April 25 on my hike yesterday I dropped my spyglass as I decided to video rather than scope a muskrat swimming away from the beaver bank lodge under the comfortable knoll overlooking the Second Swamp Pond where I usually sit. So I had a chance to check the South Bay causeway latrine again. There was a fresh otter scat just up from the back of the causeway and I thought I could see a trail in the grass down to the stream, as opposed to the Bay.
Perhaps this indicates that the otter is marking to keep other otters from coming up stream, rather than making an encircling claim on the bounty of South Bay. Then I took the short cut over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond, enjoying a little chill drizzling mist on the way. All was quiet in the diminished pond and I'll have to check all the shores on a drier day. I peaked over the ridge where some trillium usually is, but saw none coming up. However, flowers are slower to sprout on the Island cooled by the surrounding water. I crossed the Second Swamp Pond dam and didn't see any fresh scat, though I must say, this year and last, the scat I've seen around here has often seemed dry even when I knew it had to be fresh. Before I got to the knoll I admired a porcupine in a tree high up in the chilly wind.
I retrieved my spyglass and since it was not good weather to lounge and watch the pond, I headed to the East Trail Pond with the wind in my favor and a hunch that it was here that I would see the otter. But there was no sign of it, and the recent rain had enlarged the pond. On the way home I checked the New Pond knoll and saw nothing new. Then back along the South Bay trail an osprey entertained me as it hovered and glided in the still west wind screeching, I think, to an osprey beyond the ridge, that, now and then screeched back.
April 26 I got to our land in the late afternoon and checked the ponds. I approached the First Pond from the east, facing the wind, and after seeing no fresh beaver work in that area, I sat under one of the pines again to see if a beaver might come out early. One of the nearby pines, a bushy beauty about 15 feet tall had been cut down by the beaver despite the base of its trunk being wrapped with tar paper.
The beavers had trimmed a few branches.
Once again I am surprised how interested these beavers are in trees right next to the pond. There were a few strips taken out of the trunk, said to be used to make the interior of lodges more comfortable. Small as it is this pond has a complicated system of burrows and assuming that the mother is pregnant again and about to give birth, the other beavers may be shifting their beds to another burrow. No beavers came out, but the peepers were quite sonorous, with always some wit of a peeper going off beat or trilling or making some stunningly sapient sound, but only for a few seconds.
After dinner in the cabin, we both came back to the pond. I let Leslie go first. It's best to approach one at a time and she has been too busy for beaver watching. When I got there she reported a good bit of action. Two beavers going down pond, and one returning, and a small beaver following a larger beaver and even diving below it. When I arrived there was a large beaver in the upper end of the pond. I tried to stay still and trust the slight south wind that afforded us some anonymity, but it soon slapped its tail and dove. We did not have long to wait for another beaver to come out, one with an entirely different demeanor. It swam to the now flooded channel between the two ponds and began gnawing on a stripped stick. Then swam over to my saw pile, which still has a bit of unsawed logs, but it stayed in the water and gnawed the bark off a gnarly willow log half on shore. Then it swam closer to us, nose up, didn't take alarm and swam over to the far side of the pond where it found something to eat that brought it up on the bank, something small, because I couldn't see it.
Then we were entertained by two small beavers. One swam quite fast like it was catching up after sleeping late. They both went down along the dam, and then over to the far bank. One returned to the lodge and the other stayed leaving two beavers over there when we left. Another large beaver came back and swam and down pond and then back up seeming to gulp the water as it went with its nose bobbing gently up and down. My theory is that the beaver is harvesting some of the pollen collecting on the pond, though I must say there is not much of it on this pond. On its return it angled close to us. I had a choice between getting a photo or a video and since I had some good video of the beaver gnawing the willow, I opted for a photo. Just after I snapped a photo, with the flash going off,
the beaver threw its hind legs up so high that we thought it was going to flip over and then it dove in the water with a kick. Too bad I hadn't taken a video. It didn't resurface. The whole time the peepers were going and now and then a leopard frog.
April 27 clouds and chill in morning, then showers and then at 4 pm when I was ready to go out, the sun came out along with warm breezes. I stuck to the route I've been taking, heading over the TI Park ridge down to the South Bay trail. Earlier we noticed an osprey taking this same route from its nest on the navigational cell in the river. And as I came down to South Bay, I heard an osprey calling. An otter has been back to the latrine on the little causeway, fluffing up and scatting on a new scent mound a few feet to the north of the old one.
Instead of continuing onto the New Pond knoll, I went out to check the beaver lodge by the willow on the north shore of the south cove of the bay. This is where a beaver lodged last summer and where I saw an otter eating a carp, two years ago, and have seen fish remains over the years. I've never approached this area by land so early in the spring, and thanks to the sparse vegetation, I could get a better view of the willow area
which when leaves are all out will be quite closed out from the world. On some flattened dead cattails beside the lodge, I saw two large gray otter scats.
So an otter has been here, after a scaly meal.
There were no scats on the lodge, nor any sign that a beaver had been using it.
I crawled into the willow and found a seat on the part of the trunk that hugs the ground. With the leaves just coming out this provided a good view and the gulls that flew by didn't seem to notice me. Then herons flew across the bay, one perching and then fishing on the far shore. A muskrat swam out from the cattail marsh and dove about 30 yards out in the bay, after an osprey screeched. I thought the muskrat might be reacting to the osprey, but after it surfaced and swam further out into the bay, the osprey flew right over it and neither seemed to notice the other. I finally noticed fresh beaver work on the willow, but nothing major.
After a nice fifteen minutes of observations, I continued on to the New Pond knoll, where I saw a fresh otter scat added to an old scent mound.
Then I checked the latrine just up from the old dock at the end of South Bay, where I had seen leaves scuffed up, and today I saw fresh scat on the leaves, with one part formed into a scent mound, and then an area of scat on the leaves
and one large scat on the grass below the leaves. Plus most of these scats did not have that dry graying look I usually see. A photo of one reveals crayfish parts.
Is it possible the four otters have returned? Anyway, otters are fishing in this bay, and why not, some common terns were flying over, calling harshly to each other when they weren't diving for fish, and I saw one wiggle a fish down its gullet as it flew. A bit further up the shore, I saw a porcupine almost as nimble as a monkey out on the end of a large willow branch bending well over the water.
The porcupine was reaching up and pulling down the budding sports coming out of the branch.
Now and then it would cut a small, still green branch, take it in its paws and manipulate it so it could get at the buds. I had credited beavers for the small green willow branches that I'd see floating under a willow. The porcupine was quite wrapped up in its foraging and didn't notice me, which was sensible because, standing right on shore, I blocked any path to safety. At first glance it didn't look like the otters had been at the docking rock along the South Bay shore, at least not at their usual spots on a log, half way up the slope to the log or on the rock. But a week ago I had noticed some roughed up leaves a yard west of the usual spots, and today there was a scat atop one of the small piles of leaves, but only one.
I headed up to Audubon Pond. If the group of four males otters was back, I think that pond is on their route. Back in January I saw four slides swoop in off the river channel, check that pond and then return to the channel. As I came up to the pond the usual pair of geese moved off the causeway into the pond, and a muskrat swam off of the embankment. It dove before I could get a group photo. I walked along the causeway, passed a freshly gnawed ash, trying in vain to see otter scat amidst the goose poops, and near the burrow there a muskrat did a snap dive. Then I noticed that it resurfaced under the branches that beavers, years ago, had propped up on the bank to cover their burrow. Even when I stepped closer the muskrat didn't twitch.
Then as I continued along the causeway, I noticed a bolt of sunlight swimming quickly toward the far shore of the pond. I could see through the glare with my spyglass and saw that it was a beaver. It swam directly to the shore and got out, but it didn't look like it was marking. I hurried around to the bench and by that time it was just off the shore nibbling a stick and then headed toward the embankment. I was preparing to video that when another beaver popped out of the nearby lodge and slapped its tail and that made another muskrat dive with a snap of its tail just to my right. The slapping beaver gave me the usual treatment, a slap about every fifteen seconds. So I studied the other beaver to see how it might react. It stayed off shore and swam slowly back and forth below the embankment. Probably not what it planned to do, but certainly it wasn't trying to hide because of the slapper's alarm. Then a tern began flying around the pond, diving once, and I wasted video tape trying to capture another dive. While my eyes were locked in that endeavor, there was a loud splash right in front of me. Slapper came closer to make its point, and then swam, slapping some more, to the center of the pond. After taking a video of the cache beside the lodge, which shows some evidence of being eaten, I left the beavers in peace, heading around the west shore of the pond on my way to check another otter latrine along the upper reaches of South Bay. I stopped to take a photo of a beaver scent mound placed on top of a large knob of an ant hill,
something a beaver did last spring too, and then when I looked up I saw that I had just missed seeing a beaver make a scent mound on the embankment behind the drain. I saw the last tail wiggle and the smear of dark leaves and mud left behind. The beaver got back into the pond, and as it swam around the drain, I got my camcorder ready in case it had more marking to do. Then I noticed the other beaver angling toward the embankment much closer to me. I stopped, fortunately in what little shade there is at this time of year. The beaver went to the shore and fished out a long thin stick and took that just up on the ground and started nibbling. Then the other beaver swam toward it. I've seen shoving matches result from this situation but this time, the approaching beaver got up on shore next to the other beaver, found its own little stick and started nibbling. Then it moved behind the other beaver, and began grooming itself. Then when it went back to its stick, the other beaver groomed itself. Soon enough the second beaver, slightly smaller, moved behind the other again,
the other turned and they mutually groomed each other around their heads. This pond is quite exposed with no cover along the shore at this time of year when no grasses have grown up, save for a small cattail marsh on the north shore. This south embankment was completely exposed to the bright setting sun, everything seeming more brilliant because the day had been damp and cloudy. All to say that I was entranced. They finished in a few minutes and then both went to the shore, side by side, and reached in to find a stick to nibble.
When I tried to move to the edge of my shade to get a little closer, I snapped a stick. They both pushed into the pond, and I got an action photo of them swimming away framed by their recent work on a large ash that I had been standing behind.
One slapped its tail and continued to slap, and the other disappeared. I waited five minutes but didn't see it again. As I waited a wood duck landed in the pond right in front of me. I finally got to the otter latrine high on the bank and it appeared that there were new scats, one placed on a small scent mound.
I had planned as usual to head into the network of ponds to the east, but feared that on such a night I would be out until nine. So I simply walked back around South Bay, passed the porcupine, and then up the ridge and home, spotting a few deer in the woods on the way.
April 29 we worked at the land yesterday and today, more work yesterday because today I had a jaw and toothache. The most available building material on the land is the sandstone which crumbles along the many ridges. I hit on the bright idea of having a stone floor for our new storage shed, to see if we could really work with stone. So I began prying into the ridge closest to where we want the shed, and found that deeper in a pile of rocks, as you work around a huge mass of stone, call it the mother rock, you find a number of smaller, flat rocks sheered off and wedged in the crevasses around the rock.
As I pulled rocks out, I found much open space, but no bugs using the holes. The only sign of life was the green lichens coating the rocks, which even seem to survive in the dark. During a break from this back breaking work, I hiked up to the apple-weg, as we call it, where one old apple tree has split in half. I checked to see if the beavers had been back there, and I saw no semblance of a beaver path, nor fresh beaver work. I continued on through the birches and junipers to the turtle bog, then down to the beaver pond and then back to work. At this time of year, before the leaves come out on the trees, the dead birches, usually large hulks of white and mushrooms, stand out,
reminding me that spring is the time of year you discover what is dead.
Today, I took the afternoon off, and lounged around pools of water. On the way to the Turtle bog I noticed that the beavers were cutting a venerably gnarled and sinuously crowned ironwood just off the valley pool.
These beavers like to work close to water. Up at the Turtle bog I finally saw a good number of caddisfly larvae. I am always on the look out for them in the spring, especially in this pool where they always seem to make a colorful casing. Most of their cases were small, not much more than a half inch.
Staring at their sluggish movement (thought I saw a snail come up for air that seemed even slower), quicker critters provide much distraction. There were boatmen and beetles in the water, mosquito larvae twisting up to the surface and then gliding back down. I saw two sizes of red bugs, and a silver scorpion like critter walking over the sunken leaves. I saw two bump into each other without incident and began musing on the relative peacefulness of the scene despite so many animals so frantically alive. Then I noticed a water strider that seemed to have a bit of caddisfly casing. Other striders noticed too, and began vibrating over and very briefly bumping into the strider I was watching. Then one approach and that strider fled, then came back, then fled again, in a strider's typically erratic fashion. Now I noticed that there was much contention between striders, and in some cases the bug seemed to clench belly to belly and dance as one up on their hind legs, and then quickly disengage. In another case I think one bug had mounted another, and then a third bug attacked. I tried to get some video of this, but most of the encounters I saw through the lens were very brief. Anyway, a strider's life suddenly began to seem more strenuous. Meanwhile a pair of ravens were carrying on around me. Their yodeling language would be interesting to know. They seem rather loquacious and prone to vocal surprises. I walked around what we call the Bunny bog. One year a Blanding's turtle moved down here, but I didn't see any sign of one today. I came down to the beaver pond past the shallow pools up pond. I saw tadpoles in the largest pool and also a caddisfly larvae casing floating in the water. I thought I saw the assemblage wiggle but after some hard peering, and taking the casing out of the water,
I couldn't see any more wiggles. This casing was larger than those in the Turtle bog, but quite dull, made mostly with sticks and stalks and not colorful evergreen needles. The beavers are stripping the bushy pine they cut down by the pond, slowly.
Meanwhile down along the ridge behind the garden, not far from where I'm getting rocks, some purple trillium has bloomed.
This is surprising because we usually find the purple trillium a week or so after the white trillium bloom, which, this year, have hardly started.