Sunday, December 18, 2016

June 22 to 30, 2005

June 22 cool, bright sunny day. I checked the Deep Pond at the land, which I had not done for a while, and it has settled down affording a view of a couple yards of mud, even behind what had once been the principle outlet of the pond. 

On the one hand the receding water has revealed more of the plants, but that has made it easier for the deer to get to them.

There is still a muskrat or two working the pond two, as evidenced by the apron of brown water cleared of vegetation.

Elsewhere the pond grasses flourish since no beavers have harvested them. And the red buds of the swamp milkweed punctuate all the green.

Up on the other end of our land, we worried about the tadpoles in the diminishing pool just above the beaver pond at the land. On the dirt road and the path the frenetic activity of small butterflies, I guess, entertained us, and there were a legion of them around the pool in question. There was more water in it than I thought there'd be and quite a few frogs, many still sporting tails, around the edge.

We saw tadpoles too, but things seem to be developing a pace, and maybe all the tadpoles will check out as frogs before the pool dries. The last time this happened, I don't recall any frogs developing.

Back on the island, I again decided to take advantage of a long day and go out after dinner. I went my usual otter-scat-checking route and saw nothing new at the South Bay causeway (except a raided turtle nest).

No scats on the New Pond knoll nor on the slope above the old dock. I sat above the dock for ten minutes and was rewarded by the sight of a beaver foraging for roots along the opposite shore of the cove. Just too far for a video but I could monitor its happy progress in my spyglass. It seemed to manage it by taking small bites, which is to say, it didn't surface with an ungainly rhizome in its mouth. Next time I kayak over there on a calm day, I should see what the bottom looks like. So I turned toward the ponds to check up on the Meander Pond beavers, or beaver, since there always seems to be one in or around the canal in the southeast corner of the pond. With a north wind, sometimes gusting, I was in a perfect position to sneak up on the beaver. My way was blocked by three freshly cut maples

and I may have been too bold inspecting them, because the beaver lolling in the canal nearby

promptly turned and swam away. I waited ten minutes or so for it to return, but no luck. There were no leafy branches littering the canal, and the trees just cut had not been stripped, so perhaps I interrupted the beaver on its way to that task. I took a direct route to the East Trail Pond dam, which meant I didn't inspect Thicket Pond or upper East Trail Pond. The north wind had blown the duck weed toward the dam which made the pond look more viable. I saw a few frogs jump into it, but nothing else. The grass is growing up on the otter trail down into the pond. The sun, heat, humidity, and we just had a quarter inch of rain, have made this the best growing season in my memory. There was a fresh trail in the grass up the slope on the east end of the dam, but no scat along it, and I know that is a raccoon route. I crossed the Second Swamp Pond dam where I couldn't see signs of much in the burgeoning grass. It would be instructive to see how otters utilize such a lush dam. Because of the wind direction, and the hour, I angled up to the Lost Swamp Pond so that I could sit on the south shore. As I came up I saw wakes going in every direction so I sat on the high rock overlooking the mossy otter latrine (no sign of its being used,) and tried to sort it all out. I first got excited by a beaver heading to the trail up the north slope, seemingly marked by the beaver with a pile of sticks at its base, that led to some fresh tree gnawing. But the beaver swam by that, demonstrating the typical inclination to forage off the pond bottom at first. The beaver swam back to the northeast corner of the pond. Then I saw two muskrats, one after another, come around the point and head east. I got the camcorder on them in case this was a fight. At the same time a muskrat came out of the lodge in the middle of the pond and headed toward the other two, but evidently the time for contention has passed. The two muskrats went their separate ways, and the third's trajectory didn't come close to them. Then another muskrat came out of the lodge, and swam toward the north slope. Everything seems to be sorted out in muskrat world. The muskrat that wound up in front of me was powerfully small, and had a curious way of cocking its thin but long tail up in the air. I've never noticed that before so I shouldn't suggest its a bit of overcompensation for a small body. The one toward the north shore was normal size and was soon on a log in the water nibbling away. Muskrats seem to take so long to eat so little that if you can't see their motor mouth jawing away they seem like symbols of patience in the gloaming. Then the beaver returned, and another followed it out of far reaches, both tending toward the dam, but it was too dark to follow their progress. Meanwhile in the southeast reaches of the pond, I saw two sets of geese and goslings swim in stately procession from the grasses on the north shore to the grasses on the south shore. A deer briefly blazing red in the last bit of sunlight foraged the pond grasses on the south shore too. Finally a wood duck and family came down from the northeast end of the pond. I heard the whip-poor-will and headed home, with plenty of light still to guide me. I crossed the Big Pond dam at about 9:20, a half hour after sunset, and with the cooling air temperature plumes of fog started coming off the ponds, small and hot double-lodge pond contributing more than its fair share. On top of the lone dead tree there, an owl, horned owl, I think, surveyed the scene, then flew off silently. I despaired of seeing a beaver, but I did see two muskrats, one came out of the lodge and the other out of the grasses along the south shore, so I should have been able to see a beaver if one was there. I'll have to circumnavigate the pond to see if they've fashioned another lodge -- not an easy task for me with all this vegetation. I woke a few deer, a bit of thumping in the tall grass, then a swoosh, and a glimpse of a white flag of flight. I heard all the expected noises, bull frogs, tree frogs, wood thrush, veery, whip-poor-will but not in their usual welling chorus, and I missed the buzzing the midges. It was that cold, which didn't prevent a myriad of mosquitoes from huddling close to me for warmth and sustenance. 

June 24 I took Lois and Stephen on a morning hike to the almost dry East Trail Pond, and, of course, on the way scowled at the otter latrines. There was a fresh scat along the trail just beyond the south inlet to South Bay, a nice mound of leaves with black scat, with fish parts, right on top of it. 

So an otter is still about, leaving the same type of mark that it has been leaving for a couple months now. There was nothing fresh that I could see up on the New Pond knoll nor above the old South Bay dock. At the foot of the East Trail that striking white flower whose name I always forget was out waving in the strong hot SSW wind.

I was hoping some scarlet tanagers would be singing in the woods, but none did. Coming over the TI Park ridge we heard the persistent song of a verio. I hope and expect there will be another round of song from the tanagers and grosbeaks. We did hear some short songs from orioles. The strong winds may have subdued the birds. The dry pond was more impressive two months ago when the old pond bottom was hardening mud. Now it is a carpet of green with the grass at spots even folding over the narrow channels that still have a little water in them. Where there was mud, I didn't see any tracks, giving the appearance that raccoons could find better sport than foraging through the thick vegetation. We managed to get to the lodge and I tried to take some photos that would highlight, if not unlock, its mysteries. Two areas of loose logs are clearly the leftovers from old winter caches.

What I can't understand is the slope of interlocking twigs and branches that slopes down from the lodge to the nearest channel.

I tried to get a photo of an entrance to the lodge.

On top of the lodge it is easy to see the upper chamber and I stuck my camera into holes

hoping to find support for my theory that otters can fashion a penthouse in beaver lodges so that there is a low drying platform, then a main chamber that the beavers use and then the penthouse chamber a bit offset from and above the main chamber. One poor photo shows two entrances to the upper chamber which probably is evidence against my theory.

Really, that's a crazy theory which I will never be able to prove unless I disassemble and reconstruct the lodge and correlate all my videos of otter and beaver entrances and exits with the arrangement I discover. Again there was no sign that an otter had been on the trail over toward Otter Hole Pond. We took the highroad above the pond, but canopy of leaves was too thick to get a good view of the almost dry Otter Hole Pond. Then we went up to check on the Meander Pond beavers, admiring some Indian pipe on the way.

No beavers were out but I could see that the crown of one of the maples recently cut had been trimmed.

However, there were no branches in the channel so maybe the beaver is ferrying food directly back to the lodge a meander away in order to feed babies. When we went down to look at another channel, a large porcupine bounded out of the tall grass, well, as much as a slow, fat porcupine can bound, crossed two channels, and started to climb a tree. The strong wind was at our three backs and made a stink that was too close for the comfort of the porcupine. He backed down and then climbed a tree, almost to the top, that was a bit further away. He kept his nose cocked in our direction.

We came back along the South Bay trail along the shore to TI Park, and a large black snake slithered across the trail heading to the water.

I didn't get a good photo which was unfortunate because I think this may have been a large water snake in a black phase rather than a black snake.

June 27 Ottoleo's graduation weekend and the heat and humidity have conspired (perspired) to keep me out of the swamps and ponds, but today I at least could walk around the beaver pond at the land during a break from watering the garden. There is still a little pool of water up from the pond

and while there is no great wiggling of doomed tadpoles, many of the freshly minted frogs that I fancied were viable and could make their way down to the beaver pond floated dead in the water.

As for the beavers, I noticed one fresh trail going away from the pond and that went up the sandstone a few feet high and a few yards from the pond, where the beavers began to take strips from a large elm, as well as almost cut it down.

The pool down at the head of the valley is quite muddy as it dries up but there are no beaver tracks down to it. As usual, various beetles are feasting on the milkweed.

Finally, one can't help but notice that the heat that makes humans wilt rather invigorates the flying insects who seem to live a lifetime while we sit and recruit enough strength to plod on.

June 28 another day in the 90s but there was a light but steady wind as evening came on and I had to see what the otters might have been up to. I headed over the TI Park ridge, eyes out for fawn, but I didn't even see a deer. Robins darted just above the litter and no chorus of bird song greeted me. I enjoyed the changing bands of grass from the higher, sparser seed-burdened but erect and bluer green grass along the rocks to the short, lush, perfectly green grass without seeds but folding over forming a canopy to cool the insects. The latest otter scent mound in the latrine along the South Bay trail looked amended but I couldn't see any fresh scat, and the trail up and over the New Pond knoll gave a hint of being used, but again, I couldn't find any fresh scats. There was a trail in the mud apron of the New Pond, continuing into the lush grass and stopping at a rock.

It looked like a turtle trail, but I wondered at it going to a rock so I went down to get a closer look. At the foot of the rock, I saw the extended paw of a snapping turtle, and save for a slight recoil of its massive head, it stayed still as I photographed the fancy duckweed detailing on its shell.

No idea what it was up to. At the latrine above the old South Bay dock, I saw two sets of otter scats, an older group of four, all now dry, high on the slope, and an array of fresh, odoriferous scats midway up the slope. 

Some scats were filled with fish scales and other were liquidy brown.

Looking out into the bay I saw something dive into the water, so I sat at the foot of the slope and waited for an otter to resurface, but none did. A muskrat did swim from the marsh to the dock and dove under it. I also saw a head swimming at the edge of the crook of the large marsh, quite a ways away from me, but soon that disappeared without reappearing anywhere else. Then I saw some contrary ripples coming from the shore off to my right concealed by the trees hanging over the shore. Something seemed to be up, and soon enough a beaver swam out into the bay from the near shore pulling a large willow branch behind it.

This surprised me because I am accustomed to seeing the beaver diving for roots and rhizomes out in the shallows of the bay and frankly never conceived of them dragging branches into the rather thick marsh. Evidently the beavers have a lodge of some sort in the marsh. After pulling the branch in there, which I could not really see, the beaver did not reappear. Meanwhile, I saw fish fins briefly arc above the water where I suspected there was a diving otter. No head reappeared near the marsh, but I suspect it was another beaver. This activity in the bay and the smell of fresh otter scat, as well as the heat and deer flies, persuaded me not to tour the interior ponds, but just walk up the South Bay trail and check the other otter latrines and Audubon Pond. Not a bad choice, as I immediately saw a handsome raccoon preparing for the night's work, and then a porcupine eating the leaves of a spindly basswood as its crown bobbed just a few feet above the ground.

I had never gotten such a good view of a porcupine eating leaves. When it noticed me, it, of course, bristled, and I hurried on before it got into a panic, or a porcupine-panic because theirs is rather sedate. I saw new scats at the docking rock latrine, but they weren't fresh. In the gloaming I saw a scat like blur on a rotting log and on closer examination saw the vibrant life of molds and lichens.

Up at Audubon Pond I startled a heron and a deer as I made my entrance and watched a beaver swim to the shore of the embankment and dive. I thought I was well enough out of the wind to stand on the embankment and watch the beaver, which would have been interesting, but the beaver surfaced and it proved to be Slapper, because all it did was swim around and slap its tail.

There were some thin trails in the grass up and over the embankment but no sign that otters made them. I continued on to the otter latrine high above the entrance of South Bay and down around the digging that I thought an otter had done but where I found no scats, I now saw another scent mound and several gobs of old scat.

For all my explaining why, I still found their continued use of this latrine very curious. I went back to South Bay and walked around. The deer was joined by another deer, red at the end of a yellow flecked carpet.

A goose that I had seen near the bench was gone. As I walked around, I didn't see any fresh beaver work, but I did see turtle eggs dug out of a nest buried in an ant mound, which I have never seen before.

It seemed that the beaver was gone too. Then as I sat down at the bench a beaver swam past me just ten yards out in the pond. It seemed to ignore me and dove into the emerging grasses and surface scum of the shallower end of the pond to my right. Could this be Slapper sedated? No, because then from the middle of the pond I heard a loud slap, and that beaver steamed toward me. At first the beaver to my right seem unfazed by the tail reports, but then it steamed out into the middle of the pond, head up and soon enough tail down. I braced for a double tail slap as the two beavers weaved out toward the middle of the pond, but Slapper restrained itself at least until I headed home along the east shore of the pond. As I returned to the end of South Bay, I saw contrary ripples and cocked my camcorder, but after a loud dive I heard nothing. Because of the noisy dive I suspected a beaver, not an otter, and sure enough as I tried to inconspicuously resume my vigil at the foot of the slope by the old dock, a beaver slapped its tail far out into the bay and disappeared. There is sport in waiting for the deer flies to go to bed and the mosquitoes to take their place but I saw no sense in bothering beavers on what appeared to be a busy night for at least one of them.

June 29-30 we finally got a chance to spend the night at the land, so I could watch the beavers at night and in the early morning. In human terms I made observations on two days, but obviously, if they counted days, beavers would mark noon as the start of a new day, not midnight. So I spent Wedthur watching beavers with a long nap at beaver mid-day. However, we did visit the land on Wednesday morning before returning to spend the night. I attempted to rescue whatever was left in the little pool above the beaver pond.

I was too late for any frogs. In fact all their remains seemed to have been gnawed,

mostly by raccoons judging from the preponderance of their tracks. One heron had beaked about. I also saw what looked like crayfish without legs or claws, quite red in the bleaching sun,

and I thought I saw one of these critters in the last remaining wet mud. I thought I scooped it out but once in the bucket it was impossible to see it. I also noticed boatmen with white and black markings on their back. I scooped up a few of them too. On my way to the pool, I woke up a deer sleeping in the bushes on the south shore of the pond. And around the pond, where there is plenty of water, the frogs seemed relaxed and one beaver seems to have picked a yellow flower.

I got back to the beaver pond a little after 8pm, anticipating that I would finally be able to see how many kits were born this year. I managed to get to my half concealed viewing area by taking the back way, but I must have been much too noisy because two beavers were nosing up at the area, big ones too. One slapped its tail; the other looked hard and then swam down toward the dam. Meanwhile, I heard persistent high humming from around the auxiliary lodge. It was difficult to see there, since I had not cut down enough of the buckthorn that's in the way. I could see an adult beaver reaching up and getting branches along the shore, and then I saw two other beavers swim near it, but I don't think they were kits. To make a long story short, while I kept hearing kits, I couldn't see any. At one point, looking through the camcorder, I thought I saw a kit climb up on the back of the beaver trimming branches along the shore, but my eyeglasses were fogging, the swarming mosquitoes and deer flies kept me twitching, and as I concentrated on that beaver's back again, it seemed pretty clear that there was no baby nearby. I thought the first two beavers to nose me were full-sized adults. Then at least two juveniles came by to check me out. Not only are these beavers smaller than the adults, but they are not as broad in the beam. One slapped its tail, while the other went down pond. Then one of the adults swam back toward where the kits were, carrying a leafy branch. This re-tuned their humming, but I still could not see them. As it grew dark and quiet, I got down from my little ridge and walked along the edge of the pond to see if that might flush some kits. I was losing a bit of my patience, as the hum from the mosquitoes was almost as loud as the kits' humming had been. But no kits materialized. For the past month the activity I've observed in the pond seemed at the level five beavers might be expected to make. Tonight, I began to wonder if the seven here last fall were still here. As I walked back to the cabin, the whip-poor-wills began flying up from White swamp and calling. The wood thrush and veery kept singing as it grew dark, and a handful of tree frogs were still at it, as well as bullfrogs and greenfrogs. 

I headed back to the pond at 5:45 am, and startled a deer along the road.

Rather than going to my less than satisfactory viewing area, I approached the pond from the little rivulet running down from the road, through the half cut poplar grove, and past the dried up pool. I came down to the pond right next to where the kits had been mewing so loudly the night before. This morning all was quiet. Soon enough a beaver came out from the auxiliary lodge and nosed around as if it knew I was there. To make a long story short, for the next hour or so I saw only three beavers, all yearlings I think, and heard no mewing or humming at all. I did briefly see a beaver pop up in the water outside the auxiliary lodge and make a goofy dive like a kit might, but since it didn't pop up again, I won't jump to conclusions. I noticed why the beavers were trimming branches above the auxiliary lodge. The elm they had been cutting fell down toward the pond. One curious thing happened: a beaver took a branch out of the pond water and seemed to purposely push it back up into the crown of the elm, like it was saving it for later. Then it came down with a smaller branch and took that one into the main lodge. Although the beavers seemed to know I was there, they swam down pond and in the far distance I saw a beaver take a sapling or branch from the edge of the woods back to the pond. I expected it to swim back with it, but it didn't. I got other indications that some of the beavers had moved from the auxiliary lodge to make way for the kits. Though my view was obscured, it seemed like two dove into the burrows on the north shore of the pond. Losing patience again, I sat closer to the pond, which didn't seem to alarm the beavers when they swam by. I took photographs hoping such close-ups might make it easier for me to tell the beavers apart, but it was a little misty over the pond.

Then I took a photo of the elm

and went back to the cabin for breakfast.