Wednesday, November 30, 2016

May 17 to 22 2005

May 17 another sunny but chilly morning and I headed out to the South Bay trail at about 8:30, 3 AD (after dawn.) Down at the South Bay trail causeway there were no new otter scats, but there was a new bird in the area, a catbird, and I must say he was most melodious, and rather out in the open, though when I got the camera out to try to take a photo it flew away. At the end of the north cove of South Bay I hopped across the creek and then headed for the New Pond knoll, but some scratching in the grass stopped me short,

and I found some fresh otter scat sprayed on the mussed leaves.

I continued up to the knoll, passing a blooming trillium popping out from under the end of the ancient log bridge,

but saw nothing fresh but some new scats just beside the otter trail in the middle of the knoll. I continued on the trail to the latrine above the old dock and here again there was fresh scat lower on the slope than those left by the otters on their last visit.

These were just up from the water, and so fresh that I could clearly smell them.

So I sat for ten minutes just in case the otters were still in the marsh on the other side of the cove. I say otters, because there were certainly enough scats for two or more. I only saw two pairs of ducks. I decided not to go up to the docking rock, after all, it was quite evident that the otters had fished in South Bay. What I wanted to look for were fresh scats in the latrines by the beaver ponds. On my way to the East Trail Pond, I veered over to check out Meander Pond where the beavers had been out at 6 AD the other day. The west wind allowed me to approach the pond with a very good view. Today there were no beavers out in the morning. I sat for ten or fifteen minutes, entertained by orioles calling, and I did see a muskrat. If it lived in the large muskrat lodge on that end of the pond, it, as muskrats usually do, set off to forage way at the other end of the pond. Thicket Pond was quiet, too chilly for frogs even if they are still in a singing mood. The East Trail Pond is quite low again and filling up with duckweed. There were some clear areas of water, a wide one at the foot of the otter trail. 

I checked the mud beside the old boardwalk for tracks, nothing much of interest. And I noticed that the wind coming over the ridge was making a clearing in the duckweed, not an otter. However, in the apron of mud at the foot of the otter trail I did see what looked like some bold otter prints. Plus there was some scratched up grass just up on the trail, but no otter scats. Nor were there any up the trail. I crossed the dam, and low as the pond is, the dam is still leaking. No otter had been up the grassy slope east of the dam. Up in the woods, I paused to take a pee and saw a raccoon sacked out on the lowest limb of a large red oak with its long tail wrapped around the bottom of the limb. I walked over and got right under the critter, and its eyes appeared to be open.

I got out the camcorder and with the close-up could see its nose twitch and eyes blink a couple of times. It was probably exhausted from a night of raiding bird nests. As I walked away it manage to throw its head on the other side of the limb and watch me. 

There was a nice west wind raking across the Second Swamp Pond and no otter broke through the ripples. A yellow-throated warbler did hop through the cedar I sat behind, and when I moved down to check the top of the lodge for scats, I disturbed a garter snake. The lodge was scat free, and nothing stirred below as I walked on it. I crossed the dam and saw no scats there either. The otter trail between the Lost Swamp Pond and the upper end of the Second Swamp pond was a different story. I saw new scats and new scratchings in the grass, but none of the scats were fresh. I walked up to the and didn't see any scats on the likely latrines up there, and I think otters touring the ponds to forage would use those old latrines. The scats on the well worn otter trails are likely from either the touring male checking his territory or the nursing female leaving signs to keep other otters away. There were no geese to be seen on this side of the pond, I could hear some honking from the southeast corner which I couldn't see. I decided not to check the south shore of the pond, but on my way to the Big Pond, I did train the spyglass on the lodge in the middle of the southeast end of the pond, which has often been the favorite haunt of otters. I did see something there but it wasn't an otter. To my amazement a coyote was on the lodge with about six honking geese a safe twenty yards off in the pond. I hurried around to get a better view. The coyote nosed around the top of the lodge, but wasn't eating anything nor was any gosling down flying in the air. As I approached the edge of the pond, the coyote struck a pose, head high gazing over to the north shore. I must say, reading its body language like it was a pet dog, it seemed to be saying I wish I wasn't here, I wish I was over there.

I sat down to see what it would do, and it wasn't long before it went down to the water, eased into it without hesitation and swam to the north shore -- about 40 yards or so. Four of the geese followed it, staying about 10 yards behind, and honking. Surely this would have been the time for them to attack, but they stayed away. I didn't see the coyote reach the shore, soon enough the geese retreated and swam down pond, not one went over to check the lodge. After this excitement I didn't expect to see anything at the Big Pond, and I didn't, save that I got close to the red-winged blackbird that always guards the north end of the dam, 

until it flew away.

There may have been new otter prints in the mud heading down to South Bay but there were no fresh scats. There was, I think, yet another scent mound, further out along the line of the other scent mounds. So, I think I proved that the otters fishing in South Bay did not also tour the beaver ponds this morning. At the land, in the afternoon, I was entertained by a small porcupine swaying in the wind as it ate the buds in a small elm.

When I came back about ten minutes later, after checking the Deep Pond, it had gone. Down at the pond I was intrigued by swirls of small yellowish flying insects that also seemed to swim on water, especially when the wind gusted. It really looked like they were surfing on the ripples scudded up by the wind. Some of these gnats almost got up to me, but I couldn't begin to describe them as they all kept up a frantic motion. Up at the Third Pond, there were more of them and here three or four swallows, a flycatcher and a phoebe were eating them. The other day I noticed a half stripped log on the beaver lodge at the First Pond.

I take the evidence of so much stripping as opposed to gnawing as arising for the need for the beavers to fashion more beds because kits have been or are about to be born. One of my jobs for summer is going to be to collect the ironwood that the beavers have cut and not used, and there is a lot. It is somewhat frustrating to see the beavers begin cutting a another ironwood when logs from one they cut in the fall is lying right next to it,

not to mention several tree trunks fallen down but still attached to trunks. Another curious bit of busy work is there digging out a wallow below the dam of the main pond and the dams of two small ponds terracing back to the main pond.

Beavers simply want the comfort of being in the water even if the water provides no safety from anything larger than an insect. Meanwhile back at home, Ottoleo found this monster in his shoe, a fisher spider:

May 19 I was working at the sawing rock on our land and pulled over an ironwood branch that had been lying for several months just off the trail nearby, and a grouse popped up from the leaves. Grouse usually dart through the brush to escape; this one hardly fluttered as it found cover. Of course, she had been sitting on her eggs. I easily found the nest and saw five brown eggs.

I'm sure there are more. I showed Leslie and we moved the branch back over the nest. Within an hour the grouse was back on her nest, though hard to see.

Nearby a large bumble bee seemed to be digging a nest of its own, in the bare ground, right next to another hole,

probably made by the chipmunk that ranges in that area. As I was working, a cuckoo moved along the ridge, with many a cuckoo -- in triplets. After work I sat facing the north wind at the dam end of the beaver pond, other than one raccoon pawing the water near the lodge, most of the show was provided by the birds. Two kingbirds dove for bugs, splashing in the water one after another. Was this part of a courtship ritual? I saw a warbler, brown with a bit of yellow on the shoulder. The bird guide says that is an immature myrtle -- are any birds immature in the spring? Then walking through the woods, I saw tent caterpillars feasting on their host tree.

I went off into the swamp ponds after dinner. To face a dying north wind, I went to the Big Pond via the first ridge. To get to the dam I had to pass the line of otter scent mounds. I saw that the last made had been roughed up a bit. This one is right at the crossing of two trails so perhaps another animal did it. However, a few feet up on the crossing trail that heads to the ridge, I saw some fresh otter scat. 

So I think this is an extended otter discussion or one otter revising old chapters as it adds new ones to this spring saga. Then I sat on my perch by the dam and gazed out onto the pond. No otter to be seen. At about 1:30 BS (before sunset,) it was time for muskrats. One came out of the grasses at the north end of the dam, swimming rather fast. This rat looked a little different and with the spyglass I could see why. Its fur above the water line was dry. Muskrats often swim on the surface but usually dive into a burrow on the shore. This one seemed to go from land to land. There appeared to be the same kind of gnat or midge here that I had seen on our land. Five swallows enjoyed them, and briefly a bluejay flew out over the pond like it wanted to join them. Three terns flew very high over the pond. I heard the white throated sparrow again; a yellow warbler came by and once again the song sparrow in the grass almost stayed still long enough for a photo. Of course I was waiting for beavers and as I did began noticing that there was not one stripped stick on or near the beaver lodge. Then a beaver swam out into the pond. At first it seemed to be collecting the pollen on the surface of the pond; then it dove, perhaps for roots, but rather soon it swam all the way up pond and out of sight.

Of course, I hoped it would come and dicker with the dam. In ten minutes another beaver came out, and this one also swam up pond and out of sight. All this occurred at about 1 BS, an hour before sunset. I waited another ten minutes and then headed across the pond on the dam. I did see fresh mud pushed up by a beaver, and then I looked up and another beaver surfaced in front of the lodge. I quickly went back to my perch, to see if it would come to the dam, but it too swam up pond and out of sight. I waited another ten minutes and then crossed the dam again. This time I was almost to the north shore of the pond, when another beaver surfaced. Assuming it saw me -- the sun was setting behind my back, I thought it would surely come over to the dam, but it too swam up pond. I saw a dead bullhead floating behind the dam, not eaten. Knowing how shallow this pond was almost all winter, I am impressed that a bullhead that size, about 8 inches, recently flourished.

On my way to the Lost Swamp Pond, I couldn't help but notice a deer leg, moved out from the carcass along the east-west trail and placed right where that trail crossed the north-south trail.

Strange. After the unidirectional beaver display at the Big Pond, I was pleased to see wakes going off in every direction at the Lost Swamp Pond. At least three of them were made by beavers; one by the dam, one heading up pond to the southeast and one in the northeast section of the pond. The geese and goslings crossed from shore to shore; a pair of mallards went up pond and there were at least three muskrats about.

I noticed that the pond seemed lower. We haven't had much rain lately but I went up to the dam to make sure there was no new leak there. I passed much goose poop, but no fresh otter scats -- though it was a bit dark to look for them. The dam didn't seem to be leaking much, so the pond is low from the lack of rain. Meanwhile there were three beavers out in the Upper Second Swamp Pond and as I came down from the Lost Swamp Pond dam, a beaver in the far northwest corner of the pond below slapped its tail. I was well down wind, and the sun had just gone down. I think it was certainly me it splashed at, and it slapped its tail again, because it swam over to the south end of the dam to greet me as I came down. I get so cocky about limiting the ability of beavers to sense me due to the direction of the wind, and then one beaver picks me out from over 50 yards away and down wind. The beaver turned back from our meeting,

and didn't slap its tail again. Another beaver in the middle of the pond did that. As I turned to go down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond I heard loud splashing, and saw a half dozen deer running from the shallows of the pond, up into the woods. I didn't take my usual shortcut home but went down to the South Bay cove where I've been seeing fresh otter scats. It was too dark to look for scat, but I had a hunch that the otters might be there. At first glance the water seemed calm -- the wind was just about still, but I still walked up to the latrine above the old dock. As I did I saw some ripples along the north shore of the pond, patterned like an otter was making them, and sure enough I saw one otter diving and swimming toward me. I took a photo in case the flash might capture some of the otter -- it didn't, and at the flash it periscoped up, high, then slipped back down in the water and disappeared. Then I heard a splash further down in the cove and I checked that out but it was probably a fish. I went back to my original vantage point, scanning the bay, and I think I was seeing ripples and an otter's body in the area off from the rock on the south shore of the cove, that otters often like to forage near. But it was too dark to be sure. I was quite pleased that I followed my hunch, but a bit surprised that I only saw one otter, and a small one at that; the perhaps the one year old that I first saw here last June when it was a pup. Only one or two peepers going, and I heard a coyote and a bittern.
May 22 playing another hunch I hiked to the end of South Bay as the sun was almost down. The wind coming out of the northeast was not favorable but I thought if I sat on the south shore of the north cove, I might see the otter work the north shore, like I did two nights ago. That it was Saturday night presented another problem, fishermen, but the two boats out were both in the south cove. So I sat under the big red oak on the little mossy knoll and waited. Just about dark, I saw something swim across the cove to the old dock. That something seemed big enough to be an otter, but it didn't dive and didn't go up on shore. It was either a muskrat or an otter, and I assume it was the former. I also heard and saw several loud splashes in the cove. I assume the spawning carp are moving in. I left the knoll before it was too dark and sat briefly above the old dock. I saw some more carp-like splashes. The wind roiled the water of most of the bay so it was impossible to study ripples that might have been made by otters, beavers, or muskrats. I heard the very truncated call of the whip-poor-will from the beaver ponds. As I headed for home I heard a brief coyote yip. Coming up the trail along the south shore of the bay, I saw a white log on the trail and as I approached it, it approached me. Then I caught a faint whiff of the skunk and as I turned back so did it. I headed up on the ridge a bit trying to get past it or give it ample space to continue down the trail. When I came back down to the trail, I didn't see it on the trail but as I walked along I saw it down closer to the water. It had tried to avoid me as much as I tried to avoid it. I bid it goodnight and walked past it, and it stirred, I assume, heading back to the trail. Skunks bring out the gentleman in the careful hiker.
Today was cold, with legions of low gray clouds, but precious little rain. A little after 3pm I headed to South Bay for my usual check of the otter latrines and beaver ponds. The dominating singers in the afternoon, even on such a cold day, are the orioles. But down at the South Bay causeway, I heard and saw the catbird again, low in the bushes, just above eye level. The otter seems to have paused in its scent-mound-making mania. I saw new scats next to digging not mound building. There was an array of scats with one fresher than the others.

Plus this activity is in the middle of the little causeway, not up where the scent mounds are or were. Some of the old scent mounds looked raked over. I don't know what this means, but I form the great notion that the otter is moving on to another phase. And for the first time on the New Pond knoll, I found a scat just over the ridge, overlooking the New Pond.

The new scats were more greenish brown then the old,

not like the black scats at the causeway. There was no new activity down by the creek and bridge -- otter activity that is. The lone trillium that I saw there the other day has been eaten, but down on the bank closer the stream two more trillium have bloomed. Years ago there were larger spreads of trillium, then for years there were none and we blamed the deer. So I make a note of every stray blossom I see wondering if it portends a return to old days. I sat a bit above the New Pond but no birds, muskrats nor turtles were to be seen. I checked the latrine above the old dock and after positing the end of scent mound making for the season, there was one high above the dock almost at the trail.

Indeed it was about at the spot where I stood looking at the otter a few nights ago. Below the scent mound there were some scats, quite flattened, perhaps by me as I walked there last night. Over the years I've noticed otters going out of the way to scat where I had been standing when I saw them, though they don't make practice of it, certainly happens enough not to be accidental. I paid a bit more attention to the hole below the old dock

and stuck my camera in to see what it might look like down there.

It's possible that the otter dens there, though I doubt it, with that secluded marsh just across the cove. Then I pressed on down the bay to continue this strange dialogue with an otter or otters. There was a new scent mound at the docking rock -- this time on the river side of the large log lying on the ridge, but the scats on the scent mound were hard, so this was old news. I continued up to Audubon Pond, a trip the otters never seem to make except late in the fall or winter, and sure enough all dark smudge around the pond were goose poops or beaver markings. Although we have not had much rain this pond remains high which is credit to the patching on the drain that the beavers did. On the embankment slope across from the drain was a considerable amount of mud left by marking beavers. I continued on down the trail back to South Bay to check the otter latrine high above the bay. As I approached, the green grass looked so high that I expected not to see recent otter signs, but the tall green grass only made the new scent mounds

stand out even more.

I sat briefly to ponder the meaning of this latrine, and tried to come up with some strategic reason why otters should mark up here. Below there is the broadest expanse of water from the island to the US mainland and behind there are the highest ridges in this neck of the island. If otters set beacon lights to mark their way, this would be a good place for one. The latrines I monitor on Picton and Murray islands are also visually prominent, but the otters are not leaving anything that can be seen at any distance, nor smelled since I imagine the odor from the marking would dissipate quickly over the expanse of water below the latrine. However, otters seem to like to gain the high ground so perhaps it makes sense to mark at these three latrines that are generally situated on the way up to high ground. However, in the winter I've only seen an otter trail going up to the high ground from this point once. Meanwhile, down along the shore, a beaver is trimming branches shooting up from a willow collapsing down on the water.

Then I went back to Audubon Pond to continue a walk around. This most boring of ponds, it's man-made, always has interesting beaver work on its shore because, I think, beaver here tend to get more desperate than those in beaver-made ponds. First there were fresh gnaw marks on the old gray cuts on the huge oak girdled two years ago.

Then there was gnawing deeper than I have ever seen in a cut ash girdled to reveal wrinkles.

Then a little further on there was fresh gnawing on a shag-bark hickory.

(The gnawing hardly registers on a photo and the budding is beautiful.) The beavers have also reoccupied the bank lodge on this west shore of the pond -- unused for a year or so.

The "improvements" at the bench apparently still intimidate the beavers. No sign they have been back to the site of their old bank lodge, but there is goose poop all around. The geese were quite noisy today, their ire directed at me, but I didn't see any goslings. Out in the cache of the beaver lodge in the pond some of the soaking branches have sprouted leaves. As I headed out of the pond, I saw three deer, one small and two larger, and their coats were at their dingiest, the color of a sparrow just up from a dust bath. A doe peed in front of me

and then they all ran off

-- in a few weeks there coats will be so beautiful. As I crossed the bridge below the Shortcut Trail Pond dam, I saw a ball of fur on the trail that looked like it came from a rabbit, and they are rarely seen on the island, especially this end of it. Then as I approached Meander Pond I saw a fox looking at me, briefly, and then disappearing into the woods. Once again as I approached this pond, the wind was in my face, and when I noticed ripples in the pond going against the wind, I sat down under a tree to what might materialize. I began to theorize that the wind was undulating and hitting the pond in a way to make some ripples go against the wind, then a beaver surfaced from behind a clump of grass and with stick in mouth swam back on the circuitous route back to the lodge (this is Meander Pond after all.) Then a muskrat popped out of the nearby muskrat lodge, and then a smaller beaver swam back toward where I was sitting, and put on a good show of gnawing. It nibbled a few sticks but also some of the crooks of a branch as well as the knobby end. I waited awhile for another beaver to come back but none did. I eased my way around the pond, noticing that the beavers are digging the canals deeper,

then crossing the back dam, and this didn't alarm the beaver.

Not until I got into the wind did it swim back to the lodge. Despite it being almost empty, I still approach the East Trail Pond as if it was a wide expanse. Perhaps it is good to keep up old habits until I'm convinced the otters have given up their old habit of visiting this pond. Today the trail in the mud at the foot of the otter trail more convincingly said that otters had been through.

The nearby scent mound seemed a bit rearranged, and up at the rolling area behind the large pine, I saw new, but not fresh scat.

So an otter still comes to this pond. But once again there was no sign of an otter being along the Second Swamp Pond dam which is surprising given that for the last year and a half this has probably been the dam with the most otter activity. However, up at the otter trail way up at the upper end of the pond, there were fresh scats -- a nice stringy black one on the large log across the trail,

and down in the mud there were some bold otter prints.

Up on the trail on the flat between the two large ponds there was more digging in the leaves 

and some new scat. Several years ago I heard otter screeching near this upper pond and since then suspected that this was one of the favorite natal ponds used by otters. Perhaps I should explore around the vernal ponds in the woods on the north shore of the pond. Going up to the Lost Swamp Pond I waded into some sprouting mayapples and took the precaution of taking a photo below the fold, and the automatic focus behaved.

This was not the night to sit by the Lost Swamp or Big ponds, the wind was cold, and save for the lap of shivering waves, nothing was moving in the ponds, not even geese. At least one tern was looking for dinner however. Then there is that deep cut in a white oak

that I always seem to see just about dinner time, and today I was hungry, so I hurried home, pausing long enough to see that otters had not made a new scent mound next to the Big Pond dam.