If it was awake, it would be hanging on as it worked. Then I was surprised to see some hepatica blooming in the leaves on the way to the bog under the hemlocks.
I think of this area as too shady for flowers. I studied the waters of the bog and could see a few mosquitoes flying over it. I did expect to see flowers on the rocky slope going down to the central valley and I did, a patch of trillium almost in bloom.
I also saw a nice owl pellet under a large pine with nice vole jaws. Owls seem to be the best bone processors around especially for delicate bones.
In the flat leading to a pool of water I scared a sunning snake, large reddish green with yellow stripes, like a garter snake but larger and different colors. It fled into a pool.
The pools don't seem quite as extensive as in other springs. There was still some ice in the pool along the boundary of our land. I walked up the valley past a modicum of hepatica, and got more excited about the owl pellets. One had a nice vole, I assume, skull, showing the upper teeth, and the image below is many times enlarged.
Then I headed up to check on the turtles. I saw one out on the shore and just as I stepped up to take a photo it scrambled into the water. One of the turtles here is placid, the other jumpy. The placid one was not to be seen today. I sat by the pool of water and saw a handsome giant beetle swimming. No caddisfly larva yet, and then I dozed off. Nice napping weather and no mosquitoes or black flies. While relaxing I heard a caw and then heard a crow's wings, followed by the escape of a small hawk from a pine above the pool. I'm surprised that a hawk would let itself be pushed around by one crow. I headed up and back to the apple trees, and noticed that the birches bunched in that moist ground seemed to have tipped over more.
I continued down to where the beavers took out a good bit of poplar last year. There was no fresh work there yet, and still a bit of poplar to harvest. This is a couple hundred yards from their pond and a small ridge to cross to get to it. Going back up the ridge I passed an exquisite patch of bloodroot nestled in a rock cliff.
The big patch up on the ridge did not seem too lush but the sun was going down. I got to the beaver pond at about 6:15 and thought the wind favorable to watching, but the first beaver that came out, turned down wind and started gnawing on a floating stick at the far end of the pond. The wind swirled enough to blow my stink its way and it slapped its tail and swam down twice to investigate me, before going back into the little bank lodge at the far end of the pond. I moved down to the far end of the pond to get out of the wind. I waited almost a half hour for the next beaver to appear and it simply swam to a pile of logs, got a small one and took it back into the lodge. I could hear it gnawing on it. The beavers seemed to have reverted to their usual relaxed ways, though I had a suspicion that they knew I was still around. Twice something swam out of the lodge and then swam back in without surfacing. Finally a beaver came out that appeared to be setting out for an evening's work. It went to the pile of sticks roughly above the old bank that once separated the two ponds, did some gnawing and then swam into the Teepee Pond, where I lost it. Then another beaver swam under the pond without surfacing. Then I noticed a beaver, a large one, swimming up from the far end of the pond, I assume the beaver I had seen going into the pond. Then just as it came into the upper pond, two beavers surfaced, a small one and a larger one. Then the beaver swimming into the area slapped its tail and dove into the lodge. The other two beavers stayed on the surface sniffing at me, then the larger slapped and dove, and the smaller remained, coming quite close to me,
and then another small beaver popped out in the pond evidently coming out of the burrow in the bank across from the lodge. It did not swim quite as closely to me, then it slapped its tail and dove, leaving the other little beaver. Only when I walked away, it was getting cold, did it slap its tail and dive. So, while I prefer seeing beavers undisturbed by my presence, I at least got a good look at the colony. All the while the peepers were going, warming up to their excitement.
April 18 we worked most of the day at the land, digging the garden. As I picked up one clump of grass to shake out the dirt, a tiny frog, a spring peeper, jumped out. After trying to photograph it,
we took it up to some moist moss near the ridges. After lunch I went up to the turtle bog to see what the turtles were up to. For the first time since we've seen them this spring there was no sign of them. I eased down on the moss, portions still damp, next to the water to see what else I might see. No caddisfly larva and no giant beetles. Plenty of boatmen and the red bugs. Then I saw a flying insect that, while on the surface of the water, reared up several times. When I got the camcorder out it stopped. I'll check the video to see if I can identify it. I also saw a more substantial and more colorful water strider.
The beavers are cutting more ironwood around the First Pond, just behind the lodge.
This goes against my theory that in the first flush of spring when ponds are at their biggest, that beavers go as far off as they dare to cut trees. Meanwhile the stumps of the ironwood they cut in the spring are oozing with that orange slime I've noticed before.
April 19 this morning, facing a calm river, I headed off in the boat to check the otter latrines. As I sped over the water -- since I was the only boat on the river, I was the fastest, I kept flushing pairs of buffleheads, seemingly evenly dispersed over the river. I went back into the bay where the bank beaver lodge is, and first checked the sometime otter latrine on the rocks further down in the bay. Some grass looked worked over so I got out of the boat, but I only found one old otter scat. I rowed up to the lodge and couldn't be sure there was any new gnawing on the downed tree.
I did see two stripped sticks in the water next to the lodge, but they could have been blown in by the wind. The lodge looked unused.
I motored up to the point, slowing down when I saw a seagull swoop down to attack a male bufflehead. The pair of buffleheads flew off. Then I slowed down to scope some Dutchman's britches growing on a ledge of grass under some rocks. I got out on the point to look around much to the consternation of two geese who flew off into the water and swam off the point honking at me. I found one new scat, quite a smear,
higher up on the grass.
Then I checked the rock at Murray Island. I was hoping there would be a fresh scat, but all I found were hard. Nothing struck me as new. This scat also had the yellow brown seeds in it. I could easily crush these remains, so likely not a seed, but fish eggs. Heading for the Narrows, I saw a cormorant. I got out on the rock at the Narrows and found no new scats there. And there was nothing new at the docking rock, at least from the otters. There was a long skinny branch cut by a beaver half in the water.
I made a brief check of Audubon Pond, and there was no scat on the embankment and, as far as I could see, no trees freshly cut.
At about 3 pm I went out with Ottoleo to show him the East Trail Pond. We hurried over the TI Park ridge, along the South Bay trail and up the East Trail. I checked for otter scat at the usual latrines but found none. Then we got up and over to the East Trail Pond. Much of the mud is now hard enough to walk on but it was more fun to balance on tree trunks rotting in the mud. Everywhere one looks, one expects to find treasures, but the only relief from mud and rotting grass were snail shells. As I crossed the channel of water, three feet wide and flowing swiftly,
I saw a pollywog swimming upstream.
The channel comes from a wider pool but the pool is mostly mud -- a delta you might say that reforms into a stream.
But perhaps a pollywog might do well there. We made our way out to the beaver lodge,
and technically it was high and dry, but the sense I got was that it was floating on sticks. Not only were there logs all around it but slopes of smaller sticks.
The lodge itself, which hasn't been used by a beaver in two years, was open to view, though I couldn't get my hand in so I could get a photo of the spacious penthouse. There were old otter scats on top. There is a channel of water running by the lodge, but rather lazily. Until the dam is patched this won't be usable by any mammal that wants to be near water. Since there's no grass yet, I doubt if a groundhog will move in, like one did in Otter Hole Pond lodge. I also checked the stumps out in the pond which always seemed to attract otters.
I thought they might den there, but today I found no evidence of that, like cushy grass or old bullhead bones. Meanwhile down behind the dam the painted turtles were six in a row on a log coming out of the water. As I sat pondering all this the surface of the water nippled and rippled frequently. As I crossed the dam, the pollywogs dove for deeper cover and only two of six turtles remained on the log, as usual, the smaller ones.
A dying pond is always alive. Rather than check the Second Swamp Pond dam as usual, I headed up along the Third Ponds, just in case a beaver moved up there. I doubted it because it is at the end of the watershed. The last of the ponds had enough water for geese and ducks,
and I saw some recent beaver-like gnawing at the base of a tree.
I scanned the dam, pond and shore for evidence of more beaver work but found none. However, there was an evidence trail through the middle of the pond, which the geese could account for, but...
I should have gone over to the next watershed to see if beavers were over there. I went through the woods down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond, and sat long enough to see and hear a kingfisher working the Second Swamp Pond. I crossed the dam and every foot showed the beavers' repair work and here and there their spring repasts -- tender green shoots.
The old spillover which had been so precarious to cross last year was now a firm bridge.
The portion of the dam that washed away in the winter is now the weak point. No ducks on the Lost Swamp Pond, only noisy geese. Every lodge has a nesting goose and then here at least there was a noisy crowd of contenders, seemingly in pairs, an angry sort, when one moved away from me, it crossed a log lined with painted turtles sending them into the water. There were two muskrats on logs in the middle of the pond. One swam over to the other, got up on the log right next to it, and perhaps stole what it was nibbling. The other muskrat swam away to another log. Later they got on the same log but apart from each other. At the same time I saw a muskrat up on the grass above the bank lodge on the south shore, nothing green there, and it went back into the lodge, I think. No osprey today. I headed home via the Big Pond dam and had to stop as I approached as there was a bunch of ducks, including mergansers, buffleheads, ring necked, and mallards. As I approached they swam away en masse
save for the buffleheads. The beavers have been working on the dam and they firmed up the major repair with some heavy logs.
Of course, all the way I was looking for otter scat but found none. So I think the lone one year old otter has continued the pattern taught to it by its mother, of staying in the ponds about one week out of three or four. I will have to poke around the South Bay marsh, the next likely place for the otter to be.
After dinner we went to our land and adjusting to the brisk west wind, I approached the first pond from the poplars east of the pond. The beavers were not out when I got there so I eased down next to and half under the bushy midsize pine, and waited, entertained by a growing chorus of peepers. Soon enough a good size beaver came out and didn't notice me as it swam down to the far end of the pond. Then a little beaver came out, both from the auxiliary lodge just to my left, and it didn't notice me as it nosed along the bank near the burrows and fresh pile of sticks. I had gotten a good start on a beaver census, but the peepers lulled me to sleep! So I lost 5 to 10 minutes of observation time. Then like the other time, just when it got dark, four beavers seemed out and about. One brought a stick over from the pile nearby and dove with it into the auxiliary lodge. As it approached I saw two beavers cross behind it just beyond the bar of land that once was between the two ponds. Judging from the video one beaver had a branch, and soon enough a beaver with a branch came up and dove into the auxiliary lodge. Then a smaller beaver came up who dove empty handed so to speak. And then another beaver came out from the main lodge and swam over to the burrowed bank, then up to me and dove into the auxiliary lodge. After they dove with the branches, I didn't hear any gnawing. So it didn't seem like they were all gathering to eat. Perhaps the smaller beavers were reacquainting themselves with the process of gathering sticks. My guess is that there are two or three more beavers than I see and I'm hoping that some dawn observations will help me account for them. As I walked down to join Leslie to hear the peepers at the Third Pond, I passed a woodcock buzzing in the bushes. I got Leslie, delirious with peeping, and we waited for a famous woodcock flight, but didn't see one.
April 22 For the last two days we have been getting the garden ready at the land accompanied now and then by a weak chorus of peepers (they are more interested in singing at night now) and surprisingly little bird activity around the gardens. However, in nosing around other areas of interest, we see that spring is taking its course. Down at the Deep Pond a muskrat continues to pop out in the middle of the pond and today it rather imitated a beaver's log routine. It lowered its cocked tail and then drifted on the surface of the pond without seeming to move but managing to angle so that it's nose pointed our way.
Then it dove quietly. I think I discovered a patch of mud put on the shore by the muskrat at the start of a trail in the grass leading to where last year there were two holes in the ground. I was surprised to see both holes covered in. It's easy to guess why animals make burrows, but why do they close them up? The Deep Pond, I think, has reached its level for a while with about as much water coming in that is going out. When the incoming stops, the water level will probably drop another six inches, if a beaver doesn't move in. Yesterday walking along the shallows there was a flurry of activity, both pond striders on the surface and tiny fish fry just below. Yesterday I flushed one duck off the pond. Today two pileated woodpeckers were flying noisily around it, and one did some pounding. And there was a large porcupine up in a tree on top of the knoll. First time I've ever seen a porcupine there. At the Third Pond, thanks to the generous portion of sun we've been getting the last few weeks, there is a lush jungle of green growing in the deeper portions of the pond, which the photo below exaggerates to make the point.
Some has been brought up to the surface by ducks or the muskrat. Yesterday, a leopard frog was head out of the water.
There are sporadic leopard frog snores around this pond. Of course, flowers are popping out all over and during a walk up the road today we saw collections of Dutchman's britches,
hepatica, trillium just budding or just leafing out, and spring beauties. And in the road we saw a wee butterfly in the dust with its wings sawing back and forth.
I'll have to study the video to see if it was doing anything else other than drying its wings. For the past two days I've checked the Turtle Bog, flushing ducks but seeing no turtles. Plus the wood frogs seem to have stopped. I think I was hearing a pine warbler in the pines above the nearby Bunny Bog. As for the beavers in the First Pond, as I sat reading there today, I heard some humming at 3:30 pm, but no action. One is definitely going as far as the upper valley pool but my guess is that it is one of the small ones. It doesn't seem to go far into the woods and keeps gnawing on the stumps of trees already cut.
Given that last year some beavers seemed to travel quite a ways to forage and this year not far at all, perhaps the two two year old beavers have left, and that the two or, I think, three yearlings are simply not as adventurous as the first litter in this pond. One can indulge in a number of theories of family development to explain that, but best wait until I see for sure how many beavers are still in the colony. They've also done good work on the dam and seemed to have fashioned a little wallow right beside the pond.
There was a pool here before but it looks like a beaver dug out some mud and plopped a nice log for gnawing into it. Coming up to the Teepee Pond today I saw a possible Blanding's turtle on a log on the opposite shore. At least its shell seemed rather domed. It did not seem that large so I don't think it was one of the Blandings up at the Turtle Bog.
April 23 rain moved in last night, heavy at times, and by this afternoon there were just a few stray drizzling showers. The temperature dropped down to 40 and the east wind picked up. I headed off to tour the ponds at 4 pm quite comfortable with the low clouds and damp. This spring has been too bright and dusty. The birds were all sound, especially the red-winged blackbirds. On the little causeway along the South Bay, which otters usually use as a latrine at this time of year, I saw scat that half looked like an otter's. The other half of it appeared to have more hair than scales.
Plus I recalled a fox or dog scat being here last time I was along. I pushed the different looking halves apart and the strange scat looked apiece, so an otter might be back here. I kept my eyes to the ground looking for flowers too and made my next stop at some Dutchman's britches
in front of a rock on my way up the New Pond knoll. Then up on the knoll, I saw a gray otter scat that I thought was new, but respecting the revivifying properties of rain, I looked around to see if I could see other evidence that an otter had come through. Toward the crest of the knoll, but a little off the usual otter path, were two mounds of loose grass. I couldn't see a scat on the first but there was a wee wet puddle of scat on the second.
An otter was back on the old route, which is to say, I think this otter has taken this somewhat out of the way path before. The direct route up to the ponds is along the stream. Meanwhile down in the New Pond, I saw a small muskrat curled up on a log as it ate grasses.
I headed up the South Bay trail with a bounce in my step, but didn't see any signs of otters at the latrine above the old South Bay dock, nor at my docking rock, nor at Audubon Pond. I did see a part of a bullhead on the trail, about the time I flushed an osprey from a high perch, as well as a heron, and I expect the former dropped the fish parts. I also saw some fresh beaver gnawing on a willow hanging over South Bay.
I saw three fresh dollops of mud pushed up by beavers on the embankment near the drain at Audubon Pond. And I saw what looked like a fresh nip on a pine just above the smaller pond east of the causeway, the same area where beavers took down two pines last year. Then as I walked on I was greeted by a tail slap from a beaver along the rocky shore of that pond. The beaver dove immediately and I waited for it to surface. There are not any burrows along that pond. I soon heard a splash coming from Audubon Pond. The beaver swam through the pipe under the causeway. I then was treated to a series of splashes, usually followed by a quick dive.
Three years ago a family that I took out to see the beavers here named the youngest beaver to parade before us Slapper because of its quick tail. That colony left but perhaps Slapper returned. One of the beavers here last fall was prone to do it. To calm the beaver, I hurried on up to Meander Pond, flushing several wood duck pairs, including three pairs on Audubon Pond which is so open that they usually don't hang out there. The beavers appear to have worked on Meander Pond dam and they continue to strip the downed oak tree, and cutting more trees over there. The wind and drizzle limited the photos I could take. I did better on the east shore of the pond with the wind at my back, struck by some of the small things the beaver's work on
and a prize poplar log. They appear to know the weight of the trees they work on as they invariably cut larger logs from the poplar trunks.
The comb frogs are still creaking at Thicket Pond, not quite as loudly. Then I headed back into otter territory, and actually had a hunch I would see an otter in the shallow pond behind the East Trail Pond dam, and I did see something swimming, and got the camcorder going despite the drizzle, then saw in an instant that it was a muskrat, and a small one at that. Though I would think this pond, given that it has usually been much deeper over the years, would not be that rich in the plants muskrats like, this one dove frequently. It disappeared into the dam. I went down to the usual otter route down the ridge from the direction of Otter Hole Pond and saw a neat mound of grass, but no otter scat on it or along that trail. I crossed to the other side of the pond and a little more than half way up the hill
saw a new otter scat.
The last otters to scat here were the mother and pup back in December. So now I had a hunch I would see an otter in the Second Swamp Pond, but as soon as I got there, and saw the downside of the large pond filled with water, I lost that hunch. There was much water scudded into wakes and waves by the east wind. I sat for ten minutes but no wake materialized into an otter. I crossed the dam and saw perhaps some fresh beaver gnawing on a cedar on the dam,
and there seemed to be more mud on the dam. It looked like an otter had scatted on the old scat on a mat of grass just below the dam, but no scent mounds. I expected to find one of the them on the north slope of the Lost Swamp Pond, but didn't, nor any scat. I followed the trail over to the Second Swamp Pond and there almost at the foot of it
was a handsome scent mound, difficult to capture in a photo, with two squirts of white scat with a thin smear of gray on it.
I continued on up to the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam and thought I saw some fresh beaver gnawing, some work on a birch trunk that was rather staggered.
Usually beavers are more methodical. This gave the impression of several beavers each with its own spots. There was also a double trunked white oak being neatly girdled and cut. The east wind was keeping the geese out of these large ponds, save for in the grassy areas of the Second Swamp Pond, or well concealed. I did see one still on her eggs on the lodge in the middle of the Lost Swamp Pond. The dam is leaking liberally again, thanks to rain. I saw some new scat at the rolling area latrine, and some fresh digging, but so many critters dig here, I can't pin that on an otter. Conditions were not good for sitting and studying the pond so I headed on to the Big Pond, which is also exposed to the wind and saw no ducks on it. The water level looked higher but this was because of the rain. The patch in the dam was leaking. If the beavers had not put some large logs to brace their fresh patch of mud and grass, all the work might have washed away. There was wind and waves enough to wash foam up on and over the dam.
Had the otter come here? Yes, there were two scent mounds at the south end of the dam, one with scat.
Plus all this otter work was fresh, so perhaps I'll see an otter tomorrow.
April 24 we had heavy rain in the night, almost another inch, and cold in the morning, below forty. Then with wind and clouds still, the temperature climbed a bit. I went out about the same time as I did yesterday and headed in the same direction even though the wind was shifting to the west, which meant I would lose any concealment from the wind as I approached most of the ponds. But I was primarily curious about the otter scats and scent mounds. The mystery of the South Bay causeway was soon solved. An otter left the most symmetrical scent mound I have ever seen, just off the trail, crowned with a scat.
And a few feet from the mysterious scat I investigated yesterday was a fresh scat -- all otter, this time, no mysterious hair in it. I did take a closer look at the hairy scat and discovered fish scales inside which indicates that it did come from the an otter. The hair seemed short and mostly white. Perhaps an otter was taking some bites out of the deer carcass that was in the middle of the Second Swamp Pond? But speculating on that keeps me from the significance of the scent mound -- an otter is claiming territory and going around doing it for the second day. As I approached the causeway, a heron flew off, which is somewhat surprising because herons, for some reason, usually avoid this area. I paused to see if there were any spawning bullheads gathering, but saw none. There was also a new scat at the crest of the New Pond knoll coming up from the bridge over the once again raging creek.
As I moved over the knoll, I saw rippling in the pond water, so I cocked my camera. The muskrat was once again up and nibbling, a little closer this time. The scent mounds there looked the same. I wanted to take a shorter hike, but curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see if this marking at the end of South Bay was tied to fishing in all of South Bay. So I went up the South Bay trail. I saw some leaves scuffed up above the old dock, but no scat and none of the finer arrangement that this scenting otter makes. Then I noticed a muskrat swimming along the shore, making its way through the waves a bit too slowly for me.
But there was no need to rush. There was nothing new at the docking rock. Perhaps that means an otter is primarily claiming the ponds. I went up to Audubon Pond, and saw the usual pair of geese. I didn't walk around it but headed back to otter territory, via Meander Pond, of course. To resist taking many photos of all the beaver work, which always looks so much more dramatic in the damp gloaming, I took one photo of recent work in the foreground and background of the muddy canal.
The chill seemed to subdue the frogs. Once again I approached the East Trail Pond with great anticipation, but other than a heron flying off nothing was new in the pond. The otter had been through, because the scent mound made yesterday was now crowned with a scat.
It didn't, however, add anything to the latrine on the other side of the pond. I paused for 15 minutes above the bank lodge at the Second Swamp Pond where all was quiet, no ducks on the pond, one pair of geese flew over. I was just about to go down and stand on the lodge, to check for scat and hear if anything inside might panic and dive into the water, when a muskrat swam quietly out of the lodge. It swam through the nearby grasses, which still looks sere and, I suppose, unappetizing to a muskrat, and then I saw it swim behind the dam, going up on it briefly at two or three places then spending three or four minutes at another. Once back into the water, it stopped going up on the dam and swam into the grasses in the southwest corner of the pond. Respecting the wind direction, I walked up the north shore of the pond, so I could approach the Lost Swamp Pond with the wind half in my face. Of course, I was approaching quite the wrong way if I wanted to watch beavers in the Upper Second Swamp Pond, and two of them were out. One, I think, was eating in the north end of the dam, and it started slapping its tail. The other was down in the south end, and it fled back to the lodge. Then as the slapping beaver retreated back to the lodge, another beaver came down from the lodge and inspected me,
though it could have been the same beaver that had retreated. It didn't splash me, but did make a noisy leg kicking dive. Their dam was leaking liberally
and I faulted myself for not being more subtle in my approach so I could perhaps observe them making repairs. When I looked up at the beaver after it made its second splash, I noticed a male wood duck swimming in that area, and it didn't fly off until after the second splash and when it could clearly see me. Some of the willow bushes in the wet ground along the pond are blossoming after their fashion, I think they are pussy willows.
After crediting these beavers for making good repairs on their dam, I found myself forced to hop on the few clumps of grass that remained half dry in the flood of water coming over the dam. I tried to keep off the dam because each step seemed to start a new leak. As I came up to the Lost Swamp Pond, a goose swam to the south end of the pond, followed by a pair of mallards. I didn't see any new scats near the dam, in the rolling area or the north shore slope. I was getting a bit chilled in the wind so I had to keep walking. I went over to check the mossy cove latrine and as I did I noticed a beaver swimming from the dam. It came half way toward me then seemed to dive into the lodge in the middle of the pond. There were no new scats on the mossy cove latrine, save a canine scat -- a fox interested in watching beavers and muskrats? Then I saw another beaver heading down to the lodge by the dam coming from the northeast end of the pond. I scanned the expanse of the southeastern section of the pond and saw only ducks and geese. I took some photos of the winter work on the slope behind the bank lodge on the south shore.
Will the beavers come back and finish cutting down trees, and stripping those that are down? My guess is that they will be distracted by getting the new grasses out of the pond. I went to the Big Pond via the surveyor's cut to be right with the wind in case an otter was out, and to see if they were using the latrine just off from the cut that they had used last fall. As I approached I thought I saw a beaver swimming up the pond, as well as three pairs of ducks. There was no sign the otter had been on the shore there. As I headed to the dam, another beaver came out of the lodge, and also swam upstream. So much for beavers checking their dam first. This dam certainly needed checking. I could hear the water rushing over it from one hundred yards away. The leak is quite generous, but the patch is holding.
It didn't look like the otter revisited the latrine on the south end of the dam. It is curious that it made the point of going back to the East Trail Pond and not the bigger ponds. Once again an otter seems to be showing me that it prefers a shrunken pond to ones that are filling up, but I'd like to actually see it foraging in the East Trail Pond.