saw a trail coming up from the pond through the grass leading to an old scent mound. This raised my hopes that an otter had been through checking things but there was no fresh scat to be seen. I did see the muskrat swim into its bank burrow, so I moved up closer and waited. Once again what looks to me to be a bigger muskrat came out, but soon noticed me and dove back into the hole with a flourish of the tail. Muskrats can see better than beavers -- the wind was in my face. As I went through the woods towards the Big Pond I noticed a dozen or more blue needle damsel flies hovering over the dry leaves

I've noticed this before with larger dragon flies. Is it because it is easier to get insects without grass in the way. The Big Pond dam is still easy to cross though getting wetter below. I noticed one half stripped stick -- evidence of a beaver's moderation.

I noticed that the geese in the Double Lodge Pond had goslings. I tried to sneak through the bush and get a close up of them, Of course they heard me and moved off but in the thick of it I saw a small tree cut by a beaver hung up by the other trees.

I also noticed a pile of small stripped sticks beside the stump of the tree. Here is another comfortable place for a beaver. If a small shady pool is not available why not a small thicket?

May 23 I headed to the East Trail Pond on a cool, mostly cloudy morning, to see if there might be fresh signs that otters have been around. The garlic mustard plant with its tiny white flowers is all over the TIP ridge, but peters out in the State Park. I do not get as upset about this invader as most people do, and keep an eye on it to see what might find it useful. I bent down to investigate a bee or fly that seemed to be riveted to one blossom and was surprised to find a doubledecker fly

They didn't flinch as I nosed about frustrated at getting a good close-up due to the wind. The common terns were out over South Bay and the herons fled well before I got near them. The cool weather seemed to tone the birds down some, though I did hear a pine warbler so close that I kept looking up to see him. I suppose I should check for otter scat first when I get to a pond, but my style is to sit on the rock overlooking the pond before I check to see if there's much of a chance for an otter to appear. Anything to prolong my stay at a pond even if waiting for an otter is probably in vain. I did get to see the geese. The pair with goslings was quiet and stately in their procession along the far shore of the pond. The pair without was quite noisy and I couldn't be sure if they were honking at each other or the family. They skimmed the pollen off the surface of the pond, while the parents seemed only interested in seeing that their charges got food. The only other birds as active as usual were the swallows. Then I went down to the dam and first paused over a recent beaver meal -- a twig of white pine. These beavers definitely have a taste for it, in all seasons. No sign of otters in the usual places, which was disappointing. The wind seemed favorable for sitting over the Second Swamp Pond lodge so I headed in that direction. While there didn't seem to be any new beaver work behind the lodge, I did notice some nuances of their past work -- all in my effort to discern the tastes of beavers. Right next to a large poplar that they brought down to the ground, and left largely unstripped, they began girdling a standing red oak.

I also checked to see if they cut any trees near or in the large vernal pool to the left as I faced the pond and knoll behind the lodge.

No sign at all that they used this pool. I might rhapsodize on how beavers like quiet secluded pools, but they don't always use them. I went over the knoll and sat under a cedar next to the pond. That didn't fool the geese who started honking. I didn't see any goslings. A handsome yellow throat flew into the honeysuckle bush in front of me, and was gone before I got the camera out. I walked slowly up the north shore of the pond to see what paths the beavers might be using. They continue to cruise through another, smaller, vernal pool, and typically, are unsuccessful getting the big trees down. They did cut a huge log out of one poplar, cutting it down a notch but still leaving it hung up.

It looks like they even tried to move the log. They did successfully take out some small trees. Speaking of beaver tastes, I noticed that they had left a small, very leafy basswood standing on the knoll. When this colony was in the New Pond downstream, the beavers did cut down some small basswoods. Usually I continue on to the Lost Swamp Pond, but since the beavers had lured me into the woods, I took the opportunity to continue in and over the small ridge and check out the series of ponds I generally just call the Third Pond. In the deeper woods I heard a wood thrush and then I saw fresh beaver work, especially just beyond a pool of water not really connected to the series of ponds.

They cut down some poplars and were girdling red oak. There were strips peeled off the poplar trunk

and experts say such strips are used for bedding so I looked around for a lodge, but other than one small stripped stick there was no sign the beavers used the pool. My beaver investigations were interrupted by a small porcupine coming down a huge branch of a huge but stubby oak that had a huge open invitation to climb down inside its trunk.

I hurried to get photos and video because it looked like it would climb down into the split open trunk. Instead it straddled itself awkwardly over the hole, obviously uncertain whether it would be better to go up or down, if I made a play for it.

Of course, I didn't attack, though I did see the smooth underbelly where any attack best be made, and left it heading up, awkwardly. I soon noticed the absence of any beaver made paths to this work, and little sign of activity in the larger pond nearby, which is in the series of ponds. Indeed the pond was shallow. So I think the work I was seeing had been done a month or two ago before the grass sprouted. There was a modicum of work around the three small ponds going back to the East Trail Pond.

I was detoured briefly by a pileated woodpecker who was whaling into a rotten stump.

It was oblivious to my sneaking up and seemed to delight in tossing the rotten wood back as if it knew exactly where the insects were and there was no necessity to carefully peck through the rot. I continued around the East Trail Pond, going along its east shore and caught the goose family on the old boardwalk that once went through the pond

They made a pretty good escape save that the runt of the litter had trouble getting over a stick in the water. I lingered as I went up on the ridge overlooking the upper East Trail Pond but I saw no mammalian, nor reptilian activity below. Going back along the South Bay coves, I saw yellow warblers and a goldfinch.

May 25 we had drenching rain yesterday. This morning it appeared to have stopped but when I reached the South Bay cove it was raining again. The water was rushing out of the first creek and an otter or two seems to have been excited by it because there were two generous scats on the trail.

and I could see where the otter had moved up through the grass from the dead cattails on the margins of South Bay.

I took the short-cut over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond and sat on the downed oak atop my perch, more to defog my glasses than to see anything in the pond. The rain continued so I decided to move on to the East Trail Pond where the trees provided more cover. The water was rushing through Otter Hole Pond dam, but there appeared to be some small dollops of fresh mud. Perhaps a beaver is getting interested in this dam. There were also two geese in the way on the dam but no goslings joined them as they swam off. The ground everywhere was soggy, not the best conditions for looking for scat. After I got up on the ridge I moved along to pick up the usual otter trail and there at the high point as the trail went over the ridge was a handsome scent mound crowned with scat.

This mound of leaves and sticks scruffed up on a clump of grass just off the trail was perfectly placed to claim both ponds. The more I thought about it, I had this idea: perhaps the otter placed it at such a relatively level place to prevents its being washed away by the rain. After taking many photos at all angles, 

I moved down the trail to the East Trial Pond dam and was surprised to find no fresh scat there. I sat under the tall pine tree which afforded excellent protection from the continuing shower. I sat waiting for otters but none appeared, and the shower subdued all but the singing of the birds. I checked the mossy rock for scat, none there, and then took a photo of the ridge where the scat was.

Of course, I went up and over again to check the other end of the trail. I fancied I could see the trail the otter made, but found no scats down by the edge of the creek. I crossed there and went up to the Second Swamp Pond, going up on the knoll mainly because it was drier. No activity in the rain there either, and I moved along the north shore rapidly getting shoes so wet that I slogged across the almost flooded upper dam. The rain stopped as I came up to the Lost Swamp Pond and I began looking for scat there. There was none at the dam nor rolling area and what I saw at the foot of the north shore slope looked like it could have been old scat vivified by the rain. Still, it looked like an otter trail through the grass and I followed it. At the top of the trail between the Lost Swamp and Second Swamp Pond there were several scats. Instead of making a scent mound the otter or otters covered a prominent bump of moss with scat.

So generous was the scat that I don't think one otter could have done it. Again I took a photo showing the view toward the two ponds, first the Lost Swamp and then the Second Swamp:

One year I think the otters used the upper end of the Second Swamp Pond to raise young, but then the pond was much shallower and the upper end a discrete pool. The Big Pond dam is no longer easy to cross. Fortunately I had given up on keeping my feet dry. There were several streams of water going over the dam, especially at the principal part of the dam flooding the creek below.

I looked closely and made sure that the winter hole through the base of the dam had not reopened. I also noticed the muskrat work -- some blue flag iris plants were cut.

There was no scat in the usual places along this dam. Down in the pond below I saw geese and goslings,

then when I crossed the other small creek draining into that pond, I saw another family with goslings in the grass of the dam -- just two or three goslings as best I could tell. I went up the slope toward the TI Park trail and heard a scarlet tanager above me in the trees, and then saw it.

I was sure a damp day would bring one down so I could easily see it. While I am sure the otters are back, I'm not sure exactly where they are since all the scats were in places of transition, not in the usual comfort zones by the edges of the ponds. On my next trip I'll see where they are staying, and perhaps see an otter at long last. Still more rain when I got home.

May 27 and more rain the next day, probably around three inches total for two days. This morning it was foggy which kept me off the river, but I needed to retrace my last route to see if the otter or otters stayed on one pond, or made another circuit. Going over the TI Park ridge the warbling vireo keeps up its slow song. Coming to the little causeway over the creek into South Bay, a heron flew off, rather slowly, grudgingly, and I could hear the water rushing down from the ponds. I soon saw why the heron was loath to go. There were fish parts on the rocks behind the causeway. With the rising water in the river meeting the rushing water in the swamps, fish were trying to swim upstream. Then a little beyond the last spread of scat were larger and looser smears.

I also tried to discern a crossing path through the grass and bushes, but couldn't.

The scats are in the left foreground where there is a little muss in the grass. But there were no sign of the otter's scratching grass and piling it up. I kept on the South Bay trail curious to see if any fish would be running up the other creek, an easier route, I think, than going up the pipe through the causeway. And sure enough I found a six inch sunny flat in a patch of wet grass next to the torrent.

After a few photos, I kicked it back in the stream and it wisely swam down to South Bay. I continued around the trail to get a better view of the shallow reaches of the bay, then turned to go back to the East Trail Pond, fancying that an otter was more likely to be there in the mid-morning rather than out in South Bay. The East Trail Pond was still, evenly covered with duck weed save for just behind the dam and a trail leading up to the active beaver bank lodge. I probably just missed some beavers who might have lingered longer in the pond this foggy morning. The stillness didn't inspire patience, and I was curious to see if there was evidence that an otter stayed in the pond for the last two days. However, there were no fresh scats on the mossy rock or at the foot of the trail, where scatting had been de riguer for any otter in the pond for some months. I walked up and over the trail, and not far from the scent mound of two days ago there were fresh scats in an area severely scratched up with dead grass and turf tufted up all over.

So I was being entertained by touring, not necessarily resident otters. Crossing the dam was a chore thanks to the flood brimming and spilling over it, and on the other side of the pond the impressions in the wet grass were probably made by geese. I sat for a few minutes -- but nothing much happened.

I went to the Second Swamp Pond, saw a large coyote scat up on the ridge, but not much was happening there either. As I started up the north shore, my shoes were relatively dry but by the time I reached the little upper dam, they were rather wet, and soon soaked. Something had visited the shore of the pond behind the little dam, flattened grass and snapped some emerging milkweeds.

The strokes were too broad to be the work of muskrats, and a half gnawed stick pointed to a beaver having made the impression. Looking back after I crossed the dam, I got a nice photo.

As I crossed the dam I noticed that a heron flew into the little pond just below the Lost Swamp Pond dam. As I moved up to the dam, I had my camera ready and got a somewhat interesting photo of the heron's wings cocked up for the first great stroke toward flight

There were geese and goslings on top of the rock by the lodge, but they saw me before the heron and moved off sooner. I walked slowly along the shore of the pond, checking the usual otter latrines, and just as at the East Trail Pond, most of the fresh scat was near where the otter scatted the other day along the trail over to the Second Pond. There was one fresh scat half way up the north slope. But just prior to that investigation, two pileated woodpeckers began jockeying for position jumping from stump to logs and briefly lighting low on some tree trunks.

They vocalized in a pleasant way when they got close. I happened to notice this just as I was passing the muskrat burrow and while I was videoing the woodpeckers, a muskrat thrashed the water behind me and disappeared. The flicker nesting nearby was also active and I got close to a kingbird. I decided to go down to Otter Hole Pond, curious to see if otters scatted on the dam, and to see if the hint of beaver mud work I saw two days ago had matured into a repair job. On the way there, in the moist litter by the edge of the woods I saw this small white flower 

As I approached Otter Hole Pond, the geese started honking and when I got there they honked even more. No goslings on this pond, though. It didn't seem that any beavers visited the dam and the water gushed through a high hole in the dam.

To see this touring otter or otters, I'll have to try to get to the ponds earlier.